June 24, 2019
By Ned Kehde
In the May 2019 issue of In-Fisherman magazine, Matt Straw’s masterpiece entitled “Sweet Marabou Treats” chronicles the recent history of the marabou jig.
In his delightful prose, Straw examines how and where it became an effective lure for inveigling smallmouth bass since the 1990s. To do this, Straw focuses on several of the insights and memories of Gord Pyzer of Kenora, Ontario, who is a fellow In-Fisherman field editor.
Straw’s lede explains that several Canadian anglers, such as Dave Lindsay of Kenora and Norman Lindsay of Sioux Narrows, Ontario, used the marabou jig to win scores of smallmouth bass tournaments in Canada and on some northern waterways in the United States.
For some bizarre and unknown reason, this effective piscatorial tactic was unbeknownst to the tournament anglers in the United States. And according to Pyzer’s and other Canadians’ perspectives about the history of the marabou jig, it took many years for U.S. tournament anglers to become sophisticated practitioners with the marabou jig. (For another perspective about this phenomenon, see endnote number six.)
Shortly after Straw’s article was published, Bill Ward of Warsaw, Missouri, and several other longtime Midwest finesse anglers politely begged to differ with the Canadians’ perspective about the history of the marabou jig in Canada and the United States.
Ward noted that the history of the effectiveness of the marabou jig at inveigling smallmouth bass and other species reaches back into the 1950s and 1960s. To validate his point of view, he sent the Finesse News Network a clipping from the Aug. 7, 1960, Kansas City Star. It featured a photograph of Bill and his father Virgil Ward of Amsterdam, Missouri. The caption for the photograph stated that the Wards “gave light spinning tackle a test in Dryberry [L]ake near Sioux [N]arrows, Ont., recently and landed 21 lake trout. The top catch was a 14-pounder. The Wards casted with one-half ounce red and white BabyBass Busters.” The Baby Bass Busters was the name of the Wards’ marabou jigs.
At that time, the Wards were proprietors of Bass Buster Lure Company of Amsterdam, Missouri. They began this business in 1955. And it was in 1957 that Bill Ward created the world’s first marabou jig. It was made at the behest of his father who was going trout fishing in Arkansas on the White River below Bull Shoals Lake with Harold Ensley of Kansas City, Missouri. Virgil Ward and Ensley were going to film this outing for Ensley’s weekly television show. Virgil Ward wanted a jig that was similar to the marabou streamer that Missouri fly fishermen used. So Bill Ward tied several 1/16-ounce white marabou jigs for his father. Bill said it was essentially a Doll Fly with white marabou instead of white bear hair. On that outing with Ensley, Virgil used spinning tackle and caught an impressive array of trout, including a six-pounder, on Bill's marabou jig. From that point on, the Wards made marabou jigs by the thousands, ranging in size from 1/64-ounce to 1/2-ounce in black, white, purple, yellow, red/white, blue-gray, and pink and orange.
After Ensley’s television show was aired in 1957, Bill Ward recalls that a group of anglers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, began manufacturing marabou jigs, and before long, the marabou jig became one of the preeminent lures across the Heartland. And many of the forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing in those days dressed their black marabou jig with a black eel that was made with pork rind.
Bill also remembers that he and his father enjoyed a couple of bountiful lake-trout forays with Ensley in Canada with marabou jigs in 1958 and 1959. And the Wards continued those forays for many years.
Besides their lake-trout adventures, Bill and Virgil Ward pursued the smallmouth bass that abide in Canadian waterways. According to Bill Ward, the first one occurred in 1959 at Cliff Lake, Ontario, where they introduced that waterway’s smallmouth bass to a black 1/32-ounce marabou jig. They wielded it on a spinning rod with four-pound-test line, and this rig waylaid the smallmouth bass. Subsequently, they also ventured to Lake of the Woods, where they caught scores and scores and scores of smallmouth bass on other colors and sizes of marabou jigs. Bill says they caught so many smallmouth bass that their hands and arms became so sore and tired that they had to stop fishing.
