Tom Mann's Hardworm ad that appeared in the 1983 through 1985 Bassmaster Magazines.

Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That quote means a lot coming from a man who many consider one of the fathers of the industrial revolution.  In today’s post, Tom Mann’s Hardworm, we look at one of Mann’s not-so-popular innovations that caught some fish but didn’t catch many anglers.

In the course of fishing tackle history, there have been hundreds if not thousands of bait makers who have burned out like meteors.  There are also a few names that survive as legends of the sport.  James Heddon, Bill Norman, Bill Lewis, Charles Spence to name a few. In that list of legendary bait makers is an Alabama man named Tom Mann.

Over the course of his life, Mann created baits that not only sold well, more importantly they worked.  The Jelly Worm, for example works as well today as it did 40 years ago.  The Little George still catches fish in any portion of the water column.  The Mann’s 1-Minus took crankbaits to an all-new level and still has a following 30 years after its introduction.  The number of other successes Mann had are too many to mention in this short piece.

Essentially what it boils down to is, whatever Tom Mann dreamed up, it worked and sold.

But as the title of this story alludes, this piece isn’t about one of his many successes – it’s about one of his few design and marketing errors.  The Hardworm.

From the ad, Mann said, “My ultimate lure….looks like a worm….fishes like a hardbait…”

Even with the pedigree that Mann had within the industry, the Hardworm was a hard sell.  I think he just tried to cover too many bases.

It’s difficult to tell what his thinking was with respect to the design of this bait.  Was he trying to capitalize on his Jelly Worm success?  Did he think anglers would take the bait serious enough to put it in their box?  We’ll never know.

Mann’s Hardworm was released for the 1984 tackle season, probably getting its debut at the 1983 AFTMA show, the predecessor to ICAST.  Looking in Merv Willoughby’s book, A Collector’s Guide to Tom Mann Lures and Tackle, 1958 to 1985, Willoughby documents the life of the Hardworm, its models and colors.  This is an amazing book for collectors but unfortunately is now out of print.

I’m confident that he did think it would be a success due to the fact he offered the bait in five different variations: a shallow diver, a medium diver, a deep diver, a topwater, and a sinking model.  No business owner would invest in the molds for that many models, let alone the packaging, without thinking it would sell.

The topwater bait had twin props, one placed ion each end of the lure.  In this configuration, it resembles any prop bait minus the fact that this one is somewhat shaped like a worm.  I’m sure in this form, the bait worked.

The shallow dover had a low-angle lip that was molded into the head of the bait and had a jointed tail.  It’s said to have been designed to run in the surface to 5-foot range.  The medium diver is fitted with a longer bill and has the jointed tail.  It was said to run in the 5- to 7-foot range.  The Deep diver had an even longer and wider bill, the jointed tail, and was said to reach depths of 12 feet.

Mann's ad from the November/December 1983 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

As a jerkbait, I wonder how the shallow, medium and deep divers worked with the jointed tail.  It’s been my experience even hanging a feathered treble off the end of a jerkbait can hinder the action let alone a much heavier piece of plastic.

The sinking version of the bait had no bill or props.  There is no other description in the ads or in Willoughby’s book on how the lure reacted in the water or its sink rate.

On page 127 of Willougby’s book is either an ad or an image from a catalog of the Hardworm that I have been unable to find.  The ad states:

“Looks like a stubby garden worm – one of the favorite natural food sources of a wide variety of fish.”

“The Hardworm’s brightly-colored ‘action tail’ produces a lot of fish-attracting flash and motion.”

“The shape of the Hardworm body allows it to be cast like a bullet, so that it covers more water, for better odds, and reaches beyond easily spooked fish.”

“How effective is the Hardworm?  I personally caught over 500 fish on the test models alone!”

The only statement that I’d take seriously is that Mann says he caught over 500 fish on the test versions.  The other comments are a bit corny.

I am not confident on the sales volume of this lure but I can say this, when they came out, the shop I worked in never ordered any of them.  Based on the fact that the lure was only produced for two years, 1984 and 1985, sales of the Hardworm were minimal.

1984 Mann's Hardworm ad from Merv Willoughby's "A Collector's Guide to Tom Mann Lures & Tackle, 1958-1985.

I either bought one at the time or was gifted one and it ended up with my Helicopter lures and Heddon Budweiser Can baits.  I never took it out of the package and laughed when I got it.  Looking back in a historical eye, I should have taken advantage of the bargain bins of the day and bought all I could afford, as they have increased in value on the collector’s market ten-fold.

As a lure designer and marketer, Mann was a genius.  Out of all the baits he designed, this is probably the only bait that one could even venture to call a failure.  And, with as long a history Mann had in the industry, I would have to say he did much better than the average bait maker.