1940 South Bend Ad Page 1. June 1940 Sports Afield.

When it comes to tackle companies that changed the face of bass fishing, you’re a fool if you leave out the South Bend Bait Company.  Today in South Bend 1940, we take a look at an 8-page ad spread featured in the June 1940 issue of Sports Afield.  It’s an extensive look at what South Bend had to offer at the time, and expensive as well.

To start off, though, a little history of South Bend, for those who don’t know much about the company.

Founded by Frank G. Worden sometime around the turn of the 19th century, he started the Worden Bait Company in South Bend, Indiana.  Frank Worden is not to be confused with R. B. Worden of Yakima, Washington, who started Worden’s Floating Spinner Company, later to be named Yakima Bait Company, makers of the ever-famous Rooster Tail spinner.

Anyway, Frank Worden started out in his home manufacturing wooden bass lures.  In or around 1905, he changed the name to Wooden Bucktail Manufacturing Company and had moved from his home to the second floor of the Shindler Brothers Hardware Store.

In 1906, Worden partnered with Jacob Kuntz, owner of South Bend Dowel Company and moved to 402 South Michigan Street.  South Bend Dowel became the supplier for all of Worden’s wood needs.  In 1908, Kuntz took over the bait company and in 1909 renamed the company the South Bend Bait Company.

Between 1909 and 1915, the company’s sales never reaching what would be called successful.  The company changed hands two more times, finally with Ivar Hennings and a partner in charge.

In 1916, Hennings acquired the patent to a bait made by James Olds of Benton Harbor, Michigan.  This bait, which became the Bass Oreno, would become a bass-catching phenomena and elevate the company to great heights.  Within no time, the company had hired 50 employees and in 1917 published their first tackle catalog.

From 1917 to 1940 the company saw great expansion.  From wooden bass lures and bucktails, the company added rod manufacturing and they sold reels, manufactured for them by Shakespeare.  They were a true all-tackle company rivaling Pflueger and Heddon, and in some cases having higher sales than both.  A good example is the Bass Oreno, which became the first lure ever to reach a million pieces sold.

In 1940 South Bend was a powerhouse.  Evidence of that is shown in the 8-page ad placed in the June issue of Sports Afield magazine mentioned in the lead-in of this post.  The ad is like nothing I have seen during the time and not until the late 1970s when Johnny Morris would place multi-page ads in Bassmaster and other bass-centric magazines.

The ad opens up with an image of their famous factory and several pictures of big fish, both fresh and saltwater, caught on their tackle (see lead-in image).  It is an eye-catching ad with a red starburst center that catches your attention as soon as you turn the page.

Page two of the ad is all about South Bend’s Perfectoreno reels.  These reels, manufactured by Shakespeare, came in five sizes and were billed as being backlashless.  Because of this, they claimed any angler would increase their fishing time by 30% just due to the fact they wouldn’t have to deal with backlashes.  Of course, this is hard to believe and if I was around during the time, I’d have challenged them to the cause.

1940 South Bend Ad Page 2. June 1940 Sports Afield.
1940 South Bend Ad Page 3. June 1940 Sports Afield.

South Bend credited their reel’s ability no to backlash due to new “bearings” made of a phosphor-bronze.  There were by no means true bearings but bushings that applied pressure to the spool shaft ends.

The reels came in three bass sizes and two saltwater sizes.  The freshwater baitcasting sizes, the 750, 775, and 800 had a 50-yard capacity of 18-pound silk, braided Black Oreno line.  This was with the cork spool arbor installed.  The reels were direct drive with a 4:1 gear ratio and the 750 came in a left-hand version called the 750LH.  The cost of these reels was $6.50 for the 750, $7.50 for the 750LH, $10.00 for the 775, and $15.00 for the 800.  That’s a cost of between $145.00 and $330.00 in today’s money.

Since Shakespeare made the reels for South Bend, I wonder if Shakespeare sold these models under their brand and if they did, what were their models.

The next page of the spread featured seven more bass-sized baitcasting reels, with a different form of anti-backlash mechanism on them.  Models 350, 400, 450, 550, 650, 1000, and 1250 all came with a spool break adjustment where you could apply pressure to the spool via a felt pad.

But there was another form of backlash control on these models in the form of a wire that dangled down in from of the level wind mechanism.  Line would be fed through the level wind and then under this wire.  How this helped with backlash control is beyond me.  It seems as if the friction caused by the line rubbing against it would cause the line to slow down compared to the speed of the spool.  Having never cast one of these reels, I can’t vouch for its effectiveness.

