Between 1989 and 2002, John Hale fished in 68 Bassmaster events. That time span is a bit deceiving, since all eight events after 1993 took place within a short drive of his Texas home – one on Lake Livingston, one on Toledo Bend and six of them on Sam Rayburn.
During the earlier portion of his career as a professional angler, he’d traveled more extensively fishing not only Invitationals, but also the Top 100 series (one of the forerunners of the modern day Elite Series) and he showed substantial prowess outside of his home region, finishing in the top 20 on 15 occasions. He finished in the top 10 six times, all of them on the east coast – twice in Florida, followed by two in Virginia, and capped off by two in Maryland.
His personal best was a 2nd place finish at Lake Okeechobee in 1988, where Paul Elias beat him by a little bit over two pounds. Except for Hale, all of the anglers in the top six – Elias, Mark Davis, Tommy Martin, Rick Clunn and Larry Nixon – had either already won a Bassmaster Classic at that point or would win one in the future. The following year he finished 20th on the Potomac, despite leading heading into the final day. A canceled day that proved relatively mild, followed by a day that went forward despite terrible weather prevented him from claiming the crown.
Hale went on to qualify for the 1990 Classic on Virginia’s James River, where he finished 5th.
Along the way, he worked closely with Stanley Lures founder Lonnie Stanley to build that company into an industry powerhouse. In 2013, he and his brothers purchased the company, keeping close ties with Stanley, who remains on board. We had a chance to catch up with Hale during a recent trip to Texas. Here are a few snapshots from his career in his own words:
BFA: Despite hailing from Texas, you had a lot of success during your B.A.S.S career in the east, including Okeechobee, the Potomac and Buggs Island. What was it like for you at the James River Classic?
HALE: Going to the James, I was disappointed because the tides never really went out. We had real high tides, especially the last two days. Heading there, everyone talked about “the tides, the tides, the tides,” so I said ok, and went to my fish further south and worked my way back with the tidal system. I shouldn’t have bothered with the tides at all, because I ended up catching 85% of my fish in an area where I only spent up 25% of the time. If I hadn’t have tried to work the tide, I would’ve spent a lot more time in that area and worked that area over harder and I could’ve culled up.
BFA: Do you recall what you caught your fish on in that tournament?
HALE: I caught them on a small 4 1/2 inch black and chartreuse Hale’s Craw Worm and a black neon 6 inch worm.
BFA: Obviously Rick Clunn had a huge final day in that tournament. Do you think you were around the fish to win?
HALE: I had one area that had some better fish and I probably left them a little too quick because of the high tide. It was a creek way down there on the right and it had a lot of laydowns on one stretch. In practice I had some good fish on a spinnerbait, but because the tides never receded, those laydowns were under three-plus feet of water. I should’ve stayed on and worked them harder with a jig or the craw worm, just by feel. You couldn’t necessarily see a lot of them, but I should’ve spent more time working them because they had some better quality fish. I caught my best fish, a four-plus, down there.
BFA: You had a lot of great finishes at B.A.S.S. Do you consider the Classic the high point of your career with them, or was there a higher point for you?
HALE: Fishing the Classic for the first time was probably the highlight. I more or less quit fishing professionally a few years after that to take care of family and business, but there were a lot of things that I’d consider highlights and fun. On the Potomac I had more than one good tournament there. The one tournament that I led there was one of the biggest disappointments. They canceled Friday because of [Hurricane] Hugo, not knowing whether Hugo would come in. The wind was out of the northeast and my water was protected. I could’ve fished my water with no problem because I was right underneath that east bluff bank. The next day they elected to fish and the weather was a heck of a lot worse. The wind switched to the southwest and that put 3- and 4-foot rollers coming in over my fish on Greenway Flats.
BFA: What about the tournament on the Potomac the next year when you came in third? Where did you fish then?
HALE: I’d found this pallet south of Mattawoman Creek, south of that graveyard where all of the barges are. It was just a big long expanse of hydrilla, pepper grass and milfoil. Up on the bank, there was a single big old tree sticking up. I’m sure whoever put those pallets there marked it off of that big tree. Lonnie found it when the water was clear there the first or second day of practice. On the last day of practice around 4 o’clock, I was coming up and could see the sandy spots. I was throwing a little worm on a spinning rod and every time I’d throw in there I’d get bit. I thought that was where I’d start.
