Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Strange History of the Fizgig and Wibble-Wabble

The Strange History of the Fizgig and Wibble-Wabble:

Chicago’s Wartime Fly Rod Lures

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson

The Summer of 1942 would seem by just about any measure to be the worst time to launch a new business concern. But considering the state of affairs concerning the outdoor world, it might be considered just short of lunacy to launch a new line of fishing tackle right as the world descended into total war. Within just the past three months, Imperial Japan took Guadalcanal and invaded the Aleutian Islands, threatening Alaska, while the Nazis pushed across Russia and began to systematically deport Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.

American manufacturing was fully turning towards the Total War Effort required to defeat the forces of totalitarianism. Almost every fishing tackle concern that was able was retooled to make war parts, from the bamboo ski poles and machine gun parts crafted at the Montague Rod & Reel Company to the precision bomb sights made in Dowagiac, Michigan by Heddon employees. Almost no new fishing tackle was reaching store shelves, and supplies were quickly exhausted as America settled in for a long, cold, bleak winter.

All of this is the backdrop to one of the strangest fishing tackle decisions in modern memory: the launching of the Chicago-based Dodson Manufacturing Company’s line of fishing tackle in the Fall of 1942. As the weather turned cold, Dodson announced boldly the arrival of two new fishing lures: the Fizgig and the Wibble-Wabble. Even more peculiar, the two were fly rod lures…

The Fizgig is a peculiarly named fly rod popper distinguished by its colorful feathered wings and its double hook. Interestingly, the word “fizgig” is an old one, generally meaning an implement with a shaft and barbed point used for catching fish, i.e. a spear or harpoon. Later it took on the meaning of anything that catches a lot of fish.

According to the ad copy, it was “a bug that floats a double hook on an air chamber. She floats just right and the smallest rod twitch makes her move.” The Fizgig was tied on a #4 English-made Hollow Point Double Hook and came in 12 colors:

#1 Red & White; #2 Olive & Green; #3 Brown & Black; #4 Black & White; #5 Orange & Blue; #6 Emerald & Green; #7 Grey & Coral; #8 Yellow & Black; #9 Red & White Body, Black & White Wings; #10 Black Body, Yellow Tipped Wings; #11 Blue Body, Blue & Gold Wings; #12 Black & Yellow Body, Tan, Black & Red Wings.

All patterns had sparkle pattern “heads.” Shown below are eight of the dozen colors.

The Wibble-Wabble, on the other hand, was a weighted streamer with a spinner in front. Another old term (to “wibble-wabble” means to vibrate, quiver or oscillate), according to the ad copy it was “a STREAMER FLY with a bright colored, flippin’, floppin’, spinnin’ blade tied just in front of the head.”

It was tied in three sizes—#2, #8 and #10—and came in six bucktail and six hair colors:

Bucktail Patterns: #1 Red & White; #2 Red & Yellow; #3 Black & White; #4 Green & Yellow; #5 Red & Brown; #6 Orange & Blue; Hair Patterns: #7 Grey Fox; #8 Black Squirrel; #9 Grey Squirrel; #10 Red Squirrel; #11 Brown Bear; #12 Monkey.

The spinner was “appropriately colored” for each pattern.

The Dodson Manufacturing Company even created a persona (and appropriate logo) to hawk the lures: Snoozin’ Sam.

Snoozin’ Sam recognized that times were hard, “but I sure hope you’re going to find time to do a little fishin’.” Snoozin’ Sam even solicited dealers with the promise of a “fast selling display.”

The company took out a full-color back page ad in the second tier journal The Outdoorsman for October, 1942. It noted they were not in stores yet, but could be ordered direct for $.50 each. The Outdoorsman itself hawked the lures’ fish catching ability in a little blurb:

Why anyone would launch a new fishing tackle line in the teeth of a fully managed war economy is puzzling, but it is likely that the idea was under development before America’s entry in the war in December 1941, and that they had too much invested to shut down. Besides, a fly tackle venture relied mainly on natural resources that could easily have been stored ahead of time—several gross of fish hooks, some cases of feathers, rod winding thread. There were likely few or no machines necessary to make the Fizgig, and the Wibble-Wabble was a doctored streamer fly which had old origins. Work on such lures could easily have been done by housewives on a piece by piece basis.

But the timing was off. The real audience for fly fishing was either overseas fighting the axis, or working long hours at home to supply the troops. While fishing was still an important component of leisure in wartime America, no area was harder hit than fly fishing. In particular fly lines became almost impossible to find, and many anglers who would have been content to false cast a placid stream were being counted on to bring home fish for dinner, and turned to more pedestrian methods instead. Fly anglers are notorious for making their own flies and poppers, so in a tight economy the thought of buying a new bass bug--even a pretty one like the Fizgig--probably went by the wayside.

Thus the Fizgig and Wibble-Wabble fizzled, done in by the same totalitarian regimes that had thrown the world into chaos. Had Dodson Manufacturing entered the tackle field in 1925 or even 1935, the Chicago manufacturer might have had a great success on its hands. After all, the Fizgig is a beautiful popper to look at and the Wibble-Wabble is surely a fish-killing lure. But America was distracted by the work at hand, and the piscatorial pair languished, to die a quick and painful demise.

Moreover, they disappeared from memory, leaving behind only the advertisements in moldering magazines and, perhaps, a few examples waiting in a drawer to be properly identified.

If anyone has a popper with a double hook, please drop me a note as I’d love to include a photo of one of these lures!

-- © 2009 Dr. Todd


Illinois fishing tackle guru Steve Lumpkin has offered up the following background on Dodson:

Todd, My guess is that Dodson had plenty of raw materials to sustain itself during the World War II years. They actually started business in 1940. They started selling a "Fisherman's Hobby Kit" under the "Snoozin' Sam" label that contained all of the material necessary for making and tying your own flies. They made this kit through 1941 and into 1942 when (as your blog noted) they started selling the Fizgig and the Wibble-Wabble fly rod lures. I don't know why they stopped doing business...perhaps they signed up for the war....something I intend to find out as I research the histories of Illinois made fishing tackle.

Thanks Steve! I don't think they were part of the war manufacturing effort as by the middle of 1942 most companies that were part of the national manufacturing chain for war materials were already retooled and working. I suspect Dodson shut down as employees/capital went elsewhere, and they never started up again, like so many other firms.

-- Dr. Todd

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