If you didn’t want the dangling wire, you could buy any of these reels without it for $0.50 to $1.50 less than the cost of the reel with it.  The model numbers were the same minus the zero on the end.  For example, the Model 350 had the wire, the Model 35 didn’t.  The cost of this series of reels ranged from $3.25 to $16.50.  Today that would be between $70.00 and $370.00.

South Bend rods are featured on pages 3 and 4 and start off with fly rods.  Back in the 1930s and 1940s, every bass angler had at least one fly rod in their arsenal.  South Bends fly rods were all made of split bamboo and came in several models, weights, and lengths.  Cost was between $6.25 for least expensive all the way to $35.00 for their high-end Cross Craftsmanship rods.  That equates to $145.00 to $700.00 in today’s dollars.  Who said fishing has gotten expensive only in recent years?

1940 South Bend Ad Page 4. June 1940 Sports Afield.
1940 South Bend Ad Page 5. June 1940 Sports Afield.

Casting rods were presented on page 4, and these were a little easier on the pocketbook.  They were made either out of split bamboo or tubular steel.  The split bamboo rods came in lengths that ranged from 4-1/2 feet to 6 feet in length and either one- or two-piece construction.  Handles were either pistol grip or straight grip and costs ranged from $5.00 to $8.50.

South Bend also offered several baitcasting rods in solid, tubular steel, and telescoping.  They don’t provide lengths or actions for these rods but do provide the costs, which ranged from $1.75 to $10.00.

Among all the rods and reels South Bend offered, they also had their own brand of line.  For the bass angler, the line of choice was their Black Oreno braided silk line.  This line was billed as being small diameter braid woven over a silk core.  The line was also said to have been waterproofed.  It came in eight sizes ranging from 9-lb to 50-lb test and in 50-yard spools.  Cost was $1.90 per spool, or over $40.00 in today’s money.  That’s more than today’s top fluorocarbon and braided lines.

Lines of this material, even if waterproofed, needed to be dried after each fishing trip to avoid mold growth and degradation.  Anglers would either remove the line using a line drier or they would string the line between two trees and let it dry.  This was an arduous task when you consider a multi-day trip where the line had to be removed from the reel each night and then strung back on the reel prior to heading out the next day.

There other brands consisted of a monel steel line for trolling, Sea-Oreno cuttyhunk linen line for the ocean, Peach Oreno silk casting line, and Grey-Obite silk casting line.

1940 South Bend Ad Page 6. June 1940 Sports Afield.

Now for the page everyone has been waiting for, the bait page.  South Bend got their start making and selling lures.  Of course, they’d have a spread of their lures in this massive ad campaign.

The page starts off with a huge header featuring the Fish-Obite the lure that was “Insured to Catch Fish.”  The description of this Heddon River Runt look-alike says that in just one season, the lure had become one of the greatest lures of all time.  It came in 22 finishes and eight Shad-O-Wave designs, whatever that meant.  It also said that there was an insurance policy with each bait, but I can’t find anything on what that policy meant to the angler or South Bend.  The bait was made out of Tenite plastic and cost $1.00, or $21.95 in today’s dollars.  That brings bait costs today into perspective.

The rest of the page is filled with a stable of proven South Bend fish catchers, including the bait that got them on the map, the Bass Oreno.  Prices for all these baits ranged from 35¢ to 80¢ for the fly-rod lures and from 90¢ to $1.50 for the bass plugs.  The only thing that could be better with respect to this page is if it was in color.

1940 South Bend Ad Page 7. June 1940 Sports Afield.
1940 South Bend Ad Page 8. June 1940 Sports Afield.

The final page of the 8-page spread consists of some of the miscellaneous tackle offered by South Bend.  Nets, spinners, boxes, cases, etc.  In all, South Bend offered more than 4,000 pieces of fishing-related gear.  If it was for putting fish in the boat, they made it.

South Bend would continue to be a major powerhouse in the tackle industry through 1950, when the first of two events his the company.  First, the death of Ivar Hennings, the man with the vision and aptitude for running the business died unexpectedly, leaving the company with no one to guide it.

The second blow could have been planned for.  In the late 1940s, fiberglass made its way into the fishing realm.  Companies like Shakespeare and Garcia jumped on the technological bandwagon and South Bend held onto their bamboo and steel rod manufacturing.  Then, with the death of Hennings and no one at the helm who had the vision, South Bend started losing their market share.

By 1964 the company had sold to Gladding, which went out of the fishing business in 1974.  Luhr Jensen bought the rights to produce South Bend lures but when they were acquired by Rapala, the manufacturing of baits stopped.  What was once one of the biggest and best tackle manufacturers in existence, it came to an end due to poor management, snubbing their nose at technology, and two buyouts with no interest in the history of the company and its history.