Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A History of Cotton Cordell, by Todd Long

I recently saw a post on Joe's about Cotton Cordell. Having fished Cordell lures for upwards of three decades, I was interested to know more, so I contacted the poster--NFLCC member Todd Long and asked if he would help educate all of us on Cotton Cordell. He not only submitted a great article (published today and tomorrow) on Cordell, he also put together a piece (running next week) on the ever popular Heddon Chugger. Our communal thanks go out to Todd for his hard work and great research. He has a web site called Heddon Spooks that you can check out if you have any Cordell, Chuggers, etc. and have questions.

“Top” SPOTS and Chuggers

by Todd Long, NFLCC - Galveston, TX

I started collecting lures as a kid growing up fishing in the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve always had a strong interest in why some lures catch fish and others did not. What was it about the shape, color, size and sound of a particular lure that drew aggressive strikes while other comparable lures didn’t land a nibble? Should I continue casting this “secret” plug or should I save it in my collection and not risk losing it to another hungry pond bass, stump or low-hanging branch? Will all the quarters in my pocket earned from selling blackberries and Grit Magazine all summer be enough to buy another lure like it? Will our beloved Gibsons, Western Auto, or other tackle hangouts even have another one like it? Hmmmmm, maybe I’ll just save it…..These are the questions I pondered as we jumped from pond to pond or from isle to isle in the sporting goods department-questions that encouraged me to save or “collect” so many of the wonderful baits I still have today.

Although not new to lure collecting, I am glad to be a newer NFLCC club member and tackle show fanatic. I formally joined the craze and the club some 3 or 4 years ago upon the suggestion of my friends Ed and Toni Moore and Shreveport, LA. It was them who first helped me take my small collections from some 8 or 10 colors to something now outgrowing my lure cases!

COTTON CORDELL – “Lifetime of Lures” by Ken Scott, Little Rock, AR

Cotton Cordell (Center) compares original Big-O with his version. Fred Young (right) originator of the lure and Odis “Big-O” Young, brother of the inventor after whom the lure was named.

Carl Cordell, Jr. was born in 1928 in Benton, Arkansas, where he attended high school and was active in sports. He father, Carl Cordell, Sr. worked for Alcoa in the Benton area but in 1946 bought a boat landing on Lake Catherine in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which would change Cotton’s life.

The marina’s office had a small window facing the lake where his father would stand and watch the fishing action. He would say, “Son, see that third boat out there on the lake? They aren’t catching enough fish. Go out and show them what they need to do.” So, Cotton would row out to the boat and give the necessary tips on catching fish, which would usually enable the clients to catch more fish and become repeat customers.

Cordell, who is possibly responsible for more lure innovations than any man in the world, got his start in the lure making business from the purchase of surplus B-52 bomber survival kits. The kit had a knife, razor, twine, bandages, and a bucktail jig made with deer hair. The kit cost $2 and Cordell would save up enough money to buy one and then throw away everything but the bucktail jig. “They caught fish like nobody’s business. If you lost it, then it got awful expensive to replace. I tell everyone that I started making lures because I couldn’t afford to buy them. That’s the truth.”

In the late 1940’s Cotton started making what became known as the Banana head jig with a hand-fashioned mold, pouring jig bodies using a trotline hook. He had a problem though. There weren’t any deer around to provide the hair. But he did have a loyal English Setter. He’d lop off a section of the setter’s hair and tie it to the hook, completing the jig. “Dog hair will catch just as many fish as the deer hair, but before it was over, I had the baldest English Setter in the world,” Cordell said.

A large diaper pin provided his next idea for what has become the most popular fishing lure in the world: The Spinner Bait. He bought large diaper pins and molded them into the lead heads of the his dog hair jigs. Then he added a spinner by bending the sticker through the blade, and the Ouachita Spinner was born. So was Cotton Cordell, Inc. The lures were so good, Cordell began getting orders from all over the country, from well known manufacturers like Burke, Crème and Creek Chub. The timing was perfect as fishing with artificial lures was growing in popularity. Cordell then expanded into more innovative lures.

