A History of Jigs in California Sportfishing

fishing history

Catching fish on a lure has always been fascinating and a challenge to me, so when I discovered jig fishing in California, I was delighted.

fishing jigs
Author Jerry Esten at Rocky Point

It was in the early 1950s when a group of pals and I headed for San Diego.  The fish reports from San Diego said, ”The fishing was excellent.” The reports were accurate and we all did well on nice sized yellowtail.

Much to my friend Bob’s consternation I kept borrowing and losing his lures. A good jig was only $2.50 in those days, but nevertheless, that was big bucks to us youngsters.

It occurred to me that I could make my own jigs.

Why not I thought? If only my buddies and I used them it might be a good thing.

jigs history

I immediately began researching jigs and found that most were imported bone jigs and there was a nice plastic one made in Newport Beach, called, “Baldy”. Both had double fixed hooks and were used primarily for trolling for albacore.

jigs history

Some commercial old timers told me about a jig no longer made called the “Putter”; they swore by it and claimed they would pay $10.00 for one!

I searched shops and chandleries in vain, and at last found an old “Putter”. It was scarred and chipped but the basic shape was clear. A fresh coat of paint and rigged this with a wire leader, I lest I lose it to a hungry barracuda, I was ready to test this gem.

Captain Putters has been pictured in South Coast Sportfishing’s column “Looking Astern” by Ed Reis. The Captain plied Santa Monica bay and had a fine reputation.

Back to San Diego we went. It was time to see if this venerable jig was as good as claimed.  We boarded the New Lo Ann and headed to the Coronado islands. Once again the reports were good

The sun had not yet risen, but we started throwing jigs just the same. As luck would have it I had an immediate hook up and landed what proved to be the jackpot yellowtail.

Our fellow party boat anglers did what fishermen have always done, and asked. “What’s he using?” The young deckhand looked at the worn legend on this ancient Putter and announced, “It’s a Putter, whatever that is”.  I lacked the foresight and guile to have told him it was a “Jerry Jig.” The day was a good one and we all caught fish limits or close to it. After 4 or 5 fish I figured that I’d best put this jig in my tackle box and bring it home safely.

jigs history

A visit to a local foundry educated me to the sand casting process. I modified the design to suit our manufacturing needs and in a few weeks I headed to Paradise Cove where the late skipper Bill Hutchinson helped me test our new creations.

Big calico bass were obliging. Not only did we do well, but also the jig seemed to produce well while sinking with the reel in free spool. We were actually fishing the lure as though it were live bait, in free spool, and letting it “swim” freely.

Captain Bill remarked after catching seven consecutive bass, “I think this jig will do fine.”  and the “Jerry jig” was born.

The pier tackle shop stocked the jigs as well as the party boats at paradise cove. The late skipper Jack Ward who went on to found Cisco’s at Oxnard ran the “Gentleman” and both he and Captain Bill were instrumental in getting the lures into angler’s hands. Joe Morris was the owner of the “Cove” and a wise businessman. Joe had me make a few display jigs that were around three feet long. They were an eye catcher and a great sales device.

old fishing
Author’s Parents in 1950 with albacore from San Clemente.

Little did I know that a plethora of lures was going to hit the market in the next few years. Besides my new product there were all sorts of comparable products. Many were around for a few seasons or less. Others became standards and are popular to this day. It was also the first time the term “El Nino” was used. 1957, 58’ and 59’ were warm water years. My timing was lucky and probably inspired many people to make jigs.

vintage jigs

On a call to Redondo Sportfishing I met the late Mr. Tady Shimuzu, he too was selling lures. Tady was showing Capt. Jack Baker his unique new lure. It was so different it made Captain Jack look askance, but he gave it a try.

It did turn out to be a superb fish catcher and was the forerunner of a huge line of jigs. Jim Shimuzu, Tady’s son runs the business today and has a wide variety of products. The late Tady would be shocked to see what that first little jig led to.

Capt. Jack Baker and most of the Redondo party boats were using my jigs and knocking ‘em dead, thanks to a wonderful run of big bonito, as well as bass and barracuda. The skipper even offered a money back guarantee if one failed to catch fish on my little jigs. As far as I know the Captain never had to give a refund! Mind you, the fishing was excellent and catching jig fish was a “no brainer.”

old jigs

At about the same time Dal Salas was producing a nice assortment of lures and did well, we fished together in San Diego a few times and tried hard to out-fish each other,

Barney Killion of Lincoln-Pico Sporting Goods made a shiny chrome jig, decorated with a red stripe. It was the “Streamlined Dodger” and was available in two sizes. I once hooked a small sea lion on a Dodger. I never saw that before or since. No, I didn’t land it; my line was peeling off the reel as if a train was pulling it. I cut lose quickly. Mr. Killian also made more conventional jigs, such as the “Whammy” and the “Rodger Dodger.”  They all worked well. A few may still be in stock at the shop, now ably run by Paul Killion. I suggest getting a few because when they are gone, they are gone!

A whole series of lures named after space projects like “Nike” and “Polaris” were created but soon disappeared.

There was one called the “Straggler” made by Leonard Luisser. Len did well and was producing for many years. Alas, no longer.  Leonard had a competitor named “Hacker” who made jigs bearing that name. It too was a good one. That one is long gone too.

jigs history

One of the very first jigs was the venerable “Candy Bar”.

