It isn’t well known, unless you’re a vintage tackle collector, that it was Fred Arbogast who invented the flat rubber skirt. Back in September of 2021, we wrote a post titled, Fred Arbogast Ads 1940. In that post we discussed that Arbogast, tired of tying dear hair and feathers on his lures, set out to make a rubber skirt. With his experience at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, he was able to figure out a method in which to do that. Today in Wigglers and Dancers – Fred Arbogast, we’ll add more to that story and some of the other baits he made that sported the flat rubber skirt.
But let’s look at a little more history before we get into the actual ads.
If you read Part One of the book review, Black Bass Fishing by Robert Page Lincoln, Lincoln reports in Chapter Seven that he tied up a bass fly with rubber band legs. When he was on a trip with the Arbogasts, Fred grew especially keen with the rubber leg idea. The year of the trip wasn’t mentioned but Lincoln wrote that Fred Arbogast took the idea back to Ohio and fashioned what we know today as the flat rubber skirt.
Arbogast had such success with the skirt, he started placing it on several of his baits along with designing baits to use the skirt. The most famous of these baits was the Hula Popper, which is one of the few Arbogast baits that’s still manufactured and sold today.
Other baits that incorporated the skirt, and the reason for this article, were the series of Hawaiian Wigglers and the Hula Dancer. If you’ve ever followed anything about the Arbogasts, they had a fetish for Hawaiian dancers – thus the names for many of their baits.
Recently I was going through some old magazines and was duly impressed with their advertising in the 40s. In nearly every fishing or outdoors magazine of the time, Arbogast had at least one ad placement, the majority being more than one ad. And, during this time, it appears that the skirted baits were the ones that were selling most due to the concentration of those ads compared to non-skirted bait ads.
Arbogast’s Hawaiian Wiggler came in four sizes, depending on the depth of water the angler was targeting. The No. 1 was designed to “run deep” and weighed in at 5/8-ounce. Its head design was more compact allowing it to have less water resistance, thus the angler was able to keep it deeper in the water column.
The No. 1 1/2 was the same weight, but the head was spread out a little more in order to create more lift, thus allowing it to stay a little shallower than the No. 1. It too weighed 5/8-ounce and came with Arbogast’s’ rubber “Hula Skirt.”
The No. 2 had an even more flattened head and was billed as the shallow runner – how shallow or deep was never talked about in any of the ads. This bait, as with the other two weighed 5/8-ounce.
The No. 3 Wiggler was a completely different design from the other models, it being a spoon much like the Johnson Silver Minnow, rather than a spinner. Arbogast’s’ change in the flat spoon was to add paint and, of course, his patented skirt. This lure, as you’d imagine, was a surface to very shallow running bait.
The next bait that was pimping the Hula Skirt back in the 40s was the Hula Dancer (lead image). Released in 1946, it’s obvious this bait was introduced to compete with the Clark’s Water Scout (1928) – later bought by Strike King and renamed the Spence Scout.
Again, Arbogast would improve on this lure by adding his Hula Skirt to the back end – whereas the Water Scout didn’t have a skirt until Charles Spence added a flat rubber skirt to his Spence Scout version. The other design feature that was different from the Water Scout was the Hula Dancer was a sinking bait.
Of all these baits none of them are manufactured any longer (the Spence Scout is still manufactured and sold by Strike King, mind you). As successful as they were back in the 40s through the mid-70s, you’d think they’d still work. But, as with nearly all fishing tackle, I’m sure someone will sooner or later “design” a “new” bait that looks awfully familiar, rename it and market it as the next new bass killer that’s never been thought of before. Mark my words.