The jig and pig is certainly not new to bass fishing. Jigs in various forms had been staples in anglers’ tackle boxes for generations before Bo Dowden won Bassmaster Classic X on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. Since that time, though, the simple combination of a hook, lead head, skirt and weedguard has been perpetually refined.
Lonnie Stanley, a two-time B.A.S.S. winner and five-time Classic qualifier, was one of the major players in those developments. He started Stanley Jigs in the early 1980s, and while he’s no longer the principal owner of the enterprise, he still works there nearly every day, designing new lures.
Here’s how his company started, in his own words:
I was from East Texas, in the Rayburn area, but I lived over in Aggieland, over by College Station. I started fishing bass tournaments back in 1972 with the old Bryan Bass Club. I think we won two Bassmaster Top Sixes and two American Angler Top Sixes. All that time we were winning with lizards and spinnerbaits and then we discovered the Arkie Jig.
I started making a homemade jig in December of 1979 and the first tournament I ever fished with it I won. That was definitely a Jesus thing because I didn’t know anything about jig fishing. That’s how I started making it. While we were living over in Bryan-College Station, we had an old metal building that was 30×20. On the side of it was an 8×16 metal-enclosed building and that’s where me, my wife and three daughters started building Stanley Jigs.
The jigs that were out there – Cordell made a jig, Arkie jigs had been out there for about two years – the paint was no good, the weedguard was not made out of the right stuff, they weren’t balanced right. They had kind of a bubble head so they didn’t come through the grass real good. I used to take another brand of jig. This old man named Sonny Pierce from Arkansas, he was about 80 years old, he built what they called the “Sonny Pierce jig.” I told him how to build it. He said he’d build me a mold so I could build my own jigs and fish with them. He sent me an old half-ounce mold and me and some of my friends from Bryan, we’d pour them and then kind of cut them off so they’d be sharp pointed. I finally found out where a mold company was and then we made our own Stanley Jig molds so basically used the same identical head that we used in 1979 and 1980.
My dad was a heavy equipment operator and I owned a bunch of machines, did dirt work and stuff like that. That’s all I ever did through high school and once I was big enough to work. It’s what I was doing in Bryan-College Station – running cherry-pickers and dirt machinery for Texas A&M University. I did dirt work and new houses and foundations, whatever was needed with those. In 1981, I came home to my wife and said ‘I’m selling everything I’ve got to build baits.’ We were just building them as kind of a hobby. I sold the backhoes so I could build baits for a living. We had saved up enough money to do that, and then I won like seven tournaments in a row – again, it was a Jesus thing – and won like $60 or 70,000 in boats and trucks and cars. I took that money and started Stanley Jigs with it.
I’ll never forget in 1984 I sent a pack of jigs to a Kmart buyer and asked him if he’d be interested in buying jigs. I didn’t know if he’d bought all of his jigs for that year. He sent me back a letter that he had not bought all of his jigs yet because he hadn’t seen mine. He told me to come to Troy, Michigan. I hadn’t been on but two planes in my life. I flew to Michigan and he bought like $600,000 worth of jigs in the next two years. That started the bait company.
I’d made the Classic in 1982 and at that time Yamaha Outboards was coming to America. The first Yamaha engines run in the whole United States were sent to Stanley Jigs. Mike and John and me were going to run them. I was the first angler to wear a Yamaha jacket at the Bassmaster Classic, back in 1982. I’m still proud of that because they went from no engines to one of the best – or the best – engines now. I’ve always been happy to be a part of that.
We had baits that were so advanced, we were almost too innovative. We had swim jigs 15 years ago, and chatter jigs 12 or 15 years ago, before people were really ready for it. But overall, it’s kind of like Ricky Clunn and Tommy Martin and Larry Nixon, to mention a few that were on our pro staff back in the 80s, probably the thing that I’m most proud of is the wire on our Vibra Shaft spinnerbaits. It goes from 41/1000 at one end of the wire down to 24/1000 where the blade is attached. That and the Wedge Blade. That’s the same deal. One end is 15 and the other end is 30, which puts 85% of the weight of the spinnerbait blade on the very back. It gives it the same water movement with a willow as with a Colorado. It’s like Rick Clunn said – it moves so much more water that a regular willow. It’s long and skinny. All bass like long and skinny stuff. They don’t like short, fat stuff. If you’ll notice, all crankbaits and stickbaits are long and skinny. I guess a Rat-L-Trap is short and fat like me.
We invented the very first metal flake skirt. It was done by Don Leach and Lonnie Stanley and the Dallas Rubber Company. We started making them in the early 80s. Rick Clunn won the U.S. Open and $50,000 on a Stanley Vibra Shaft spinnerbait with wedge blades and the new metal flake skirt on it.
We also invented the needle point hook. When I say “we,” I mean me and John Hale. He’s become my business partner because his brother bought into Stanley Jigs, but John has been my sales manager and my best friend for 31 years. We still do the same thing – we come up with an idea and we go fishing. It all comes from fishing. The needle point hook that Mustad built, back in the 80s we invented that. Same with hand-tied skirts. Then I taught the people in Vietnam who worked for Skirts Plus how to tie the skirts so you don’t need to worry about the bands breaking. All of our new stuff has those hand tied skirts.
I always loved to fish the [B.A.S.S.] tournaments, and I was lucky to make the Classic several times, but after two or three years of not making it, I realized that on the first day of the tournament I was often on an airplane going to a Wal Mart or a Kmart meeting to do business. I missed the Classic one year by less than two pounds, and I’d missed two days of practice on account of a Wal Mart meeting. I quickly realized that it was going to be a fishing career full-time or the bait business. I tried to do both of them. Luckily I had a real good sponsor in Yamaha that paid my entry fees, so I got to fish a lot, not only with B.A.S.S. but locally. But you can’t be a president of a company and leave John by himself. I left John and my old partners a lot fishing the tournaments but there were a lot of times I didn’t get to fish because of the business.
For the last couple of years, Robert Hale bought into the business and John has continued to be a part of it. It frees me up a lot more time. I’m sitting here in my office right now designing a new lure that’s a shakey head jig, it’s a punch jig and it’s a swim jig, all in one. We’re going to call it Stanley’s Hale Raiser. It does raise hell. Everybody’s loved the name on account of what it does – it does raise hell in the water.
I still love to fish the tournaments. I love the teaching part of the sport. There’s not a lot of teachers like Tommy Martin and some of the other pros out there who take time to do it. Especially us old guys like Tommy and me. I love to give seminars at Academy, or bass club meetings or high schools. That whole thing has really gone crazy. In fact, I think I could go every night of the week, or every day of the week, to the high school bass club meetings. I teach knots and how to fish. They just want to know something, even the better fishermen. My nephew for example. He’s been in my office for the last five years at least three days a week, learning what Tommy and Larry Nixon and Rick Clunn told me in the 80s. I feel fortunate enough to have had them as friends to teach me, so I turn around and teach the younger guys, from nephews to college kids to younger kids. We build baits for the pros to catch fish with, which makes it a lot easier for the regular guy to catch fish.
I’d like to be remembered as an innovator and for winning Megabucks and big tournaments with my wife there. I guess I’d like to be remembered for being elected into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame at the same time as Tommy Martin, for being a leader in the industry. My whole family was there. Being elected along with Tommy Martin was one of the most important things. I guess I’m a Hall of Famer and a tinkerer.