Actually, Lonnie got there first the next day, but for some reason they didn’t bite early and he left. I was fishing some water about 200 yards up from him and catching some fish, and then about 10 or 11 o’clock there wasn’t anybody up there where those pallets were on that spot. I went back down there and caught a limit and culled up. The next day I was first there, caught a limit and culled up. He came in, caught a limit, and then I think we did about the same thing the third day. I think between what he and I and our partners caught, I think it was like 120 pounds of fish caught off those pallets. I broke off two big fish there that might possibly have won the tournament for me. There were some bigger fish there but I couldn’t get those 4 and 5 pounders in the boat.
BFA: Do you regret that? Fritts only beat you by about a pound and (winner) Don Leach only beat you by a little over three and a half pounds.
HALE: I broke off two fish there that would’ve won the tournament for me. I was using a spinning rod and light line and in that off-colored water I probably could’ve gone up to 12 or 14 pound test line. It might’ve made a difference, I don’t know.
BFA: What can you tell our readers about your more recent history in the fishing industry? You’ve been involved with Stanley Lures for many years. What is your involvement right now?
HALE: I started with Stanley in 1982 or early 1983, but in 2003 Lonnie had some people buy out his original partner. I still worked for them. My brother had developed Hale’s Craw Worm, which was the first crawfish product that you could rig Texas style or as a jig trailer. He had sold that company to Stanley Jigs but my brothers have been in the oil business since about 1980, I guess. Robert loved to design baits and play with baits, and he had built a house up where we were born and raised, built a 15 acre lake right beside his home. He played with his baits and made all kinds of hand molds.
In four or five years he told me he had this bait that we really needed to put on the market. He wanted me to quit Stanley and he’d form Hale Lure Company to start a company from scratch. I told him that’s really hard to do nowadays in today’s market. Most of the small independent companies have been bought up by the PRADCOs and the Berkleys. It’s hard to go to a Bass Pro or Academy or Dick’s or Cabela’s and get appointments to show them a new piece of plastic unless you’ve got a lot of money to spend on advertising or you’ve got a pro staff who goes out there and all of a sudden starts winning on it.
Lonnie’s partner, Ken Chaumont, he came from Rat-L-Trap but saltwater was always his first big deal so he wanted to stay in the saltwater end of the business. He basically convinced the other partners that they should shut the freshwater side down and go exclusively to saltwater. They were just going to go and shut Huntington, Texas [home of Stanley] down. No more Stanley jigs or spinnerbaits, they were just going to go away. So I told my brother that if you have an asset buyout of Stanley Jigs, I could call up Bass Pro and Academy and get appointments to go in and then start showing the new plastics. That’s what happened. We closed the deal August 1, 2013, and of course the rest is history. We’ve come out with the SideTrac Shad, the Mud Puppy and the Cobra. We talked about it and Lonnie spent a lot of time with the guys from Skirts Plus, teaching them and teaching the Vietnamese how to hand-tie skirts so that we could come back with hand-tied skirts. You know, Stanley Jigs was the first one with silicon skirts. Then they started making the skirts with bands on them, and the bands would break. They get soft or they dry out and they break. We taught them how to hand-tie skirts and came out with a lot of new jigs and spinnerbaits.
We’ve got some new designs in jigheads. Of course the Double Take Hook is the number one frog hook in the industry, and the super-strong one that we’ve got now is just unbelievable. We’re trying to put a fresh new face on Hale Lures and Stanley Jigs and get back out there in the marketplace and try to come out and do some marketing. Stanley hasn’t had any marketing in freshwater for years. We’re trying to get it back out there in front of the fishermen and explain to all of these young fishermen that all those jigs you’re using, if it wasn’t for Stanley they wouldn’t exist. Take away all the innovations of Stanley Jigs, all you’ve got from everybody else is a piece of lead, because everything they use is a copy or imitation of what Stanley did – the weedguard system, the skirt, the hooks, what else is there? It would be a pretty bleak picture if people were still fishing with jigs the way they were before Stanley came along.
Hale and Stanley continue to work together nearly every day – when they’re not out fishing together. You can see the Hale/Stanley lineup at www.fishstanley.com
They’ve produced a series of videos which offer a little bit of the company’s history and a lot of information about some of their latest creations. Check them out at: https://www.youtube.com/user/fishstanley/videos