Homemade jigs, lures a growing hobby
If fly tying is like oil painting, this is like metal sculpture.
Art, but of a different kind.
Where fly tiers create with delicate hackle, thread and hooks smaller than your fingernail, Denny Tubbs works with old window weights, wire, rubber, glitter, scents, hooks as long as your thumb and molds big and heavy enough to drive nails. But he's not making flies for the likes of trout and steelhead. He's into creating jig heads, rubber worms and crayfish, spinnerbaits and other hardware-heavy baits for bass, walleyes and panfish.
The reward, though, is the same.
“It's pretty neat to catch fish on something you've made yourself as opposed to something you bought in the store,” said Tubbs, a Fish and Boat Commission outreach specialist and longtime tournament bass fisherman from Hempfield who's been making lures for more than 30 years.
“And what I really love is that you can do whatever you want. What you make is wide-open to your imagination. You can try things. Some lures might not always work, but you never know.”
The garage and basement workshop makers of such lures represent a “very small part of the fishing tackle industry,” said Bill Barlow of Barlow's Tackle in Richardson, Texas.
But they are widespread. Barlow was a chemist in 1968 when he started making plastic worms in his garage because he couldn't find anything he really liked in stores. Today, his company sells lure-making supplies to anglers across the United States and as far away as South Africa, South America, China and Australia.
The attraction, then as now, is the same, he said.
“Every fisherman, myself included, is always looking for that magic lure. I'm not sure any more there is any such thing,” Barlow said with a laugh.
“But the reason I got into it — and the reason why I think most guys get into it — is that I could never find the lures I wanted in the sizes and colors I wanted. The only solution to that was to make it yourself.”
That's what drives Tubbs.
He's got totes full of molds. Into some he pours lead he's found at scrap sites like eBay and in stores to make jigheads in all shapes and sizes. Some get coated with powder paint, some with vinyl. Others are airbrushed. He mixes hook sizes and colors, adds rubber skirts and fiberguards in various color combinations and lengths and puts some on spinnerbait wires.
Other molds are for making soft plastic lures. He makes worms, crayfish, salamanders and creature baits, varying the hardness of the worms as he chooses, adding colors, flakes and scents, from earthworm to garlic, as he pleases.
“When my girls were little they ‘helped' me make some of my lures, and we ended up with some pretty wild colors,” Tubbs said with a chuckle. “But believe it or not, some of them actually worked.”
Locally, there's some evidence that interest in the hobby is growing.
“For the longest time, it was pretty slow,” said Dan Janitor of Tackle Unlimited in Jefferson Hills. “We had some molds that had been hanging on the back wall for years. But just about in the last year and a half, interest started picking up again.”
Tubbs believes more anglers should give it a try. It's a great wintertime hobby, he said. He recommends starting with just a mold or two, such as one capable of turning out jigs in various sizes, until you find what you like. From there things will grow, as evidenced by the many totes, shoeboxes and drawers full of lure-making supplies in his basement.
“I probably make 80 to 90 percent of my own stuff anymore,” Tubbs said. “That's a pretty neat feeling.”