Like Babe Ruth pointing beyond the fences in Yankee Stadium, or Michael Jordan signaling a swish after releasing a 3 at the buzzer, Pete Ponds called his shot.
The FLW Tour angler looked at a fallen treetop and made a bold prediction.
“Get ready,” he said, “this is where it’s gonna happen. Watch this old lure work its magic.”
Ponds launched a perfect cast, with the decades-old Devil’s Horse splashing down just past the exposed branches. His retrieve with the old double-bladed top water lure would bring it over the outer edges of the submerged limbs.
Like an artist, he worked the plug toward the cover and its twin propellors sputtered as it passed over the tree.
Water splashed about two feet high as a big fish crushed the lure.
It literally came out of the water and crashed down on it.
“Holy cow! Did you see that strike?” Ponds said while setting the hook. His long, white rod bowed against the power of the 6½-pound post-spawn female largemouth. “Hee hee, oh man, this is the one I’ve been looking for.”
A few seconds later, Ponds was sprawled out on his side, reaching over the rail of his Ranger boat to carefully lip the whipped fish and bring it aboard.
“I’m being gentle, not only so I can release the fish, but because that’s the only one of those I have in that color,” he said, referring to the Devil’s Horse. “That’s an original from Smithwick, and if you look you will see it still has the original name of the lure on the side.
“I’ve got about five or six of the original Devil’s Horse lures, and I’m telling you, they are still a tough bait to beat. People think the old lures are outdated, but my boat is full of lures that are 30, 40 and even 50 years old and if they are in my boat you better believe they will catch fish.”
Ponds proved the point on a recent trip on the waters of his 700-acre subdivision lake at his home in Gluckstadt, about 15 miles north of Jackson. He pulled a lot of old lures out of the bait-filled belly of his big tournament rig boat, tied them on one after another, and caught fish.
* Devil’s Horse.
* Toothpick, a.k.a. Devil’s Toothpick.
* Jitter Bug.
* Nip-I-Dee Dee.
At one point, he had eight baits on the deck with an average age of 40 years, and guessed those original versions of popular lures were each worth about $1 per year. That is, they would be if you can find them.
Tough to find, worth the effort
“A lot of these I have came from lucky stops on the road, like this one old antique flea market my wife and I stopped at one day and I found a guy who had a bunch of old lures in a box,” Ponds said. “I scored big time, getting a few of the original Devil’s Horses and Toothpicks.”
Recalling the day, Ponds had a brief bout of remorse from how cheap the guy had offered to sell the lot.
“Had he only known what I would have paid for those,” he said.
Joe Watts of Canton knows that feeling. He found a similar steal on a bunch of fishing relics, including two original Creek Chub Bait Company plugs. Both have lips, which means they were made after 1950 and have glass eyes, which means that were made before 1961.
“These are the same kind of lures that caught the world record largemouth,” Watts said. “I got two of them in an old pawn shop and one of them had a blemish where it looked like a plastic skirt had melted on it. I have used it and have caught fish on it.
“I’ve got a lot of old lures, dozens of them. Most of them have names you never heard of. I just wish I had the boxes that go with them. They’d be worth something then.”
Watts has fished with some of them and they catch fish.
“Darned right they do, but I’d hate to lose them,” he said. “So they generally stay safely inside in a locked box.”
Originals outfish copies
Ponds admits to tying his knots a little bit tighter, or at least with greater care, when he uses his precious old gear. On his topwater lures on our trip, he tied them on braided line.
And he steadily pounded fish.
“We don’t see a lot of fish schooling on the top at this lake, but if we were at Barnett Reservoir, or anywhere where the bass were busting shad on the surface, I’ve got a few more that I could sure-enough put on a show with,” he said. “Thing is, everybody around here has fished these lures for schooling fish, or in other situations, but don’t use them any more because they’ve run out of them or moved on to the latest, greatest thing.
“I still throw the old ones whenever I can because the fish just don’t see them any more.”
Ponds keeps an eye out for the original versions of lures still on the market.
“New modern versions of the same lures are still being made, but it’s just something about the old ones that make them better,” he said. “I guess it’s probably in the molds, because over time the new molds may be slightly different that the old ones. And that can work both ways. Some of the newer molds may actually be better in some instances.
“But, I know that it’s hard to beat the originals.”
He’ll get no argument from Paul Elias on that one.
“An example of that is the Zara Spooks, which is still one of my favorite baits,” said Elias, of Laurel, the 1982 Bassmaster Classic champion and the record holder for the best four-day B.A.S.S. tournament weight. “They still make the Spooks but the old ones, man, I just like the way they work. I catch more fish on them. I’ve got several of them and I treasure them.”
Elias, the 1982 Bassmaster Classic champion, is a relic himself, now fishing his way through his 60s. He was 58 when he set the record for a four-day, 20-fish limit of 132½ pounds on Falcon Lake in 2008.
Naturally, he has respect for older lures, especially when they were designed by one of his sponsors who had Elias’ “kneel and reel” technique in mind.
“I still have some of the original Mann’s 20-Plus crankbaits, and I still use them, and I still catch fish on them,” Elias said. “I wanted a crankbait that would get deep and run true, and they built one.”
A natural fondness
Deep-diving lures weren’t needed on Ponds’ late May fishing trip. With the surface temperatures returning to the low 80s after several days of heavy rain had dropped them back to the low and mid 70s, the fish were shallow.
“You couldn’t ask for any better conditions to feature these older lures, at least the ones I have,” said Ponds, who switched from the B.A.S.S. Elite Series to the FLW Tour in 2015. “My favorite ones are the topwaters like the Devil’s Horse, the Toothpick, the old Pop-Rs and the Nip-I-Dee-Dee.”
Ponds fished them all and he put a whipping on his partner, a writer who was throwing a variety of modern-day plugs, crankbaits, whacky-rigged Senkos and other stuff.
In 30 minutes, topped by the big fish off the brush pile — through which I had worked a crankbait, a finesse worm and a Senko, I was satisfied to put down my pole and pick up the camera to chronicle his day.
Ponds came by his love of original lures naturally, following in the footsteps of his dad, Bob Ponds, an original Bassmaster who fished in the first Classic and was a B.A.S.S. regular during the first few years of tournament fishing.
Bob Ponds was rarely completely satisfied with lures on the market, and became an innovator.
“Some of my favorite lures are some of the old ones Dad made,” Pete Ponds said. “His old Whing-Ding lures, a tail-spinner, and the different versions of it, have probably produced more fish in Mississippi than any lure ever. The old Skip-A-Shad was something he designed and his original version of it was so good that everybody had to have one on Barnett Reservoir when the bass were schooling. I still have them, and the mold.
“One of his ideas, and a lure I still have and use, was called the Rattle Back, and it was a lipless crankbait that the line passed through so the lure could slide up the line. It came out long before Rat-L-Traps (Bill Lewis Lures) came out with the Pro Trap that featured the pass-through line. We kind of kept Dad’s secret because they were so good at hooking and landing fish. Still are.”
Other Bob Ponds inventions are still in his son’s boats, like the Bassgrabber Eel and, one of Pete’s favorites, the Bumble Bug.
“The Bumble Bug is like a jig with two small spinners on it,” Pete Ponds said. “I still carry about a half dozen with me all the time. I’m glad you asked me about it because the FLW is soon going to Chickamauga Lake and I bet that the Bumble Bug would work there.”
After what I saw him do with his old gear, I wouldn’t doubt it.