Charlie Campbell is revered by Rick Clunn. When Clunn talks about Campbell, he even seems to bow his head, lower his voice and speak as if he is uttering a modern-day beatitude. In sum, Clunn of Ava, Missouri, says the world of professional bass fishing would be in a state of perfection if all its participants and managers were able to acquit themselves as gracefully and honorably as Campbell has done throughout his life.
Campbell of Forsyth, Missouri, began competing in bass tournament in the 1960s, and at the age of 78, he is still competing in the Heartland Trails Elite Tournament series, as well as teaming with his wife, Wanda, to ply Heartland’s Team Series. From May 22, 1974, to November 2, 2002, he participated in 229 Bassmaster events, including five Classics. On the Bassmaster circuit, Campbell won one event, finished in second place twice, finished in the top ten 16 times, in the top twenty 27 times and in the top fifty 79 times. Across his entire tournament career, his name has embellished the first-place spot on the leader board 67 times.
Besides his professional bass fishing endeavors, he was a successful high school teacher and coach for 15 years at Forsyth, Missouri, High School, where he conducted himself with the same saint-like demeanor that his bass tournament friends, such as Clunn, adulate.
He also worked as a fishing guide on Bull Shoals, Table Rock and Taneycomo lakes. In 1974 he became a proprietor of a marine shop, which focused primarily on rigging bass boats for area anglers. He designed and modified scores of bass lures, and The Charlie Campbell CC Spinner Bait was his most well-known creation, which Joe Hall’s Blakemore Lure Company of Forsyth, Missouri, manufactured and merchandised. In1977, he went to work for Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri, where he helped design the Bass Tracker Boat and develop merchandizing strategies for boats and tackle. To this day Campbell remains a confidant of Morris and a vital member of Nitro Boats Pro Fishing Team, which includes such notable anglers as Kevin Van Dam, Rick Clunn, Edwin Evers, Stacey King and Tommy Martin.
Eventually folks outside of the angling world and the Ozark region recognized his manifold virtues. Thus the Missouri House of Representatives anointed him as an Outstanding Missourian. In 2003,Campbell was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. The Springfield, Missouri, Area Sports Hall of Fame inducted him in 2007, and he became a member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2008.
Since the 1970s, the angling media have printed a substantial number of words about Campbell– especially about his prowess with employing Heddon Lure’s Zara Spook. Wielding a Zara Spook remains one of his passions, and when he wields it, he still inveigles some impressive specimens, such as the nine-pound, six-ounce largemouth bass that his Zara Spook bewitched during the summer of 2008 at Taneycomo Lake. Moreover, it has waylaid several smallmouth bass in the six-pound range at Bull Shoals and Table Rock lakes. He caught his biggest Zara Spook bass in Mexico, and that brute weighed 12 pounds.
Despite the many words that have rolled off the printing presses about Campbell and the Zara Spook, a story about Campbell cannot be told without noting once again that he used a Zara Spook to catch 55.15 pounds of bass to win the B.A.S.S. Chapter Championship at Table Rock Lake on May 22-24, 1974. In the eyes of even the most skeptical observers, that catch documented his expertise at catching bass with a Zara Spook.
Because of all the media coverage about Campbell’s wizardry with a Zara Spook, a lot of folks inside the fishing trade, including Johnny Morris, think that Campbell did more to popularize topwater fishing for bass than any other modern-day angler.
It is interesting to gaze into Campbell’s relatively small and rather vintage tackle box. In it lies five generations of the 4 ½-inch Zara Spook. These are, however, only a fraction of his total collection. The others are safely stored at his house. Besides the five generations of Zara Spooks in his tackle box, Heddon has created several other editions that he doesn’t use, such as the 5 ½-inch Super Spook and 3 ½-inch Super Spook Jr.
One of his favorite Zara Spooks in his tackle box is a bullfrog-colored one. It’s what Campbell calls a “thin-wall” Zara Spook, and the line tie is at the point of the Spook’s nose. It is what Campbell calls his first generation Zara Spook, but he notes that it isn’t the 1939 model. He suspects that it was made in the 1950s or early 1960s. He has repaired it a number of times with epoxy, and he has added two small BBs to its interior so that it rattles. It also sports two gold treble hooks.
His second generation Zara Spook is one that Heddon beefed up so that it could withstand the abuse that northern pike and other toothy and draconian species can occasionally muster. These Zara Spooks have what Campbell calls “thick walls.” They also sported big treble hooks. What’s more, these Zara Spooks were constructed with a seam that traverses from its nose to its tail along its entire back and belly; this seam connects the left side of the bait to its right side. In contrast, the seam for the thin-wall Zara Spook connects a long tail section to a short head section, and this seam is situated slightly in front of the first hook. The position of this seam in front of the hook enhances the way the Zara Spook moves across the surface. If the hooks are too heavy, Campbell has found that they affect the Zara Spook’s buoyancy and the way that it lies on the surface, which affects the way it can be retrieved.
Even in the dexterous hands of Campbell, the thick-wall Spooks with the big hooks and long seam performed poorly when he tried to make them dance provocatively in what is called the “walking-the-dog” motif. Therefore,Campbell has had to customize them so that they will catch bass. He accomplished that with sand paper, replacing the hooks, and other subtle manipulations.
Campbell also notes that too much paint on the body of a Zara Spook can adversely affect the way it traverses across the surface.
