November 20, 2011
By Ned Kehde
In two of last week's blogs, Brian Waldman of Coatesville,Indiana, did a marvelous job of illuminating how, when and where he uses a hair jig. He also explored some of its history.
In this blog, we will examine the marabou jig, which was one the favorite lures of several early practitioners of Midwest finesse tactics for bass. These anglers liked to use a black one dressed with a four-inch Uncle Josh split-tail eel. The eel was customized by slicing it in half lengthwise, and the bigger end of that narrow strip of pork was nose-hooked to the jig.
The first marabou jig was created in Amsterdam, Missouri, in 1957 by Bill Ward of Bass Buster Lure Company. He tied for his father, Virgil, who wanted a jig that was similar to the marabou streamer that the trout anglers used on the White River, Arkansas, below Bull Shoals Lake. The first one was a 1/16-ounce jig adorned with white marabou.
Virgil Ward took his son's handiwork to the White River, where he caught scores of big trout, and Ward's prowess with the jig was featured on Harold Ensley's television show.
Ensley's show and the great angling grapevine quickly spread the word about the effectiveness of the marabou jig. Straightway a group of anglers from Tulsa,Oklahoma, began manufacturing them, too. Eventually scores of manufacturers began producing them.
Across the years, Bass Buster Lure Company manufactured thousands of them, ranging in size from 1/64-ounce to 1/2-ounce in black, white, purple, yellow, red/white, blue-gray, pink and orange. Not only did bass and trout anglers in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas relish the marabou jig, but the half-ounce ones were a favorite of many Midwesterners who ventured to Canada to pursue lake trout.
To the delight of bass anglers, the Wards developed the fiberguard in the late 1960s, and it adorned many of their marabou jigs. Dwight Keefer of Phoenix recalls teaming up with Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, in December of 1971, and they won a large team-tournament event at Bull Shoals Lake by wielding one of the Wards' black 1/8-ounce marabou jigs with a fiberguard and a customized Uncle Josh split-tail eel.
When Keefer resided in Michigan in 1970 and 1971, he caught untold numbers of bass, weighing from 1 ½- to five pounds, on a variety of sizes of the Wards' black marabou jigs. Keefer dressed all the jigs with a customized Uncle Josh eel, and he primarily used it along the outside edges of submergent vegetation during the spring, summer and fall.
Tommy Martin of Hemphill, Texas, remembers that back in the early days of Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend reservoirs in eastern Texas the Wards' 1/8-ounce black marabou jig endowed with a 3-inch black plastic worm as a trailer allured incredible numbers of bass that spawned on sandy offshore humps in four to seven feet of water. Beside the Bass Buster marabou jig, Martin also used a green-and-white bucktail jig without a trailer.
In the hands of Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, and a few other Kansans, a small jig with a black marabou tail and yarn body or one with a silver marabou tail and tinsel body has caught an incalculable number of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass since the 1980s. Colloquially, the jig Bivins uses is called a Leroy's in honor of the late Leroy Spellman of Mt. Vernon, Missouri, who tied virtually millions of them for years on end. Several years ago, Andy and James Flack of the Kansas City area caught impressive numbers of smallmouth bass with a black Leroy's at the Kenora Bass International tournament on the Lake of the Woods. To this day, when it is worked by the hands of a master such as Bivins, a Leroy's will allure black bass, crappie, white bass and wipers galore.
During the past several years, In-Fisherman's field editor Cory Schmidt of Merrifield, Minnesota, has witnessed and participated in a minor renaissance of the marabou jig for inveigling bass in Minnesota's Heartland section.
What's more, there are hints that a renaissance of sorts is unfolding elsewhere across the hinterlands of the Midwest, and Drew Reese says this is a good time of the year to start this rebirth, because from his vast experiences, which stretch back into the 1960s, winter is the best season to employ a small black jig and eel.