Originally created 09/14/03

Former Arbogast worker still attests to his lures



Who among us hasn't fished with a Jitterbug? Or a Hula Popper?

They are two of the most famous names in fishing, and Bob Rasmussen helped build them - and countless other products for the Fred Arbogast Co. of Akron, Ohio.

"Every lure produced fish," he said. "And all the different colors were also tested."

Rasmussen, now 81 and living near Athens, Ga., spent four decades at Arbogast as a plant handyman, designer and field tester of bass lures marketed around the globe.

"I had a little corner," he said. "And it was a messy looking thing. I was always fooling around with the baits, trying to figure out ways to make them better."

When products needed to be tested, it was time to go fishing.

"We had places we'd go to try things out," he said. "One of them was Boltz Lake - a few miles west of Akron."

The fishing tackle industry was fiercely competitive in the early years, and the company's founder - Fred Arbogast, who died in 1947 - rose to prominence with his Tin Liz, Jitterbug and other enduring baits.

By the time Rasmussen went to work for Arbogast in 1955, it had become a bustling factory with 65 employees who built as many as 1,500 baits daily.

"One thing I liked about it was, there were pretty girls everywhere," he said. "They were out there assembling skirts and making lures. I thought it would be a great place to work."

One of those pretty girls eventually became Rasmussen's wife, Phyllis, who worked at Arbogast 35 years.

"I did about every job in there except ship," she said, noting that she sustained only one work injury in all those years. "I got a fish hook stuck in me, and had to go to the hospital to get it out."

It's often said that lures are made to catch fishermen first, and fish second. But Rasmussen disputes that notion.

"I can tell you: When we put it on the market, it would catch fish - guaranteed," he said. "We were fussy. If it didn't catch fish, we poop-canned it."

One of his favorite stories involved a night-fishing trip with a colleague named Vic Simich.

"He was fishing a Jitterbug late one night and he casts it out there in the dark, and a crane got ahold of it," he said. "And of course, when he started reeling it in, the crane took off. It was like he was flying a kite!"

Did he have a favorite lure?

"I always liked the Mud Bug," he said. "It'll run 12 inches under the surface, just above the weeds - just perfect. But I liked the Hula Popper and Jitterbug, too."

In its heyday, Arbogast produced about 3.5 million lures per year and exported about 7 percent of them to anglers in Canada.

Today, the Arbogast name is owned by an Arkansas company, and the old factory building in Akron is no longer used for fishing tackle.

"I was up there last spring," Rasmussen said. "It's an auto shop now - a big garage."

Rasmussen doesn't fish as often as he once did, but he does have a part-time job - as a greeter in a local Wal-Mart store.

"I have to do something," he said with a laugh. "Otherwise I'll get old!"

A lifetime in the fishing tackle industry, he said, was an investment with countless rewards.

"A lot of boys stayed out of a lot of trouble fishing, and we had a small part in all that," he said. "We really had a lot of fun."

ANGLERS SUPPORT DNR: Members of the Clarks Hill Striper Club gathered at Mistletoe State Park on Saturday to fish, enjoy a cookout and show support for their friends at the Department of Natural Resources.

"Over the last three years, they've donated a generator, outboard motor and electro-fishing box," said Ed Bettross, a DNR fisheries biologist whose Thomson district office has benefited from the donations.

DNR and other state agencies have endured ongoing budget cuts in recent years and the donations from striper anglers have enabled research projects and other activities to be maintained at Thurmond Lake.

"It's helped us tremendously," Bettross said.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119. or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.