Some of the Wards’ Canadian outings were featured on Virgil Ward’s television show that was entitled “Championship Fishing with Virgil Ward,” which he produced for 25 years.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the forefathers of Midwest Finesse fishing in Missouri and Kansas wielded Bass Buster Lure Company’s marabou jigs and similar styles of marabou jigs. And they caught untold numbers of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass.
Across the years, Bill Ward also fished on various tournament circuits. For example, Bill and his son Gregory competed on the B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail in the 1970s and 1980s. Bill fished in seven Bassmaster Classics, and Gregory fished in five.
Bill Ward is 84 years old. And as of June of 2019, he is still making trips to the Lake of the Woods to pursue smallmouth bass with a variety of modern-day Midwest finesse jigs and tactics. And according to Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, who spends his summers at the Lake of the Woods, Ward remains a master at wielding a jig.
(1) For more history about Bill Ward, Virgil Ward, and Harold Ensley, please see the Midwest Finesse column at this link: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/legends-of-the-heartland/156351.
(2) Here is a link to another Midwest Finesse column that focuses on the history of the marabou jig: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/the-marabou-jig/156609.
(3) For more information about how, when, and where contemporary smallmouth bass anglers employ a marabou jig, please see the Midwest Finesse columns at these links:
(4) We sent Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ontario, who competes on the Bassmaster Elite Series and other tournament circuits, an email about Matt Straw’s “Sweet Marabou Treats” article. He was featured in the article’s lede. Gustafson replied in an email on April 13, 2019. He wrote: “Around Lake of the Woods, where the modern use of marabou jigs originated in my opinion, it was guides like the Lindsay brothers, Joe Pritchett and Hiram Archibald who used them to dominate local bass tournaments in the 90s before the secret finally got out. It stayed local until 2006/07 when anglers from our area started to have good results at the Sturgeon Bay Open on Lake Michigan...then it exploded and is now widely used around the Great Lakes and Midwest.”
(5) Here are more links to websites that features Jeff Gustafson’s piscatorial insights:http://www.gussyoutdoors.com ; https://www.instagram.com/gussyoutdoors/; https://www.facebook.com/gussyoutdoors;https://twitter.com/GussyOutdoors
(6) I have always been infatuated with Matt Straw’s illuminations about angling for smallmouth bass with finesse tactics. In my eyes, he is the virtuoso of all the virtuosos in the world of piscatorial prose. My favorite one of his many articles is entitled “Smalltime Jigs, Big-time Smallmouths,” which was published in the March 1998 In-Fisherman magazine on pages 71-75.
And as I and other Midwest finesse anglers ponder about the history of the marabou jig, we are quite surprised that U.S. tournament anglers were not savvy about the effectiveness of the marabou jig for inveigling smallmouth bass. One reason why we are surprised is because Straw penned 14 long and detailed paragraphs in his 1998 article about how, where, and why Dave Lindsay, Norman Lindsay, Hiram Archibald, and Joe Pritchett employed a marabou jig. And it even notes that the Lindays used a marabou jig to help them catch some of the 51.34 pounds of smallmouth bass that they caught to win the 1997 Fort Francis Canadian Bass Championship at Rainey Lake.
In other words, it was 20 years ago that Straw initially reminded the modern-day angling world about the effectiveness of the jig that Wards introduced to Canada’s smallmouth bass 60 years ago.
(7) We exchanged several emails with Matt Straw about his “Sweet Marabou Treats” article. And in his June 16 email, he noted that he did not intend to write an entire “tutorial on the history of the marabou jig.” Instead of writing a complete history, his task was to focus on the effectiveness of the marabou jig for catching smallmouth bass. To accomplish that feat, he concentrated on the anglers who have won the majority of the smallmouth-bass tournaments in recent history, and these anglers happen to be Canadians. And in Straw’s astute perspective, these Canadian anglers’ insights provided “the most vivid testimony” of the effectiveness of the marabou jig.
He concluded this email by noting that he did not intend to blur the memory of the Wards “or the real history of the marabou jig.” But in retrospect, he wishes that he had thought to mention the Wards’ contribution to that history.