b y Te r r y B a t t i s t i
bait makers have long had the luxu- ry of being known as the fathers of bass lures. In fact most all, if not all, lure designs since the advent of bass fishing have come from America. Ex- amples of this are the plastic worm, spinnerbait, crankbait, the jig and of course a myriad of surface plugs. Up until about 15 years ago, if you were a bass fisherman and you were buying a bass lure, that lure was developed here in the good ole U.S.A. But, like many other things American, the international community has put its arms around bass fishing and also the lure-production industry. Tackle makers from around the globe are producing bass lures and many of these lures have made it into mainstream American bass fishing. The largest of these countries, large in the sense of total number of companies dedicated to designing bass lures, is Ja- pan. What the Japanese have done with the lure industry over the course of 15 years is not unlike what they did with the car industry in the 70s. They took an American product and made it better. Not only did they make it better they advanced the industry to new standards. An example of this is the U.S. crankbait industry – an in- dustry that had no outside rivals and really did rest on its laurels of yesteryear. Crankbaits or hard baits in general were lacking quality, in- novation and detail. One could go and purchase 5 baits of the same model and none of them would run the same. The finishes were shoddy, the hooks were nothing special and detail lacked. This is where Japan, in the mid- to late-90s, raised the bar. Japanese hard baits started filtering over to America around 1995 and although they were expensive – up to 5-times more expensive than an American bait – the attention to detail and quality was evident. Wood baits had realism only seen in an art studio, plastic baits looked as if they were one piece and the fin- ish on all these baits was beyond excellent. Not only did these baits look good, though, they caught fish and a lot of the time caught fish when nothing American would.
It looked as if America had lost its spot as the number-1 producer of hard baits. Still, though, outside the large corporate American lure companies there still exists a number of small bait companies and individuals that take more pride in the products they design than company numbers on Wall Street. It is these companies who, in the last few years, have brought America back to the forefront of hard bait design and resurrected respect throughout the world. One of these companies is Custom Lures Unlimited based out of Raleigh, North Carolina and is owned and operated by Kelly Barefoot. A first glance at Kelly’s baits and one would wager that these baits did not come out of the U.S. His wood baits are intri- cately carved to show detail only found in Japanese hand-carved baits, his plastic baits show detail and attention to design, they only come with top-shelf hardware and the finishes are beyond stellar. But, unlike many Japanese baits, these aren’t just all show – they’re designed to work. I had the good fortune to interview Kelly in September, shortly after Mike Iaconelli won the FLW Stren event on Kerr Lake and a win that Ike credited to the use of CLU’s IKON crank- bait. Here’s what Kelly had to say about his life, his passion and his lure company.
BW – Where did you get your start making crankbaits? KB – That’s a hard question to answer because a lot of things happened during my life that pointed me in this direction. My father always had us out in the outdoors hunting and fishing and ever since I can remember, I’ve had a passion to draw and paint wildlife pictures. Then in the early 80s he opened an ar- chery shop and my brother and I worked in there making custom bows and arrows. But my father wasn’t my only influence. My mother has a passion for crafts and she would take us to pottery classes and let us paint the pottery she made. Both her and my dad intro- duced me to the art of making things with my hands.
May/June 2009 »