Eventually a third generation Zara Spook emerged, and to Campbell’s chagrin, it had what he calls an “offset line tie.” It was situated under the nose rather than at the point of the nose. According to Campbell, when the line tie is under the nose, it adversely affects an angler’s ability to consistently execute straight and accurate casts – especially if there is some wind. He noted that when an angler needs to retrieve a Zara Spook around a tree trunk, stump or along the edge of the many branches of a partially submerged cedar tree, an accurate cast is essential. Campbell has spent decades walking and waddling a Zara Spook around the multitude of flooded hardwood and cedar trees that adorn Bull Shoals and Table Rock lakes; so he knows what is necessary to perform such a task.
After Campbell and several other Zara Spook aficionados petitioned Heddon to make some changes, another generation of the Zara Spook eventually emerged. This one had a fake seam in front of the front hook, but it also had a real seam behind it which joined the front half and tail half. This rendition, which is the fourth generation that Campbell has in his tackle box, is better than the second and third generation models. It doesn’t need as much customization as the other two, but he did move the line tie to the nose.
A few days before we gazed into his tackle box on September 28, he acquired what he called his fifth generation of the Spook. This one is called The One Knocker Spook, which possesses a single tungsten rattle in a chamber encapsulated inside the body. It exhibits a bullfrog hue. As he examined it, he immediately noticed that the line tie was offset, which he didn’t like, but he knew that he could quickly relocate it. Also, when it was in his hand, as he attached it to his line, he said it felt heavy. But after he made a dozen casts and retrieves with it, he declared that it worked better than he had anticipated. So he was eager to see it how would perform during the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012.
Campbell likes to work his Zara Spooks on a 5 ½-foot, medium-light-action rod. Two feet of the butt section of the rod are made of graphite; the top 3 ½ feet of the rod are made with fiberglass. His reel has 5.4:1 gear ratio and it’s spooled with 14-pound-test monofilament line. He attaches a No. 3 Interlock Snap to the line. The Zara Spook is fastened to that snap.
The colors of the Zara Spooks in his tackle box were Bullfrog, Black Shore Minnow, Flitter Shad, Nickel Plate, Blue Shore Minnow and Silver Shore Minnow.
The Bullfrog and Black Shore Minnow Zara Spooks had gold hooks. Silver hooks adorned the other lures. In stained waters or low-light situations, he likes to use the Bullfrog and Black Shore Minnow. When the water is clear, he generally opts for the Flitter Shad and Nickel hues. But he notes there are spells when the color isn’t a critical factor; instead it’s the retrieve that seduces the bass.
Across the years he has determined that a properly retrieved Zara Spook can allure a bass from depths of 15 feet or more in extremely clear waterways, while in stained conditions, he suspects that its alluring abilities is no more than six feet.
Campbell says the biggest error many anglers make when they work with a Zara Spook is that they over work it and move it too rapidly. The ideal retrieve pivots around subtle or short twitches of the wrist, and it is devoid of any movement of the forearm. He calls it “one twitch of the wrist and one rotation of the reel handle.” During the retrieve, he says it important to develop a rhythm, and it can vary from day to day, or even hour to hour.
To work a Zara Spook around a cedar tree, Campbell likes to make a cast into the sun rather than have the sun at his back. The cast is executed so that the Zara Spook lands well beyond the cedar tree, which allows him to establish a seductive cadence in the retrieve well before the Zara Spook reaches the tree. Once the Zara Spook reaches the tree, Campbell slows the pace of the retrieve, and then he slowly walks it around the side of the tree. After the Zara Spook makes it around the side of the tree, Campbell increases the pace of the retrieve. If he doesn’t catch a bass, he makes another long cast and works the other side of the cedar tree.
April and May are the two most fruitful Zara Spook months of the years for Campbell.
Early in April at Table Rock and Bull Shoals lakes, he is usually up in the river arms, where the water warms sooner than it does in the mid-lake and lower-lake sections. He normally focuses on coves that lie on the north side of the lake. When he fishes a spawning cove, he starts in the back of the cove and works towards the mouth of it. In these coves, he retrieves his Zara Spook around logs, laydowns, stumps, cedar trees and pole timber. The shady side of those objects is where he entices the bulk of the bass.
In early May, Campbell leaves the river arms, and plies the spawning flats and coves in the mid-lake and lower-section of the lake, working his Zara Spook around locales and objects similar to the ones that he worked around in the river arms.
During the early days of the post-spawn period, Campbell works the Zara Spook on gravel points that are adjacent to the spawning flats or at the mouth of the spawning coves. As the post-spawn season matures, he spends a lot of time walking his Zara Spook on bluff-end points on the main-lake.
In the summer, he returns to the backs of the river arms, where the water is usually moving and a touch cooler, and the bass are shallower than they are in the main lake.
In the fall, the best Zara Spook fishing occurs when the surface temperature is 70 degrees and the leaves are beginning to fall off the trees.
When the surface temperature drops below 55 degrees, he puts the Zara Spooks away until April. But if a warm winter rain causes fresh and warm water to run into the coves, warming the water in the back of the coves to about 50 degrees, it will draw surprising numbers of bass to the back of the coves, and he will catch some of them on a Zara Spook.
Across the many seasons that he has been afloat, Campbell has experimented with several varieties of walk-the-dog topwater lures, but he is yet to find one that matches his beloved Zara Spook.
Clunn notes that the written word is unable to capture Campbell’s virtues and genius, but here’s hoping a few of these words have given readers a slight inkling about his many gifts.
(Readers can read a bit more about Charlie Campbell at a blog that was posted on September 8, 2011; here’s the link: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/09/08/spinnerbait-insights/)