He began with the Weedless Banana Head Jig which sold two on a card in 1952 and 1953. He learned his painting process for this lure from Conrad Wood, who was the best lure designer ever. The paint used on the jig was called Poly Clutch, and sold for $55 a gallon, rather expensive because it was on e of the first epoxy paints. Cotton demonstrated the paint wouldn’t come off the jig. At a sales presentation, he’d take a hammer and piece of railroad track and beat the jib as thin as a dime – and the paint would still be on the jig head.

Cotton produced an extensive line of lures and related items over his long career in the fishing tackle business. Listed below are some of his more popular and favorite lures:
1. Gay Blade – circa 1954 to 1980 – made in four sizes. Produces for Pflueger for four or five years. This was Cotton’s favorite bait.
2. Crazy Shad – circa 1955 to 1980, made in two sizes. This was the first plastic lure produced.
3. Red Fin – circa 1955 to 1980, made in three sizes. Jointed Red Fin – circa 1960 to 1980, made in three sizes.
4. Boy Howdy – circa 1955 to 1980, made in two sizes.
5. Hot Spot – circa 1958 to 1980, made in five sizes. Produced more Hot Spots than Big O’s because it was in production for more years.
6. Big O – circa 1973 to 1980, made in four sizes. This was the first alphabet lure. It sold 1,300,000 the first year in production.
7. Other lures and items produces by Cotton Cordell were the Super Shad, Swimming Shad, Crawdad, Crab, Huncho, Near Nuthin, Loudmouth, Mr. Whiskers, Vibra King and Vibra Queen Spinner Baits, and a large variety of jigs. He made the first power reel handle and produced high-speed gears for Ambassaduer 5000, and produced 574 fiberglass boats called “The Going Jessie” (circa 1972-1973). He produced an extensive line of rods and handles throughout his years in the tackle business and many other fishing items.

Cotton Cordell produced lures for many other well known manufacturers over the years, including:

Heddon: Spin Fin, Sonic, Twin Spin and Sonar
Pflueger: Gay Blade
ABU Garcia: Large plastic topwater baits
Crème and Burke: Sold them his jigs and they added worms to the hooks
Creek Chub: Plastic Injured Minnows

He touched the lives of many people in the fishing tackle industry and helped a lot of people get started in their early years. To mention only a few: He hired Bill Dance and 1974 to promote Cordell lures. He bought his first camera and produced his first TV show. He helped Jerry McKinnis film some of his first TV shows. He helped Gary Loomis get started in business around 1982 with rod equipment, blanks and start up capital of $2,500.

He sold his company in 1980 to Ebsco, and just before the sale, he was producing 22,000 lures per day. He employed 200 people in Hot Springs, 250 people in El Salvador and 100 workers in Taiwan. At the time of the sale, he had 72 plastic injection molds. Cordell Bait Company was the largest lure maker in the world from 1968 to 1980. He sold lures to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Sears, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.

His lifetime work was recognized in 1988 when he was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was inducted into the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame.

Tomorrow: Collecting Cotton Cordell

-- Dr. Todd


Unknown said...

A tackle dealer has told us that Cotton Cordell is going out of business and that they will no longer be making the 7' Redfin. I sany of this true?

The Countryfisher said...

I guess taking a peek at this site will answer your question

Unknown said...

hey man i have number 154 of the going jesse bass boats all original, and use it alot all year long, great boat!

morris.r591 said...

I too have a going jessie boat. Very nice old boat and great handling. Does anyone know what these boats are worth now? I can be e-mailed at, thanks.

Unknown said...

Fascinating and full of the kind of details I crave. I am aflutter with the info re the paint as I have often wondered why some well made lures would use such awful paint- here in gulf coast texas we see a lot of cordell lures and products but now can fiinally admire the whole man and his contribution to every aspect of fishing. I nominate you to write the Arbogast bio- not it. Well done, great writing and killer subject- i am a fan