1976 Bagley's Batter Baits ad featuring the rat fink, kill'r'B, divin'B and honey 'B'.

Classic rock band, REO Speedwagon, released an album in the 1970s titled, You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish. If you were casting deep diving crankbaits for bass during this same period, you may have often been singing a similar ditty, You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tune a Crankbait!  In today’s post, Stay Tuned – Bagley’s Lead Lip, we’ll dive a little deeper into what Bagley’s Baits did to solve this problem.

Unlike the higher production quality and tolerances found on most of today’s modern diving crankbaits, it was not uncommon to purchase lures, crankbaits specifically, and struggle to get them to run properly.  Most deep diving crankbaits of this period had a simple line tie inserted into the diving lip, often just a screw eye. If the eye was not placed properly or bent, the lure would not perform as designed. Standard tuning guidance, just like today, was to bend the line tie in the opposite direction the lure was running off to. I remember struggling to determine if I was to turn or twist the eye in the opposite direction, or bend the eye left or right.

I recall purchasing many baits of this era; Rebel Super R’s, Bill Norman Scoopers, Rogers Deep Jims, Cordell Deep Big O’s and being so disappointed when the first cast swam way left, way right or sometimes circling and porpoising right out of the water.  Out came the pliers and tuning adjustments began.  Hopefully, the lure eventually was able to be adjusted to swim properly, but sometimes there was just no amount of tuning to get the lure to run correctly.  Here is where Bagley’s comes to the rescue.

Here's a couple of pictures of Jim Bagley's, actually Lee Sisson's) diving lip design with the lead button. This bait, thin diving lip and lead button, flat caught fish. Photo Mike Orzell.

Having made a huge splash in the early seventies with their successful Balsa B square bill lineup, Bagley introduced the Divin’B lure in 1975 in 3 sizes.  The Divin’B1 was the smallest and used the same blank as the Balsa B1.  Similarly, the Divin’B2 used the Balsa B2 body and the Divin’B3 utilized the Balsa B3 body.  The Divin’B3 went on to become the most successful bait ever for the Bagley Bait Company.  One of the first “Alphabet” lures to be introduced in a deep diving version, it featured what Bagley called an exclusive “tuning button.”  These earliest versions of this classic bait were made with thru-bait brass wire construction.  This same brass wire continued underneath the clear diving bill and into a small piece of lead that was inserted into a small hole in the diving bill.  The brass wire continued through the lead and was bent upward to form the line tie on the other side of the lead “tuning button.”  Here is how Bagley described this new, and exclusive concept in their 1975 catalog:

“The ‘divin’B’ combines the murderous, vibrating action of the famous ‘balsa B’ with a unique lip design that allows this killer to prowl the very bottom of the lake. Bagley’s exclusive ‘tuning button’, featured on the ‘divin’B’ makes it possible to pre-tune the bait during production and eliminates the need to adjust or ‘tune’ the bait while fishing.”

This catalog hyperbole was music to my ears.  Finally, someone had figured out how to design a true running crankbait.  No more worries when making lure purchases and no more tinkering and wasting valuable on-water fishing time with tuning hassles.  This feature was definitely groundbreaking at the time, as was the overall design and gorgeous finishes on these classic plugs.

However, in my experience with this bait, this “tuning button” did not guarantee a true running lure with every purchase.  What I did find, however, was that these lures did indeed run truer most of the time and that the soft lead made for easier adjustments to the line tie and ultimately better tuning outcomes.  Many other anglers felt that the lead lip combined with the original flat, horizontal bill angle gave this bait a steeper and more enticing dive.  Towards the end of the lead lip’s production, this lip angle was altered slightly downward and eventually the original thinner lips were replaced with heavier version lips to avoid breakage.  Most felt that both of these production changes were a detriment to the bait’s effectiveness.

The baits were designed so that the lead “button” would fit snugly into the hole cut in the diving bill.  Most of the lead placement was on the bottom of the bill with just enough protruding upward to house the brass line tie.  Occasionally, baits would have too much lead to ensure proper placement into the hole or the brass wire would be bent coming out of the lure body and the lead would not fit correctly into the opening on the diving bill.  With no knowledge of how Bagley actually produced these baits, or ensured the right amount of lead was poured every time, it must have certainly been a production challenge to get every bait just perfect.  Perhaps because of this, like so many classic designs, by 1981 the lead was gone, as was the thinner lip and flat horizontal bill.

Numerous iterations of the Balsa Divin’B were produced by various Bagley ownerships after these initial lead lip models, and production continues to this day with the new ownership group of Northland Fishing Tackle. There are also numerous Bagley collectors who seek out the older, original lead-lip models for their collections. Additionally, count me as one of small fraternity of bassmen that still occasionally tie one of these classic baits on, as they are just as effective now as they ever were.