Fish or make bait

Tulsa com­pany cranks out mil­lions of lures

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

Gene Larew Lures and Bobby Gar­land Crap­pie Baits are crank­ing out mil­lions of lures at its Tulsa man­u­fac­tur­ing plant.

Diane Thorn­ton doesn’t know how or why she came up with the name “Mon­key Milk” for the color of Bobby Gar­land’s top-sell­ing Baby Shad crap­pie lure in the coun­try.

Thorn­ton, a 33-year em­ployee for Tulsa-based Gene Larew Lures, a bass brand which also owns the Bobby Gar­land line of crap­pie baits, said “Mon­key Milk” just popped into her head one day as the name for the new color.

“We were just sit­ting there one day and it just come to me, and it’s been good,” Thorn­ton said. “I should have got me an at­tor­ney, though, so I could have got me a roy­alty on it be­cause it’s the best seller.”

That was seven years ago. Since then, Baby Shad lures in Mon­key

Milk have been fly­ing off the store pegs, along with other pop­u­lar Bobby Gar­land col­ors like Elec­tric Chicken and Blue Ice.

Thorn­ton re­tired six years ago from the com­pany, but she al­ways re­turns at this time of year to pro­vide sea­sonal help. She is needed at the man­u­fac­tur­ing plant, lo­cated on old Route 66 in east Tulsa, to help do some “pick­ing.”

From Novem­ber to April, the “pick­ers” at the plant are busy re­mov­ing each in­di­vid­ual lure from the “strings” or sheets pro­duced by the in­jec­tion mold ma­chines. It’s kind of like pick­ing peas, as the ladies rip each one from the string and put them in boxes to get ready for pack­ag­ing.

Thorn­ton and her part­ner on Tues­day al­ready had picked more than 34,500 be­fore noon.

On av­er­age, more than 1 mil­lion soft plas­tic lures are made at the plant year-round, but dur­ing its peak sea­son from Novem­ber to April, that num­ber in­creases to more than 2 mil­lion per month.

With crap­pie fish­ing sea­son just around the corner, the in­jec­tion mold ma­chines at the man­u­fac­tur­ing plant on 11th street is run­ning around the clock.

Gene Larew Lures LLC has been an Ok­la­homa com­pany since the mid’80s. The founder, Gene Larew, was an avid fish­er­man and re­sort owner on Mis­souri’s Ta­ble Rock Lake who died be­fore he got to see his baits rise to fame. Larew ex­per­i­mented with all kinds of ad­di­tives, from sugar to choco­late to Coca-Cola, be­fore fi­nally set­tling on the fact that it was salt that made a dis­cernible dif­fer­ence on how bass re­acted to baits. He patented the salt im­preg­na­tion process in 1980.

To­day, the Larew name is rec­og­nized through­out fish­ing cir­cles as be­ing the originator of the salt im­preg­na­tion process, made fa­mous by the Gene Larew Salt Craw, ar­guably the most pop­u­lar of all craw­dad im­i­ta­tions.

In late 2006, Tulsa-busi­ness­man Chris Lin­den­berg bought Gene Larew Lures which also was mak­ing the crap­pie baits for Bobby Gar­land. Ge­orge Toal­son, a Tulsa school­teacher and one of the pre­vi­ous own­ers who sold to Lin­den­berg, re­mained with the com­pany as plant man­ager and prod­uct de­signer.

Toal­son is a scuba diver who has de­vel­oped many of the com­pany’s baits by study­ing fish be­hav­ior. He has made hun­dreds of scuba dives in his life, but only one in an ocean. He’s done most of his div­ing in Ok­la­homa lakes do­ing re­search for bait-mak­ing.

“You can’t learn about stuff un­less you are down there with it,” said Toal­son, who will be teach­ing a class next month at Rose State Col­lege for Bass and Crap­pie Univer­sity.

By spring 2007, Gene Larew Lures had bought the Bobby Gar­land prod­uct line and moved its head­quar­ters from Owasso to Tulsa into its present 22,000-square­foot build­ing. Later, the Crap­pie Pro brand of jig­heads was also added.

Like Gene Larew, the late Bobby Gar­land was an early day pi­o­neer of soft plas­tics. In the be­gin­ning, while Gar­land was liv­ing out west, he was best known for his bass bait in­ven­tions, in­clud­ing the Gitzit.

In his later years and af­ter mov­ing closer to crap­pie fish­ing wa­ters in Arkansas and Mis­souri, his fish­ing pas­sion and cre­ations turned to crap­pie. Sur­veys show it is the fa­vorite crap­pie brand of an­glers.

Tulsa is the home for sev­eral of the coun­try’s top fish­ing brands, but Gene Larew Lures and Bobby Gar­land Bait­sis the only one that ac­tu­ally man­u­fac­tures its prod­ucts there. Since buy­ing Bobby Gar­land Crap­pie Baits, the com­pany has grown ten­fold in sales and now em­ploys be­tween 30 and 45 peo­ple, the high­est num­ber dur­ing the cur­rent busy pe­riod of pro­duc­tion.

The com­pany pro­duces new, in­no­va­tive prod­ucts and col­ors each year, be­cause Lin­den­berger says the con­sumers de­mand it.

The sale of Bobby Gar­land lures has grown as pan­fish­ing has be­come more pop­u­lar. In Ok­la­homa, crap­pie is the most sought-af­ter species, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys by the Ok­la­homa De­part­ment of Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion. Lin­den­berger said it is a na­tional trend.

No one had to tell Thorn­ton. She al­ready knew the trend to­ward crap­pie. She could tell by how busy the pick­ers have been in re­cent years.

“It just went crazy since they got Bobby Gar­land (crap­pie baits),” she said.


Chris Lin­den­berg, right, owner of Gene Larew Lures and Bobby Gar­land Crap­pie Baits, is stand­ing with Ge­orge Toal­son, prod­uct de­signer and plant man­ager, in front of a wall mu­ral at the com­pany’s Tulsa head­quar­ters.

Af­ter the crap­pie bait “strings” are re­moved from the mold in­jec­tion ma­chines, they hang on racks to cure un­til they are ready for “pick­ers” to re­move the in­di­vid­ual lures from each string and put them in boxes.

Ge­orge Toal­son, prod­uct de­signer and plant man­ager for Bobby Gar­land Crap­pie Baits, ex­plains the soft plas­tic mold in­jec­tion ma­chines used to make the crap­pie baits.

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