Berkley Bedell enters Bass Fishing Hall of Fame

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In 1937 Berkley Bedell, then 16-years old, took $50 from his paper route earnings to start a business selling hand-tied flies to tackle shops and vacationing anglers.

Editor’s note: Berkley Bedell will be inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame on Thursday. This is the story of his inspiring life.

The common thread running through the fabric of bass fishing is stitched together by dreamers whose ideas continue to have profound impact today. One of those stories began in 1937 in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

It is the story of Berkley Bedell, whose life truly embodies living the American Dream. During the Great Depression he earned spending money making lures, turned that into a successful company and served in Congress. 

Bedell was born in Spirit Lake, Iowa, where he lives today at the age of 97. In 1937, then 16-year-old Bedell took $50 from his paper route earnings to start a business selling his hand-tied flies to fishing tackle shops and vacationing anglers. In his upstairs bedroom, with hair clipped from the family dog, Stubby, and feathers from the backyard chickens, young Berkley crafted flies to entice local bluegill and bass from their underwater cover. The Berkley Fly Co. was founded.

By the time Bedell graduated from Spirit Lake High School in 1939, he was employing several area girls who made flies, silkworm gut and cable wire leaders in their homes. The business soon outgrew the family basement and living room. He expanded to the second floor of the local grocery store, using a tub filled with ice and a fan for air conditioning. 

After attending Iowa State University and serving in the Army Air Corps, Bedell returned to Spirit Lake in 1945 to start Berkley and Co. The business focus was on its cable wire leaders.

One evening, while reading Popular Science, Bedell learned about a Connecticut company that was producing nylon-covered cable for sailboat rigging. After visiting the plant, he began to work on nylon-coated wire for use in fishing leaders. Soon, the Steelon leader was introduced and production began in Spirit Lake. Shortly after this, the distinctive Berkley heart logo was designed with the slogan "nylon leader with a heart of stainless steel."

Bedell next became interested in extruding nylon monofilament fishing line. At that time, all nylon came from DuPont. After receiving a license from DuPont, Bedell returned to Spirit Lake to begin work developing equipment to produce nylon. The initial extrusion equipment consisted of reclaimed washing machine wringers, bicycle wheels, and other homespun materials. Soon Berkley and Co. was marketing private brand mono as well as Dew Flex monofilament. Ongoing experimentation would soon yield the company's breakthrough innovation, Berkley Trilene.

In 1959, Berkley introduced Trilene at about the same time DuPont introduced Stren. To help introduce the new line, Berk sent out thousands of sample spools of line and asked store owners to have their best fisherman try it on a spinning reel. Fishermen loved the line and it began the successful launch of Berkley Trilene.

Bedell later ran for Congress, serving 11 years from 1975 through 1986. He held town halls regularly with his constituents, and he would let them vote on motions to decide what he would do in Congress on their behalf. This type of communication told Bedell of the types of issues affecting his farming constituency. Thus, though Bedell had not farmed in his life, he would take steps in Congress to benefit farmers.

Berkey and Co. continued to grow. Beginning in the 1960's Berkley entered into the rod business, which lead to international expansion in the 1970s. Soft plastic baits made an appearance in the 1980s. The 1990s through today have seen significant technology improvements in all of the Berkley products. From the beginning, Berkley has committed significant resources to research and development, a continuing strategy that has resulted in countless product innovations, including Berkley Trilene, the Lightning Rod, PowerBait, FireLine, and more recently Gulp! and Gulp! Alive.

Now 97 years old, Bedell remains active and connected to the industry that he made groundbreaking achievements that all fishermen benefit from today.