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Midwest Finesse

Terry Bivins and Leroy Spellman

by Ned Kehde   |  October 26th, 2012 0

Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, and the late Leroy Spellman of Mt.Vernon, Missouri, have had a piscatorial tie that stretches back into the 1980s.

Before he crossed paths with Spellman, Bivins was a stellar race car driver. He raced from 1964 to 1977 and won more than 4oo events. His racing career ended when NASCAR officials failed to honor him with the 1976 Winston Cup Series rookie-of-the-year award. ¬†Initially NASCAR announced that Bivins won the award, but a few week later NASCAR rescinded the award, saying it was overturned¬†on a technicality. ¬†Bivins protested what he described as NASCAR’s¬†malfeasance by quitting the sport. ¬†However, ¬†he drag raced a bit and even won some championships¬†in 1986 through 1987. ¬†Then from 1976 to 2006, he worked hard, ¬†managing his ¬†construction company and several other businesses. He also fished hard and became as talented a fisherman as he was a race car driver. Then at the age of 62, he began racing again in 2006, ¬†competing in B-modified class cars at dirt-track races, such as at Heartland Park Topeka’s Super Saturday Showdown dirt track series, where he was by far the oldest driver on the track, but he always gave the youngsters a run for their money. ¬†In 2012, Bivins won a few races, ¬†and he enjoyed 12 top-five finishes and 15 top-ten finishes. Because of a broken motor, he missed the last two races ¬†of the season, which put him in third place in the points standing, and if his motor hadn’t failed, he thought that he would have finished in second place. He said that he “had a lot fun racing at the age of 69 and battling the youngsters. ¬†Some of them were a little¬†distraught¬†because¬†they¬†couldn’t catch me.”

As his racing¬†renaissance became more intense, his interest in fishing waned, and he even sold his boat. ¬†But during late summer and early fall of 2012, his fishing fever erupted, and he purchased a boat and began wielding¬†Leroy¬†Spellman’s ¬†1/6-ounce and 1/8-ounce jigs again. Of course, he inveigled scores of fish on them as he used to in years past.

Bivins recently reminisced a bit about how he and Spellman originally crossed paths. He remembers that it occurred shortly after he purchased a bass boat in 1982. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, ¬†Bivins spent a lot of time reading about bass fishing. One story that caught his eye featured a pair of anglers who won a lot of bass tournaments at Table Rock Lake, Missouri. That story reported that this pair of anglers were swimming Spellman’s gray jigs across the tops of the flooded trees in 20 to 50 feet of water.

After reading that story, Bivins  contacted Spellman, who had a shop in his Mt. Vernon, Missouri, home, where he and his wife crafted several kind of lures, including a variety of jigs. The Spellmans named their  business   Stream Sweeper Lures.

Bivins said: ¬†”When¬†I got a hold of Leroy, I had him send me some¬†chartreuse¬†and gray 1/8-ounce jigs. And ever since then, ¬†I have been used every size that he and his wife tie, ranging from as small as a 1/64-ounce jig to as big as a 3/8-ounce jig. I have found that the chartreuse one is the one to use¬†on a cloudy day, ¬†and gray is best when the water is clear and sun is bright. ¬† ¬†His white-head, ¬†baby-blue-body and white-tail jigworks¬†surprisingly¬†well in murky water, and his black one catches a lot of smallmouth bass.”

During¬†the past three decades, Bivins¬†purchased thousands of the Spellmans’ jigs. ¬†He says it ¬†is impossible to tabulate how many of them he has worn out and lost on snags. ¬†Even though both Spellmans are dead, Bivins has ¬†stockpiled enough of them to last until his dying day.

