The Hula Popper, Jitterbug and Hawaiian Wiggler are just a few of the classic bass lures that Fred Arbogast designed, built and sold. Though decades old, they still catch bass today and stand as a testament to one of our sport's greatest innovators.
Arbogast was born in Ohio in 1894. He attended Akron's Central High School, graduating in 1913. As a young man, he was athletic, and while a senior he was the starting halfback on Central's state championship football team.
Upon graduation, Arbogast went to work for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, which had opened its doors just 15 years before on the banks of the Little Cuyahoga River in East Akron. Arbogast became one of more than 75,000 men in the area turning out tires for a booming automobile industry.
Although he was making tires for a living, Arbogast was never very far from his first love — fishing. He had begun using conventional tackle and casting at the age of 12. In 1916, at the age of 22, he attended his first casting competition in Akron, winning the championship in the 1/2-ounce distance competition with an average of 162 feet.
In 1922, he set the world record for 1/2-ounce distance casting with an average of 250 feet, 9 inches in four casts at a national competition in Cleveland. His longest cast in the event measured 271 feet, 10 inches. He also won the 1/4-ounce competition with an average of 193 feet, 6 inches.
In 1923 he set a world record in the 1/4-ounce distance casting event with an average of 208.8 feet, making him the first caster to win the contest two years in a row.
Modern anglers might be shocked to look at Arbogast's selection of gear for distance casting. He favored short, stiff rods with a fast taper. In competition, his rods ranged from 4 feet, 5 inches to just 5 feet. They featured just two guides — to cut down on friction.Arbogast didn't just cast for distance, though. He was also remarkably accurate. While setting records for distance at the 1922 tournament, he was also winning the 1/4-ounce accuracy competition.
And baitcasting wasn't his only skill, either. He was also a world class fly caster — again, for both distance and accuracy. His skill with a rod and reel of any variety was so complete that Arbogast would tour area tackle shops and put on demonstrations, breaking balloons, casting through hoops tossed into the air and knocking the ashes off cigarettes held in the mouths of trusting assistants.
By the mid 1920s, Arbogast decided to leave the relative comfort and security of Goodyear and give the fishing tackle business a try. In 1926, he took out an advertisement in Hunting and Fishing Magazine for his Spin-Tail Kicker, and the Fred Arbogast Company was born.
His earliest productions were conceived and made in his basement workshop. Space there was tight, and in 1930 he purchased a house at 313 W. North Street in Akron that would serve as both an office and manufacturing plant for the fledgling company. According to an early employee, the living room was the office, the dining room was the shipping center, and baits were built in the cellar and painted in a bedroom.
The Fred Arbogast Company was successful from the beginning because the baits were good and Arbogast was aggressive with his marketing. By the early 1930s few outdoor magazines were published without at least one Arbogast advertisement inside. Many of these ads featured Fred and his family with big catches.
But print advertising wasn't Arbogast's only means of driving sales. He also understood the power of word of mouth. He would send an employee carrying a trophy fish through an area crowded with anglers and yell out, "That's a great-looking fish. What did you catch it on?"
In 1936, Arbogast began making the Hawaiian Wiggler, capitalizing on America's fascination with Hawaiian culture and music. The distinctive quality of the Wiggler (a variation on the classic inline spinner) was the thin rubber strips that adorned the bait, giving it movement and "hiding" the hook. Arbogast applied for and received a patent on his "hula skirt" in 1938. It paved the way for spinnerbaits, jigs, buzzbaits and more for decades to come.
His love of topwater fishing led Arbogast to design two of the all-time great surface lures — the Hula Popper and the Jitterbug. No angler's lure collection could be considered complete without several of each.
In all, he designed, developed and manufactured 11 different fishing lures during his lifetime, including some timeless greats that are still made today.
Fred Arbogast died in 1947 at the age of 53 after collapsing while ice-skating near his home.