The maker, one Don Manning invited me fishing on his boat, we had great fun, and of course we were trying to outdo one another.  Don told me how his jig got its name. “I was boarding Dick Shafer’s Hornet” and had a candy box filled with my new gems.  Dick asked, “Watcha got there?” Candy bars? Don replied, “Yes, candy bars for yellowtail.” The name stuck. I hope this is accurate, but that’s the old story. Don’s son produced the lure in recent years and it is as good as ever.

There was the French lure called “Vivif”, if it were around today it would surely be an “Infomercial.” It was a rubbery thing and was the precursor of the soft baits that had not yet appeared. Yes, it did work.

Selling lures proved to be more difficult than making them. I called on landings and tackle store from Santa Barbara to Ensenada. I made many friends and probably a few enemies along the way.

I called on the late Jerry Morris of “Jerry’s Tackle” Box in Hermosa Beach. Jerry loved the jigs and did a good job fishing with and selling them.

fish historyIn recent years I learned that I once gave a jig to a youngster of 12 or so who was hanging around Jerry’s Tackle Box, learning all he could about fish and fishing. The lad went out and caught his first big bonito on our jig.

He must have learned well, today he is a Pacific Coast Sportfishing columnist and is well known as “the walking encyclopedia of fishing,” That young man was Steve Carson.

On one of my first sales trips I got a rude awakening at my favorite San Diego landing. The lady in charge took one look at my new product and announced for all to hear, “that will never catch fish.” Needless to say I was very disappointed by what I now know was a senseless remark. I was crushed.

vintage tackleI continued on to Ensenada with my gross of jigs. I had the good fortune to meet Bruce Mises who founded Maxima Fishing Line and a woman named Evelyn Fuller who was making a lure called “the Hoodwink” The three of us had dinner together, and I was encouraged by both of these fishing entrepreneurs

We all made sales to a landing that shall go nameless here. The operator snapped up all my jigs. Upon returning home I learned that only my check cleared the bank.

The “Spoofer” was a popular lure, die cast and chromed, the barries loved it. A Los Angeles fireman named John Perkins made it. Some of the “pro” type fisherman looked down on the “Spoofer” because it was sold in drugstores. I never understood this, after all if it caught fish why would anyone care where it was sold?  It did indeed catch fish! John went on to make a similar lure called the “Monster” but this one never did catch on.

Jigs came and went and most worked; after all who would not test the product they planned to market?

There was one jig called “Bendo” it was a rubbery thing with a metal insert; the idea was that one could bend it into the desired shape. I always wondered how, after a big fish, one could re-bend the Bendo back to the “right” shape.

hoodwink jig
Mary Succop shows off her first bonito using a Hoodwink in 1958 at Paradise Cove.

The previously mentioned “Hoodwink” was known as a fine jig for roosterfish in Baja. The late great Ray Cannon of Baja fame called the Hoodwink the best roosterfish jig he had ever seen.  I eventually acquired the Hoodwink and did OK with it. The die shop that made it changed hands and alas, the Hoodwink is no more.

Clyde Goto ran a downtown LA tackle shop. He appeared one night on Pierpoint landings TV show called “Fishing Flashes”.  This show emceed by Mac Mclintock was a thirty-minute commercial for the landing. We loved every minute of it!

My guess is that “Fishing Flashes” was the first show of its kind.

fishing history
Photo Courtesy of Penn Chronology

Clyde was touting a new gadget called the “Reel Deal”; it was a transmission that gave your reel a 9 to 1 gear ratio, plus the ratio that existed. I simply had to have one. I use it to this day, not really needed with the advent of high-speed reels, but it sure is an oddity and a conversation piece.

fishing jigs

Clyde was making a jig called the “Schnable” he threw in a few with the purchase of the “Reel Deal”. I felt too awkward to tell him I was making jigs.

Clyde also made a lure called “Clyde’s Clobber” I loved that one. It had a single fixed hook and was ideal for barracuda. It was a bit light and not the easiest jig to cast. In recent years I made a similar one and made it a lot heavier. I called it the “Bada Bing”, but it has never been marketed due to other interests.

jerry's jig

Most lures tend to use similar colors. I have been erroneously credited with making the first yellow and green jig.

It’s nonsense. Japanese imported feather jigs were popular and yellow and green worked well. We scored so well on big calicos that the word got out that yellow and green was the best color for big bass.

Here is an example of how the word gets out:  A group us went out one winter day with Capt. Bill Hutchinson.

Fishing had been poor and we had no luck at all. Capt. Bill pointed out a blue shark that was being harassed by perhaps seven yellowtail. I had only heard about this phenomenon and had never seen it until then. The yellows ignored live bait and jigs. They were intent on butting this solitary shark. As the kept circling the boat I dropped a jig straight down. When they passed again I lifted my rod and cranked hard. I was lucky and snagged a big yellow in the belly. Capt. Bill got on the radio and let the fleet know that a big yellow was just taken on a green and yellow jerry jig. As you might guess we sold a lot of them.

Note From the Author:  I hope you readers can add to what I shared here.  We welcome any corrections and new information as all of the above is from memory and is precious ancient history.  I can be reached at [email protected].

Photo Credits: Jerry Esten and thanks to many BD members who shared their collections on the Bloodydecks Forum.

Jerry Esten has had a very diverse background since he started fishing California in 1950. He has manufactured his own jigs, been a tackle rep and then became the owner of his own tackle shop. Jerry has written for South Coast Sportfising in the 1960’s. He produced the first kayak fishing derby ...