Mr. ¬†and Mrs. ¬†Spellman were not ¬†fine craftsman. Therefore some¬†persnickety ¬†anglers, as well as some meticulous fly and jig tiers, ¬†might turn their noses up when they examined ¬†Spellmans’ jigs. And during Leroy Spellman’s later years, his craftsmanship waned even more, but in Bivins’ hands they have allured¬†astronomical numbers of fish.
On Oct. 10, Bivins ¬†sent a report to the Finesse News Network, describing a five-hour ¬†outing that he had at a 7,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reservoir.
He spent the bulk of those hours fishing the riprap of this reservoir’s massive dam.
One ¬†of his spinning outfits sported a 1/16-ounce gray Leroy Spellman’s jig. Another one was fitted with an 1/8-ounce gray Spellman’s jig. A third spinning outfit donned a 1/16-0unce jig that was dressed with a Bass Assassin Lures’ red-bug Fry Assassin that Bivins had cut in two, making it a two-inch Fry Assassin.
This outing occurred after a significant cold front had sashayed across northeastern Kansas, sending some area¬†thermometers to ¬†a record low of 26 degrees. The normal low¬†temperature¬† is 49 degrees. ¬†By the time he made is first cast around 12:01 p.m., the temperature on many area thermometers ranged from the upper 50s to the low 60s. The normal high temperature for this date ¬†is 71 degrees. ¬†To Bivins’ delight, the wind was calm, which allowed him to wielded his spinning outfits and little jigs without having to contend with the wind creating bows in his line, and the bows interfere with the delicate cadence of his¬†retrieves.
As he probed the dam’s riprap, he positioned his boat in 10 to 12 feet of water, and his casts were aimed at seven feet of water. ¬†As soon as the jig hit the surface, Bivins began counting the seconds. Once four seconds had lapsed, he began swimming the jig by turning the reel handle at an extremely slow and almost tedious pace. By executing this retrieve, Bivins inveigled 21 smallmouth bass, 12 crappie and one channel catfish, and most of them were extracted from 10 to 12 feet of water. ¬†One smallmouth bass measured 21 inches, and it looked as if it weighed ¬†six pounds. Another smallmouth bass was 18 1/2 inches long. ¬†Of the 35 fish that he caught, the bulk of them were allured by the gray 1/8-ounce jig, but the big smallmouth bass was beguiled by the two-inch Fry Assassin.
On Oct. 11, Bivins sent another report to the Finesse News Network, reporting that he had fished from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the same reservoir he fished on Oct. 10. ¬†On his outing, he landed 48 smallmouth bass, three spotted bass and eight crappie. ¬†For a spell, he worked a spinnerbait along wind-blown sections of the riprap of the dam without eliciting a strike. He also used a 1/16-ounce jig dressed with a two-inch red-bug Assassin Fry and failed to garner a strike. After both of those baits failed him, he began working with¬†Leroy Spellman’s 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce ¬†gray ¬†jigs.
He employ the 1/8-ouncer on lairs that contained gravel and scattered rocks. ¬†At these locales, he presented the jig to the smallmouth bass by implementing what he calls a bottom-bouncing retrieve. He accomplishes this retrieve by allow the jig to¬†plummet¬†directly to the bottom after his cast hits the water. As the jig falls towards the bottom, he slowly drops his rod to the five o’clock position, and on windy outings, ¬†the tip of his rod is almost touching the surface of the water. ¬†This rod position keeps the wind from creating a bow in the line and fouling the cadence of his retrieve. ¬†Once the jig bounces on the bottom, Bivins makes two moderately paced¬†rotations of his reel handle, which propels or lifts the jig off the bottom. ¬†Then he holds his rod and reel handle dead still and ¬†allows the jig to ¬† fall to the bottom again. As the jig ¬†bounces on the bottom, Bivins makes two more rotations of his reel handle. He does this routine until the jig is ¬†beyond the area that he is focusing on.
Bivins elected to use the 1/16-ounce gray jig at lairs that were cluttered with rocks, such as the riprap of the dam. Instead of bottom bouncing this jig, he utilized a slow swimming retrieve, allowing the jig to glide a few inches above the rocks. ¬†He says it is often a lesson in futility to employ the bottom-bouncing retrieve with a Spellman’s jig on riprap, and that is because the crevices between the boulders are what Bivins and many Midwest finesse anglers call “jig eaters.”
On both techniques, he had his boat positioned so that it floated in 15 to 17 feet of water. He made his casts so that the jigs would fall into about seven feet of water. Then he retrieved the jigs into about 14 feet of water.
Besides the 51 black bass that he landed, another 15 jumped off before he could lift them across the gunnels of his boat, and he hooked three good one that became liberated before he could see and identify what specie they were. His three biggest smallmouth bass measured 18 3/4 inches, 16 1/2 inches and 16 inches.
On Oct. 12 Bivins penned another ¬†Finesse News Network report. He wrote: ¬†”I fished the dam for about three hours before the wind, drizzle and cold¬†finally¬† got to me. Then I took refuge during the last hour in a wind-sheltered area. ¬†The cloud cover and light rain brought the bigger fish in shallow. ¬†I wasted 45 minutes fishing from seven to 13 feet of water. Eventually ¬†I moved the boat into ¬†10 feet of water and started to aim the casts closer to the shoreline.”

Despite having to battle  the cold and damp wind, Bivins  was able to eke out  28 smallmouth bass and one largemouth bass. None of them were dinks, but none were lunkers. Most of the smallmouth bass ranged in size from 15 to 16  inches in length, and the largest was 17 1/4 inches long.

Terry Bivins with a northeastern Kansas largemouth bass.

Bivins discovered that the wind made it difficult for him to keep Spellman’s jig from becoming snagged in the crevices of the shallow rocks. ¬†Therefore, he decided to work with ¬†a shortened ¬†motor-oil-neon, ¬†eight-inch Gene Larew Lures’ Hooktail Worm. ¬†Bivins removed three-inch segment off the head of the worm, ¬†and he affixed that three-inch segment to a 1/16-ounce jig. ¬†He retrieved the jig-worm combo by¬†slowly¬†swimming it across the tops of the rocks.

