Let’s Look Back: A Friend Named Bill – Part 1

Having Bill Norman for a friend meant a great deal to me.  If this picture doesn't show a couple of guys having fun, I don't know what would. Photo Stan Fagerstrom.

Having Bill Norman for a friend meant a great deal to me. If this picture doesn’t show a couple of guys having fun, I don’t know what would. Photo Stan Fagerstrom.

[Editor’s Note: The recent sale of Norman Lures to the PRADCO organization hadn’t yet been announced when Stan wrote the following column. The sale was announced in late November. Stan will bring things that the late Bill Norman started up to date in his Let’s Look Back column for January, 2016.]

Whenever we take time to look back over the high spots along the trail we’ve followed, we’re certain to remember especially well some of the special events that have transpired.

If certain of those events happened to involve special friends, they’re even more certain to be up close to the top of your tackle box of memories. One of mine took place eight years ago in Birmingham, Alabama.

The annual Bassmasters Classic back in 2007 was headquartered in Birmingham. There will be those reading this who undoubtedly were there. I was there too, but it was another event held in concert with the Classic that brought me.

That was the night, you see, when the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inducted four bass anglers who had been voted into that organization for the year 2007. I was one of the four who was there to receive this special recognition.

Please believe this old plug pitcher when I say getting the news that I had been selected for the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame was one of the most heart-warming events of the wondrous life that has been mine to follow – but that’s not the end of the story.

If you’ve been reading my columns here recently you’re aware they’ve been dealing with some of the lure makers I’ve had the good fortune to get to know personally. One of these friends whose company makes the baits you and I catch bass on was another of the four of us who were being inducted into the 2007 Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.

That man was Bill Norman, the founder of Bill Norman Lures. It pleases me more than you know to say Bill Norman was my friend. You didn’t see evidence of it that night at the Hall of Fame banquet because Bill was no longer with us. His recognition was presented posthumously.

I had a little trouble that evening holding back the tears when my friend Sammy Lee, the master of ceremonies and others started detailing some of the contributions Norman had made to the bass fishing industry. I had been writing about Bill’s lure company ever since he marketed his first lures with a company he called Wood Lures back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Having dug into Bill’s early lure building history I found that Woods Lures didn’t last that long. It wasn’t because his baits weren’t selling. I’m told it was because he was offered a position with a Fort Smith, Arkansas tackle building firm called Plastics Research and Development. Today that same business is more readily recognized by the name “PRADCO.”

If what I’ve found digging through the records is correct, Bill Norman was hired by PRADCO in November of 1964 and terminated in November of 1965. Norman wasn’t idle for long. Not much later he moved to Greenwood, Arkansas and opened Norman Manufacturing.

I don’t expect I have to detail what eventually happened once Bill left PRADCO and got out there on his own. He wound up producing some of the country’s favorite bass baits. And some of those lures are still in easy to reach spots in lots of present-day tackle boxes.

Poking around in bass fishing history involving Norman Lures did answer one of the questions I’d always had where his Norman Manufacturing lures were concerned. It’s one you might have encountered yourself.

Nobody knows his lures any better than the guy who builds 'em.  Bill Norman lures have been putting bass in the boat for anglers all over the country for a long, long time. Photo Stan Fagerstrom.

Nobody knows his lures any better than the guy who builds ’em. Bill Norman lures have been putting bass in the boat for anglers all over the country for a long, long time. Photo Stan Fagerstrom.

The problem was simple enough. His lures just didn’t have his name on them. Norman Lures is still in business and maybe today that situation has changed. But back in the days when I was often spending every spare buck I had for bass baits I wanted to be sure I was getting those that I knew caught fish.

If I was after a certain colored “Little N,” for example, I wanted to be darn sure it was a Norman built bait. Again – the name wasn’t there to assure me I was right.

What that research I’ve mentioned revealed is there had been some unhappiness involved in Bill Norman’s parting with the
PRADCO folks. As I’ve mentioned, Bill had been hired in November of 1964 and terminated in November of 1965.

The situation eventually went into court and one of the results it appears was that Norman wasn’t to be permitted to use his name on the lures he would be selling if and when he opened his own lure making business.

I got to ask Bill about this myself after I’d known him for awhile and we eventually shared a boat together. I’ll share what he had to say about that with you in my next column. Lure makers with the smarts my friend Bill Norman had often recognize that the more a fishing magazine writer knows about a lure maker’s products, the more likely are the odds he’ll be writing about them in one place or another.

That undoubtedly had something to do with why I wound up spending most of a week once as Bill’s guest on Lake Ouachita down in Arkansas. That trip ranks right up there with my other special bass fishing adventures.

Spending one day after another with someone in a bass boat is a good way to really get to know them. I got to know Bill Norman. I also got a look at why at one time there was a strong movement among some Arkansas citizens to have him forget about building bass baits and run for governor. My guess he’d have made one heck of a good candidate.

Keep an eye open for my January column. As I’ve mentioned, I’ll tell you what Bill said when I asked him why his name wasn’t on his lures. I’ll also share a couple of the suggestions he provided that are still helping me put bass in the boat.

You’ll find that column beginning right here January 1.