This is part one of a two-part series on the advent of the Flippin’ Stik. I had the pleasure of discussing the subject with Dee Thomas, the father of flipping, and Dave Myers, the brains behind the design of the blank. In this installment, Thomas talks about his first tournaments, how he felt he couldn’t compete in tournaments and the eventual protests from fellow competitors surrounding the long rod.
Dee Thomas’ early tournament endeavors were met with mixed results and mixed reviews. Most tournament bass anglers at the time considered his use of 12-foot rods as ‘unsportsmanlike’ and ‘something only a meat hunter would use.’ The 12-foot rod wasn’t something ‘a serious tournament angler would even consider.’
Thomas started out as what he refers to as a “tule dipper.”
“I started tule dipping in California in the 50s,” he said. “In that technique, you have a 12- to 18-foot rod. There’s no reel so you either attach a length of line to the tip or you run a length of line down through the rod tip and affix it at the butt-end of the rod. Either way, you have a length of line, about as long as the rod, and that’s what you use to present your lure.”
Thomas had such success with the technique over the years that he knew it could be deadly on the newly-forming tournament circuits of the early 70s. Problem was, he needed to find a way to legally fish the events.
He contacted Wayne Cummings, then tournament director for the Western Bass Fishing Association (WBFA). Thomas asked Cummings what was required equipment-wise to fish the event and was told, “All you need is to have a reel on your rod to be legal.”
Word soon got out that Thomas was to be fishing the WBFA event at Lake Don Pedro, his first bass tournament.
Thomas and his sponsor/partner Frank Hauck arrived at Don Pedro and Thomas made his way over to Cummings’ house boat for a chat. As he and Cummings talked, in walked another tournament angler, Bob Pintel, complaining about Thomas being allowed to fish.
Here’s how the dialog went as recalled by Thomas:
‘They’re no good, tule dippin’ meat hunters,’ Pintel said. ‘The way they fish isn’t sportsmanlike at all.’
‘Have you ever met Dee Thomas,’ Cummings asked of Pintel.
‘No I haven’t but I’d say the same thing to his face if I ever come across the man,’ Pintel replied.
‘Well, let me introduce you to Dee Thomas,’ Cummings said to Pintel.
“There was tension in the air,” Thomas said. “Pintel kind of toned it down a little but he held his ground. Anyway, because I had a reel on my Hawger, they let us fish.
“It was a two-day tournament and Frank and I hadn’t even prefished. We ended up weighing a limit (10 fish) the first day. I can’t remember what place we were in but we were high in the standings. The second day we only had two or three fish and didn’t bother weighing in. I figured we’d need a limit to do well but as it stood, we would’ve done really well had we weighed those fish.”
They ended up around 12-place but that’s not the end of the story.
“As weigh-in concluded, Frank and I were over at my truck tearing down my 12-foot Valco [aluminum boat] so we could put it on my truck for the ride home,” Thomas recalled. “Now, remember, we hadn’t weighed any fish and the other anglers started coming over to us to say things like, ‘you can come fish against us with your long rods anytime.’
“They were poking fun at us and that really pissed me off.
“On the way home I was so mad I was talking to myself,” he said. “Frank had told me he wanted to sponsor me if we’d fish together and our first event was a failure. I turned to Frank and asked him if we could fish the next one and he said yes.”
The next event was at Lake San Antonio, a central California lake just outside of Paso Robles. Thomas had never been to the lake before and because of what happened in his first event at Don Pedro, decided to prefish this event.
“I didn’t want a repeat of Don Pedro so I went to the lake two times before the tournament – one time a week before and one time the day before the tournament. Frank turned us on to the fish during official practice in Bee Rock [Cove].
“Then the first day came and we were only able to scrounge up 6 fish, about half a limit,” he said. “I think we weighed around 18 pounds and were in second or third place. The leaders had something like 22 or 23 pounds – I just knew I wasn’t cut out for this tournament fishing.
“I was so upset I stayed up all night trying to figure something else out. Then the alarm went off, Frank woke up and could see I was upset. ‘You haven’t slept,’ he said.
“I said, ‘Frank, I don’t know what to do other than what we’ve been doing. Frank said, ‘then that’s what we’ll do.’
“We went out, caught the same amount of fish as the previous day and ended up winning the tournament by 10 pounds. It was after that event the anglers started hounding Cummings about us fishing with the long rod.”
Cummings phone didn’t stop ringing after that event.
“Wayne called and told me about the problems he was having and asked how short the rod could be and still make it so I could fish effectively. I was standing in my garage and pulled a 7-and-a-half foot Fenwick striper rod off the wall and told him I could live with that. By then, I’d already seen the writing on the wall and had been practicing the underhand flip with these rods. What the other anglers hadn’t realized, though, is by restricting the rod length, they actually made me a more effective angler.
Part two will detail the effort required to put the first Flippin’ Stik on the market.