Main Squeeze

No other lure design in history had a bigger impact on American fishing. And it all started in a basement in Akron.

For all the marketing hype that surrounds modern fishing lures, it surprises many people to learn that most of what's "new" usually isn't. At least not in concept, and especially with soft-bodied lures. Those scented, multi-hued, soft- plastic "craws" you bought at Wal-Mart to catch bass are direct descendants of a single-hooked soft-rubber crayfish sold by New York City's William Mills and Son in the 1890s.

The same era also featured rubber insects, worms, frogs, and minnows; all evolved from rubber-molding techniques developed after the Civil War. While those ancestral lures were literally a little stiff -too much so for effective fishing- modern soft-plastic lures have more wiggles than a mosh pit at a Spice Girls concert. That flex brought success to today's soft baits, and a Midwestern machinist made it happen.

The Creme Scheme

The entire history of modern soft-plastic lures begins with Nick and Cosma Creme, who by the late 1940s were heating vinyl goop on their kitchen stove in Akron, Ohio, then hurrying the hot pots into their basement to mold their now- famous worms before the plastic cooled and set. Creme was a fisherman who liked to tinker. Akron, meanwhile, was a center of tire manufacturing, where various molding methods were already in wide use. The technology for vinyl, a new plastic, was just emerging. Creme found his vinyl formulations by calling some lab technicians at DuPont in Cleveland, who gave him what amounted to a sample chemistry set for soft plastics.

The Cremes cooked and stirred and brewed through countless combinations of vinyl, oils, and pigments until they finally came up with a molded worm that not only looked and felt soft and alive, but also stayed that way when exposed to air over time. By 1949 -the plastic worm's official birth year- Creme was also adding flavors, having by then created a "CheezNip" worm.

Their Creme Wiggle Worm was first marketed by mail order in 1951 (five worms for $1), and shortly thereafter was a big hit at the Cleveland Sportsman's Show, where a distributor sold 9,600 packs to curious anglers in just a few days. Demand soared, and the worm business quickly outgrew Cosma's kitchen. The Cremes set up a small manufacturing plant in Akron to boost production, but still had trouble meeting orders as demand continued to grow. Those tight supplies were a nagging problem, especially for an East Texas tackle-shop owner named Milton Goswick.

Worms and Roses

If modern, postwar bass fishing can claim a single birthplace, it's probably Tyler, Texas, a small city east of Dallas and now surrounded by such new and famous reservoirs as Palestine and Lake Fork. Things were a little sleepier there in the early 1950s, when Goswick ran The Bait and Tackle Shop on East Front Street and sold live bait to bass fishermen who fished a new and nearby reservoir called Lake Tyler. According to an old account from the Tyler Courier- Times-Telegraph, the new Creme worms from Ohio were getting the attention ofbass fishermen, but Goswick couldn't get any to sell because supplies were short. So Goswick sent a shipment of fresh roses to Cosma Creme in Ohio, and soon thereafter got a major shipment of Creme worms that proved to be a big hit with Lake Tyler's bass. The deal was prophetic; in 1960, the Cremes moved their company to a new plant in Tyler, where the brand is still made.

According to Wayne Kent, Creme Lure Company's current owner, several things happened during the 1950s to make Tyler so important: "For one thing, Skeeter (a local company) had just come out with the first modern bass boat. At about the same time, Carl Lowrance in nearby Tulsa, Oklahoma, had just come out with the first sonar units for anglers. Then, too, new reservoirs were being built that had deepwater structure that attracted bass.

"So everything sort of came together right here," said Kent. "Our local bass fishermen now had the boats, the sonar, the right water. They had the new plastic worms, and very quickly had the Texas-rigging style for fishing those worms- a style we also think originated right around Tyler back then."

Plastic Fantastic

Other things were happening at more or less the same time, of course, that helped to put soft baits into tackle boxes nationwide. In Traverse City, Michigan, in 1950, for example, Charles Burke adapted a plastic, glove- waterproofing material to the molding of soft, ice-fishing grubs. The lures soon led to a broad line of small, soft-plastic insects. And by 1952, Dave DeLong -another big name in early soft lures- was exhibiting eight different molded worms at Cleveland, Ohio-area, tackle shows.

But the next giant steps came in the mid-1960s and early '70s, with the development of Tom Mann's now-famous Jelly Worm and Ray Scott's bass tournaments. Bass tournaments brought glitter and glitz to fishing, creating a whole new "pro-angler" subculture with extensive media coverage. Jelly worms -with their soft texture, varied colors, cooked-in berry flavors, and relatively low price- were catching the fish. Coupled with the rise of national discount- store chains such as Kmart and Wal-Mart, plus growing mail-order giants such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's, soft-plastic lures were in national demand and widely available.

At the same time, soft-plastic technology was becoming less expensive and more widely distributed. Even thirty years ago, it was possible to buy "home-pouring" kits- simple, flat molds and liquefied plastics that had every would-be Tom Mann from Boston to San Diego pouring their own worms. Those one-part, flat-sided molds produced flat-sided lures, of course, while the expensive, two-part injection molds used by the major brands produced round or three-dimensional baits faster and at lower cost. But that broad availability of cheap molding kits meant that many of today's hottest soft baits originally had their start in somebody's garage or kitchen.

New soft-bait designs started springing up like mushrooms after a rain. In 1972, for example, a small company called Mister Twister catapulted to national fame with a small "Curly Tail" grub designed to be fished on a jighead. It proved effective for everything from perch to striped bass. That basic design, now widely adapted by other makers, has become an almost universal fishing lure- one that will catch the greatest variety of fish under the greatest variety of circumstances in freshwater and saltwater. Twisted-tail designs are available from 1-inch panfish sizes up to Kalin's giant 10-inch version that some commercial fishermen use in long-line sets for Alaskan halibut.

Mister Twister followed with its popular Sassy Shad in 1982, a small fishlike grub with a paddle- or "boot-tail" design that vibrates and "swims" when drawn through the water. This, too, created a new class of was becoming less expensive and more widely distributed. Even thirty years ago, it was possible to buy "home-pouring" kits- simple, flat molds and liquefied plastics that had every would-be Tom Mann from Boston to San Diego pouring their own worms. Those one-part, flat-sided molds produced flat-sided lures, of course, while the expensive, two-part injection molds used by the major brands produced round or three-dimensional baits faster and at lower cost. But that broad availability of cheap molding kits meant that many of today's hottest soft baits originally had their start in somebody's garage or kitchen.

New soft-bait designs started springing up like mushrooms after a rain. In 1972, for example, a small company called Mister Twister catapulted to national fame with a small "Curly Tail" grub designed to be fished on a jighead. It proved effective for everything from perch to striped bass. That basic design, now widely adapted by other makers, has become an almost universal fishing lure- one that will catch the greatest variety of fish under the greatest variety of circumstances in freshwater and saltwater. Twisted-tail designs are available from 1-inch panfish sizes up to Kalin's giant 10-inch version that some commercial fishermen use in long-line sets for Alaskan halibut.

Mister Twister followed with its popular Sassy Shad in 1982, a small fishlike grub with a paddle- or "boot-tail" design that vibrates and "swims" when drawn through the water. This, too, created a new class of