Original Caption: “Bassing brothers" - Pro bass angler Willie Ridgeway, right, poses with Wal-Mart employee and News-Herald outdoor columnist Lanny Cowan in front of Ridgeway's product and video display at the Ahoskie store. Ridgeway, sponsored on the bass tournament circuit by Betts Tackle, was at the Ahoskie Wal-Mart on May 19 where he was a big time hit among the local anglers with his friendly advice. Gates County Index, June 1994. Photo credit: Cal Bryant.

In today’s Throwback Thursday historical photo, we have another angler who tried out the professional tour for a while that you likely never heard of.  But, perhaps you may recognize his contribution to the tackle world.

The photo dates to 1994 and features Willie Ridgeway, a Jacksonville (NC) native who, according to the accompanying newspaper story, “has been a tournament fisherman for over a dozen years and just went up in the ranks by joining the professional B.A.S.S. circuit this year.  He is sponsored by Betts Tackle Ltd. of Fuquay-Varina.”

Willie fished 14 Invitational events with Bassmaster between 1994-1997, plus 3 other events in 2000/2001.  He cashed only 4 checks and had a single top 20 finish with no Classic appearances.  Despite the short career on the professional tournament trail, he did introduce a product onto the market that you might recall – Carolina Floaters.

The description of the product, per the story; “Have you ever fished a ‘Carolina Rig’ in the grass and constantly pulled in grass stuck to your worm or lizard?  This doesn’t happen with the Carolina® Floater as it floats your bait above the bottom.  After all, a bass has eyes on the top of its head, not the bottom.

A pack of vintage Carolina Floaters.

“What about fishing a floating worm in heavy grass or lily pads?  Does this cause your bail to get caught and pull down on the hook?  The Carolina® Floater will pull through the heavy cover without these headaches.

“For some one-of-a-kind worm fishing never seen before, just turn your Carolina Floater around for some fantastic popping action.  You better hold on tight because it works!”

It appears to be a foam-bodied bullet slip sinker, similar in design to that used on Texas rigs, that could be slipped onto the line ahead of a bait, often a Carolina rig, and set at an adjustable distance depending on need.  The foam would help lift the bait above muck and bottom grass, making the bait more visible.  It could also be used to help float a worm or lizard on a weightless type of setup to be fished near the surface, or even reversed so the cup-shaped end faced forward and acted as a “popper.”  It was manufactured and sold via Betts Tackle Ltd.