There was a bit of magic inside the cardboard box hidden away in the corner of an unused room.
The box, about a foot square, barely peeked out from behind the sleeping bags, waders and life jackets stashed in this “gear room” here at the shack-ri-la. After one of those “Why did I come into this room” moments, I remembered and opened the lid on a box of long forgotten old fishing lures.
A pal and I were headed to the lake for sunrise bass fishing, and we vowed it’d be top-water lures or bust. No other kinds allowed. I managed to free two favorites from the tangled mess of crank baits, spoons and surface plugs inside the box . Both lures were Fred Arbogast Jitterbugs that drive bass wild with their swimming, gurgling dance across the surface.
A Jitterbug may be my No. 1 favorite lure. That got me thinking of a second and third. I’d say a Cotton Cordell Crazy Shad is No. 2. An old Heddon Bass Oreno is No. 3.
The Jitterbug is a bass catching machine on any lake. It’s also a great choice for our Ozark streams. Now and then a pal and I would head to the War Eagle River after work, launch a canoe and fish a single pool of the river with one lure, a Jitterbug.
We’d launch at the downstream end of the pool and work our way upstream casting our Jitterbugs. Friends and neighbors, those War Eagle largemouth and smallmouth bass hit those Jitterbugs so hard they’d almost tear your arm off.
If that’s not enough, Jitterbugs are so simple for new or seasoned anglers to use. Cast it out, reel it at slow or medium speed. The lure does the rest. A metal plate on the face of the lure causes the Jitterbug to dance back and forth across the surface with a gentle splashing action.
A little research revealed that Jitterbugs were first manufactured in 1937, but they’re still going strong today, available at your favorite fishing store. We’ve always done well with black, but they come in all sorts of colors.
I fell in love with the Cotton Cordell Crazy Shad when I started fishing Beaver Lake in the 1980s. Back then my regular fishing buddy was the late Johnny Sams, a retired sheriff who lived on the lake east of Rogers. Johnny never went fishing without his trusty black Labrador retriever or a chrome Crazy Shad tied to his fishing line.
From the bow of his boat, he’d launch that lure toward some timber or a rocky point. It’d sit still a moment then Johnny would bring it back with a series of pop-pop-pops of his rod tip, splashing it across the surface. Almost seems like that would scare the fish, but the opposite was true. No telling how many bass I watched Johnny catch with his Crazy Shad. Nowadays, mine is scratched and beat up, but it’s still in my tackle box.
Cotton Cordell Crazy Shads first hit the fishing scene in 1955. Not sure if tackle stores sell them, but Crazy Shads are available online. The late Carl Richey “Cotton” Cordell of Hot Springs was a major fishing industry innovator developing all kinds of lures. They include the Red Fin, which is a popular striped bass lure at Beaver Lake.
The Heddon Bass Oreno in the cardboard box brought back the most memories. Back in the day, I worked at Table Rock State Park Marina during summer breaks from college at the University of Missouri. The guys who’d come to the dock for coffee each morning were kind enough to take this bass-fishing rookie under their wing.
Dale Pinkley and his brother, Sleepy, were two of my mentors. Both kept their boats in stalls at the marina. The brothers knew bass fishing as well as my college professors knew their stuff. Out on the big lake, Dale taught me how to fish with plastic worms. Sleepy coached me in the joys of catching bass on top-water lures and liked to cast his wooden Bass Oreno.
A Heddon Bass Oreno, first made in 1910, is pretty much a collector’s item today. I’ll wager it’ll still catch bass as well as any lure old or new.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com when he’s not tangling with a big old bass.