It was a race to the finish, but congrats go to JKarbo214 for winning this week’s trivia contest sponsored by Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits. More details on the correct answer can be found in this post.
Just a couple weeks back we covered some of the story of Virgil Ward, famous angling personality and owner of Bass Buster, Inc. The company was most famous for a small L-style spin lure called the Beetle Spin. Chances are every one of you knows of the lure, and just as likely, every one of you probably owned the bait at one point in time. I can actually remember finishing in the money in several local club tourneys back in the day by using the larger sized 1/4-oz bait, just swapping out the barrel swivel for a Sampo, and then adding the blade of choice to make a very subtle spinnerbait that was a killer in cold water.
While reading through one of the first In’ Fisherman magazines dating back to 1976, I came across the page below (click to enlarge) showing key Canadian Shield smallmouth baits for the time. Of course, the Beetle Spin was one of their recommended lures, but I was immediately shocked to see another pictured bait. There is a very interesting history and story between Bass Buster’s Beetle, and another lure shown on the page. To win this week’s trivia contest, sponsored by Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, tell me the other lure I was surprised to see, and the story/relationship between the two. While there could potentially be a few different answers, the first person to name this very specific and unique backstory I’m thinking of will get this week’s prize.
While looking at all the recommended lures for smallmouth on that page in an early (1976) In’ Fisherman magazine, the baits that caught my eye were Bass Buster’s Beetle Spin and Gapen’s Ugly Beetle. The reason was because of a patent infringement lawsuit brought by Virgil Ward and Bass Buster against Dan Gapen and Gapen Tackle Co. that same year. In the lawsuit, Gapen claimed that “the name BEETLE is descriptive of the natural bait insect that the jig with a plastic body resembles; that no secondary meaning has attached to plaintiff’s use of the claimed mark; that the name BEETLE is “deceptively misdescriptive” when applied to plaintiff’s lure; that third party usage has destroyed the distinctiveness of the mark; and that trademark rights cannot be acquired in a name of a simulated natural bait for a fishing lure.”
Gapen got the mold for their bait from a North Carolina company, the mold being labeled as “beetle bodies.” They brought in experts to testify that the lure didn’t resemble a beetle, and even provided survey results showing that a large majority of people, when asked to name a critter the lure looked like, never came up with a beetle. They also provided a list of 22 other companies that had lures using the name beetle in them.
For their part, Bass Buster gave a detailed history of the lure, which was created by Chuck Wood in 1963-1964. The name actually stemmed not from an insect, but as an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the English band, the Beetles, at the time. In the 10 years since it’s creation, Bass Buster sales had reached $2.8 million, of which the beetle lures accounted for 75% of that figure. While Bass Buster never registered the name “BEETLE,” it did register BEETLE SPIN and ORIGINAL BEETLE. They claimed to have also contacted 17 of the 22 companies listed by Gapen with cease and desist letters, and provided plenty of examples of the advertising they had done, notably the frequent use by Virgil on both radio as well as his television show.
In the end, Bass Buster won the case, and Gapen had to stop making the lure with the beetle name (note that the Ugly Bug had already been on the market since 1969). As such, that In’ Fisherman article is likely one of just a few examples of the baits existence.