Legendary lure maker Bobby Ditto dead at 75

If you've been involved with bass fishing more than a few years, you know the name Bobby Ditto, even if you didn't know the man. Ditto Manufacturing made some of the sport's most popular soft plastic baits of the 1980s, including the Ditto Gatortail Worm that factored in several Bassmaster Classic championships.

Ditto died at his home in Satsuma, Fla., on Nov. 13 at the age of 75. From his earliest years, growing up in Kentucky, Ditto enjoyed the outdoors, hunting and fishing at every opportunity and working on his family's dairy farm. In 1954 he graduated from Breckinridge County High School in Hardinsburg, Ky., before joining the Marines. When he returned from military service, he went to work with his father as a small engine and outboard mechanic.

In 1968, Ditto moved with his wife and father to Florida, where they started Ditto's Sales and Service in San Mateo, which quickly became the largest bass boat dealership in the state. He was a founder and charter member of the Bass Capital Bassmasters in Palatka and served on the board of directors of the Bass Research Foundation.

In 1980, Ditto purchased a small soft plastics operation and renamed it Ditto Manufacturing. In short order his baits found a national audience. They came to their greatest prominence and popularity in the mid 1980s when they were used to win three Bassmaster Classic championships. Larry Nixon used the 5-inch Ditto Gatortail Worm to win the 1983 Classic on the Ohio River. Rick Clunn used the bait a year later as part of his arsenal to win the championship on the Arkansas River, and George Cochran used it in 1987 to win on the Ohio River yet again.

Though seldom credited for it, Ditto came up with the first "creature bait," the Ditzit Claw, and was the first manufacturer to mass produce a three-colored soft plastic bait. He was also among the first to market a soft plastic chunk-style trailer (the Chunky) and a solid-bodied tube bait.

As innovative as Ditto was with his manufacturing, he was just as influential with the anglers he knew.

"Bobby Ditto was the reason I developed the style of fishing I have today," said Bassmaster tournament pro Peter Thliveros. "I emulated his style of fishing on the St. Johns River. I learned a lot about technique from him, but I also learned a lot about respect for other anglers on and off the water. He was a real gentleman."

Kenyon Hill, an Elite Series pro from Oklahoma, spent a lot of time with the Ditto family as a young man, and he echoed Thliveros' sentiments regarding Bobby Ditto as a person.

"The thing that impressed me most about Bob Ditto wasn't that he was such a great fisherman or lure designer, even though he was both of those things, but the fact that he had his priorities so right. The most important thing in the world to him was his family and his relationship with his wife, Judy."

Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins cut his bass fishing teeth on the St. Johns River, often fishing against Ditto in tournaments.

"He was a true pioneer of offshore structure fishing in that area," Scroggins said, "and he found it all without the benefit of today's sophisticated electronics. I thought I knew a lot about the river, but the last time I went fishing with him — about a year ago — we were running along and he said 'Pull over, I want to show you something.' I stopped and he showed me a shell bed with all kinds of bass on it. We caught 30 or 40 there before we left."

Between 1975 and 1984, Ditto fished numerous B.A.S.S. events, mostly in Fla. His best professional finish was ninth at the 1981 Texas Invitational on Toledo Bend Reservoir. He also qualified for four B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championships.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Judy; three sons, Mike Ditto (Trish), Patrick Ditto (Amanda), and Bruce Ditto; daughter, Marty Ditto Smith (Mike); a brother, Jim Ditto; nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 
A memorial service was held on Nov. 19, 2011. The Ditto family suggests that anyone wishing to do so make a contribution in his memory to Haven Hospice, 6400 St. Johns Ave., Palatka, FL 32177.