The Birth of the Flippin’ Stik – Part One

Dee Thomas explains the concept of Flippin’ to Fenwick’s Dave Myers.

This is part one of a two-part series on the advent of the Flippin’ Stik. I had the pleasure of discussing the subject with Dee Thomas, the father of flipping, and Dave Myers, the brains behind the design of the blank. In this installment, Thomas talks about his first tournaments, how he felt he couldn’t compete and the eventual protests from fellow competitors surrounding the long rod. To read Part Two, click here.

 

Dee Thomas’ early tournament endeavors were met with mixed results and mixed reviews. Most tournament bass anglers at the time considered his use of 12-foot rods as ‘unsportsmanlike’ and ‘something only a meat hunter would use.’ The 12-foot rod wasn’t something ‘a serious tournament angler would even consider.’

Thomas started out as what he refers to as a “tule dipper.”

“I started tule dipping in California in the 50s,” he said. “In that technique, you have a 12- to 18-foot rod. There’s no reel so you either attach a length of line to the tip or you run a length of line down through the rod tip and affix it at the butt-end of the rod. Either way, you have a length of line, about as long as the rod, and that’s what you use to present your lure.”

Thomas had such success with the technique over the years that he knew it could be deadly on the newly-forming tournament circuits of the early 70s. Problem was, he needed to find a way to legally fish the events.

He contacted Wayne Cummings, then tournament director for the Western Bass Fishing Association (WBFA). Thomas asked Cummings what was required equipment-wise to fish the event and was told, “All you need is to have a reel on your rod to be legal.”

Word soon got out that Thomas was to be fishing the WBFA event at Lake Don Pedro, his first bass tournament.

Thomas and his sponsor/partner Frank Hauck arrived at Don Pedro and Thomas made his way over to Cummings’ house boat for a chat. As he and Cummings talked, in walked another tournament angler, Bob Pinto, complaining about Thomas being allowed to fish.

Here’s how the dialog went as told by Thomas:

‘They’re no good, tule dippin’ meat hunters,’ Pinto said. ‘The way they fish isn’t sportsmanlike at all.’

‘Have you ever met Dee Thomas,’ Cummings asked of Pinto.

‘No I haven’t but I’d say the same thing to his face if I ever come across the man,’ Pinto replied.

‘Well, let me introduce you to Dee Thomas,’ Cummings said to Pinto.

“There was tension in the air,” Thomas said. “Pinto kind of toned it down a little but he held his ground. Anyway, because I had a reel on my Hawger, they let us fish.

“It was a two-day tournament and Frank and I hadn’t even prefished. We ended up weighing a limit (10 fish) the first day. I can’t remember what place we were in but we were high in the standings. The second day we only had two or three fish and didn’t bother weighing in. I figured we’d need a limit to do well but as it stood, we would’ve done really well had we weighed those fish.”

They ended up around 12-place but that’s not the end of the story.

“As weigh-in concluded, Frank and I were over at my truck tearing down my 12-foot Valco [aluminum boat] so we could put it on my truck for the ride home,” Thomas recalled. “Now, remember, we hadn’t weighed any fish and the other anglers started coming over to us to say things like, ‘you can come fish against us with your long rods anytime.’

“They were poking fun at us and that really pissed me off.

“On the way home I was so mad I was talking to myself,” he said. “Frank had told me he wanted to sponsor me if we’d fish together and our first event was a failure. I turned to Frank and asked him if we could fish the next one and he said yes.”

The next event was at Lake San Antonio, a central California lake just outside of Paso Robles. Thomas had never been to the lake before and because of what happened in his first event at Don Pedro, decided to prefish this event.

“I didn’t want a repeat of Don Pedro so I went to the lake two times before the tournament – one time a week before and one time the day before the tournament. Frank turned us on to the fish during official practice in Bee Rock.

“Then the first day came and we were only able to scrounge up 6 fish, about half a limit,” he said. “I think we weighed about 18 pounds. We were in second or third place. The leaders had something like 22 or 23 pounds – I just knew I wasn’t cut out for this tournament fishing.

“I was so upset I stayed up all night trying to figure something else out. Then the alarm went off and Frank could see I was upset. ‘You haven’t slept,’ he said. I said, ‘Frank, I don’t know what to do other than what we’ve been doing. Frank said, ‘then that’s what we’ll do.’

“We went out, caught the same amount of fish as the previous day and ended up winning the tournament by 10 pounds.

“It was after that event the anglers started hounding Cummings about us fishing with the long rod,” he said.

“Wayne called and told me about the problems he was having and asked how short the rod could be and still make it so I could fish effectively. I was standing in my garage and pulled a 7-and-a-half-foot Fenwick striper rod off the wall and told him I could live with that. By then, I’d already seen the writing on the wall and had been practicing the underhand flip with these rods. What the other anglers hadn’t realized, though, is by restricting the rod length, they actually made me a more effective angler.”

 

Part Two of this piece will talk about the advent of the first Flippin’ Stiks.

  • Bob Perry

    I’m a fish history addict. Love your site.

  • Thanks Bob! I’m glad you like it!

  • Watt

    I remember that. I always got a kick out of the fact that flipping was supposed to have been developed out West. Back in the early 60s I was 8 years old and using a 12′ cane pole with 3′ of string tied on with a topwater bait. Used to stick that bait through the Spanish moss on the bayous and pull that topwater across the surface in the black water. Same thing with a “rubber” worm. If you don’t think it took some talent to work that long pole and balance in a pirogue you’d be amazed. HA!

    Point being, we grew up using the same technique that was “developed” out West. Funny how that works. Heh! We used to call it “doodling” which nowadays refers to catching catfish barehanded.

    I think the one that probably perfected the flipping technique was Dave Gliebe. If memory serves he was tearing up the American Angler circuit in the mid-70s pitching and flipping. I was fishing Fenwick back then and they came out with the telescoping flippin’ stick. Paired with an Ambassadeur 5500C it was deadly in just about any body of water. From deltas to impoundments. Grass to brush. Duck blinds to boat docks. A technique still productive today.

    Thnaks for the memories Terry.

  • fish_food

    Watt,

    I’ve also heard that southern doodling method mentioned as “doodle sockin'” in old magazine articles (they called it “tule dippin’ out west). Another variation had the guy in front of the boat make a spinner do figure 8s while someone sculled.

    Flippin’ as it became known didn’t really come along until Dee Thomas was forced to abandon the 12′ poles for something much shorter, then they had to draw line from the butt guide and pendulum the bait out to make up for having such a short rod. That drawing-line-with-pendulum-swing is what distinguishes the flippin’ technique we use today from all the previous dippin’ styles.

    Looking forward to Part II, Terry!

  • Andy

    Great article, great site. Reminds me of when he first rubber worm came out; everyone thought it would drain the lakes. Sounds like a new/old technique everyone is fore or against now a days for touney fishing. All I can say is it has brought back a little exitment to the industry and has sold baits and rods and probably helped countless of folks with sales. Looking forward to part deux as well.

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