After Thomas won the Western Bass Fishing Association’s San Antonio event, his normal way of fishing would change. But, in a fashion typical for Thomas, he was one step ahead of his competition.
“Because of all the flack we’d been getting for using the long rods, I’d already been experimenting with shorter Fenwick striper rods,” Thomas said. “Dave Myers, of Fenwick knew this and wanted to design a rod for me.”
Fenwick, at the time, was arguably the leading rod manufacturer in the world. They had a complete series of rods, the Lunker Stik, designed for bass and Myers was in charge of product development.
“I’d watched Dee at the tournaments and had fished with him a couple times,” Myers said. “I knew what he was doing would open up a completely new thought process in bass fishing and I wanted to bring it to the world of bass fishing.
“At that time, no one in the rod industry was thinking outside the box, he said. “All there was available to anglers was a 5-foot 6-inch rod and all companies were doing to make improvements at that time was to add new guides or handles to existing rods. I saw the long rod as an opportunity to inject some new life into the stale rod market.
“Not only that, Flippin’, as it came to be known, would completely change the bass fishing world.”
Thomas’ next event would be at Lake Nacimiento in May, 1974. Again, he and Frank Hauck would rout the competition – but this time they did it with 7’-6” Fenwick striper rods.
Myers went to this event to participate but more so to talk with Thomas about helping Fenwick develop a new rod.
“After the Naci[miento] win, Dave came up to my house,” Thomas said. “He wanted to talk sponsorship and rod development. At that time, Lew’s was paying me $100 per tournament. I told Dave what I wanted and his reaction was, ‘we could get a Roland Martin for that kind of money.’
“About four or five weeks went by and Dave called to ask if he could come back to see me. When he arrived, he laid out the entire sponsorship deal and it was way more than I had asked for.”
But there was a caveat to the deal.
“Dave told me that he didn’t care how mad I made the tournament anglers but under no circumstance was I to piss off John Q. Public. If he heard one bad thing about me from the public, my sponsorship deal was over. I was with Fenwick for 21 years. The only reason I left was because Dave left the company. Fenwick didn’t quit me, I quit Fenwick.”
After that, rod development became the number-one priority.
“The design of the Flippin’ Stik was unconventional,” Myers said. “In normal rod design, the rod has a light tip and gets increasingly stouter the closer to the butt. This wouldn’t work for a flipping rod because in order to accurately present a heavy jig, the rod tip couldn’t bend during the flip. This meant that the tip of the rod had to be designed a lot heavier than a conventional rod.
“The rod still had to have some give in it, though. That’s why we designed the rod to bend more in the middle of the blank through the butt. Those design concepts are what makes a flipping stick a flipping stick.”
After building a number of prototypes, Myers headed back to northern California to visit Thomas.
“Dave asked what I wanted in a rod so I told him what type of action was required,” Thomas said. “He made around 20 or 25 prototype rods and brought them up for me to try out. I picked two rods that I felt would work, we decided on one of them and went to try it out at [Lake] Don Pedro.
“The rod performed better than I could have imagined. At this point, Dave asked what we were going to call the rod and the technique. By that time I’d already become pretty efficient at pulling line and accurately presenting the lure. I said, ‘I don’t know what to call it. All I’m doing is flippin’ the lure to cover.’
“’That’s what we’ll call it then, flippin,’ Dave said.”
“I thought it was a perfect name, Thomas said. “Here I was flippin’ with my Flippin’ Stik out of a Ranger boat made in Flippin’ Arkansas.”
The first rods were one-piece construction but Thomas quickly realized that something had to be done about that.
“Back then the boats were a lot shorter than they are today,” Thomas said. “Any rod longer than 6 feet wouldn’t fit and we didn’t have the rod straps for the deck we have today either. That left me with this long rod bouncing on the deck of the boat and the possibility of either losing it or getting a jig in the eye. I called Dave and told him about the problem and asked if he’d make the rod two-piece.”
“At that time we were having problems selling the rod due to its length,” Myers said. “Dee called and wanted a two-piece rod but I knew how difficult it was to market two-piece rods. But the crappie-rod industry was making 12- to 18-foot telescopic poles. I thought that concept might work for our rod so I designed the blank so the rod would collapse down into the butt. That became the first collapsible rod in the bass industry.”
So, with the advent of flipping, not only was a new technique for catching bass introduced, but an entirely new train of thought regarding rods was born. Bass anglers finally realized that they could do a lot more with a 7’-6” rod compared to the 5’-6” rods they’d become accustomed to using and the fact that the collapsible handle allowed for storage in their rod lockers meant that more and more anglers were willing to carry the rods.
This concludes part two of this series. Stay tuned for another piece on the birth of flippin’ and how Dave Myers took Dee Thomas on a tour of the U.S. that involved a major loss in his first BASS event, a commanding win in his second event and some rules decisions by Harold Sharp and Ray Scott.
This is the final part in the two-part series on the birth of the Flippin’ Stik. To read Part One click here.