 

At the top of this photograph is the three-inch Gene Larew motor-oil neon worm. The second bait is the two-inch red-bug Frat Assassin.

As the fall of 2012 continues to unfold, Bivins will eventually turn his attention to the white bass that normally abide on wind-blown point and shorelines.  Then during the winter of 2012-13, he will extract oodles of crappie from their wintertime  haunts. Once spring arrives, he will turn his attention to sauger and walleye, as well as crappie, temperate bass and all three species of black bass. There are also spells when he tangles with  a profusion of spawning channel catfish.

Many observers have proclaimed that Bivins is ¬†the most talented multispecies anglers to have ever graced the waterways of northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri. They note that he is exceedingly proficient at employing lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms ¬†and shirted jigs with a variety trailers, but the greatest percentage of his casts are made with one of Leroy Spellman’s jigs or a jig affixed to a small soft-plastic bait.

It is essential ¬†to note that the bottom-bouncing retrieve is what Bivins has used to catch the preponderance of fish that he has caught across the 30 years that he has used Leroy Spellman’s 1/8-ounce jig. In the eyes of the uninitiated anglers, it might seems¬†as if it is an easy retrieve to implement, but it is not. ¬† ¬†In fact, I have never seen another angler in the world who can do what he does with a marabou jig.What’s more, he is almost as masterful with the Spellmans’ 1/4- and 3/8-ounce jigs as he is with the 1/8-ouncer.

Some observers suspect that it is Bivins’ uncanny ability to concentrate that makes him such a stellar angler and race car driver. ¬†Those of us who have watched him fish for days on end can attest to his unending ability to be in a state of deep and profound concentration cast after cast and retrieve after retrieve. It is an¬†incredible¬†sight to behold.

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Footnotes
(1) For several decades, ¬†the jigs that Mr. and Mrs. Spellman tied have been nicknamed Leroy’s by Bivins and scores of Midwest finesse anglers.¬†¬†Anglers who are interested in recreating a Leroy’s gray jig can assemble their own jig by purchasing from Barlow’s Tackle Shop some pearl gray marabou, light gray antron yarn and silver tinsel, and either some silver pearl or chrome paint. For more information about these Barlow products see:¬†http://www.barlowstackle.com/-Marabou-Bulk-Plumes–P1140.aspx¬†No. 125 called pearl gray;¬†http://www.barlowstackle.com/Yarn-Antron–P1264C164.aspx¬†No. 63 light gray;¬†http://www.barlowstackle.com/-Epoxy-Fishing-Lure-Powder-PaintbrRegular-Colors–P950.aspx¬†either No. 24 silver pearl or No. 399 chrome.
Some anglers prefer an unpainted head. What’s more, ¬†Spellman used to wrap the body of some of his ¬†gray jigs with silver tinsel, and it was the favorite jig of ¬†several of Midwest finesse anglers, who called it the silver Leroy’s. A few ¬†of these anglers use pieces for a silver pipe cleaner around the bellies of their jigs. For an example of the silver pipe cleaners see: http://www.kitkraft.biz/product.php?productid=7991.
(2) ¬†Gord Pyzer, who is an In-Fisherman field editor from Kenora, Ontario, says Terry Bivins is a prime example that the equipment doesn’t make the angler.
The truth of Pyzer’s axiom is revealed by the vintage equipment that ¬†Bivins uses. ¬†In sum, Bivins is a frugal angler who possesses the skills to catch scores of fish and doesn’t need high-dollar and state-of-the-art products to catch them.
Even though Bivins doesn’t use expensive and up-to-date equipment, all of it is¬†superbly maintained. In many ways, his fishing tackle is similar to his race cars: He never has the fastest or best car on the track, but his car is always well cared for, ¬†and by the end of most races, ¬†his name is at the top or near the top of the leader board.
Here’s an example of Bivins’ vintage spinning outfits:
When he wields an  1/8-ounce jig, he works with a six-foot, medium-action Berkley Limited Edition rod (LE28-6) and a Quantum XR-2 Longstroke reel that is spooled with eight-pound-test Stren monofilament. The color of the monofilament is clear/blue fluorescent. This rod possesses a stiff action, which makes it difficult to cast a 1/16-ounce jig, but it is ideal for his 1/8-ounce and heavier jigs.
  When he uses a 1/16-ounce jig, his rod is a six-foot Eagle Claw Tom Mann (TMN 201) with a medium power and a fast tip. The reel is a Shimano Aero 2000 spooled with eight-pound-test Stren monofilament. The color of the monofilament is clear/blue fluorescent.
(4)  Besides racing and fishing, Bivins still spends a lot of time working. He has recently created a new business in a section of the  garage at his home.  It is called Terry Bivins Wheel Repair.  He single-handedly designed, manufactured and assembled all of the fixtures and tools that he needed for repairing  wheels that are damaged during a race.  Since July, he has repaired 420 racing wheels.

 

 

 

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