The personality of any company comes from its founder. Jim Bagley was an inventive, fun-loving, passionate fisherman who became one the most respected legends in the fishing tackle industry. Even in his youth he had an entrepreneurial spirit. His first job as a kid was doing odd jobs in the very industry we would grow to love as he worked for Bill Eger of the Eger Bait Company in Bartow, Florida. Jim developed a keen work ethic and a desire to make quality fishing lures from Mr. Eger. Fueled with a desire to succeed in the fishing tackle business, Jim purchased the dormant Dean Pork Rind Co. in 1954. Jim worked closely with serious bass anglers to develop his line of pork rind baits. His big break occurred when Field and Stream magazine ran an article called “That New Black Magic” describing the Black Magic pork rind eel Jim was making. This put Bagley on the map.
The real evolution of Bagley Baits came in 1960, however, when Jim became intrigued by the emerging balsa wood technology that was a developing trend in lure manufacturing. Jim understood that balsa wood was the best natural material known to man for a fishing lure. It’s light and lively action could not be duplicated with other woods or plastic materials. Because most of the new balsa baits were very light and hard to cast, he saw an opening for creating heavier and more castable baits for the bass market. Jim’s first balsa bait, the Bang O Lure was a huge success. Bass anglers around the world quickly realized that this new “stick” bait could cast farther and offered a more pronounced action that attracts big bass. Jim followed with many famous balsa baits such as the Diving B, the first deep diving crankbait, and the Balsa B made with a square bill that enabled anglers to fish in heavy wooded cover and the Small Fry series whose shapes were life like replicas of forage baitfish. Jim was extremely proud of the fact that Bagley baits accounted for 4 Bass Master Classic wins.
In the late 1980’s, Jim decided to sell the company and retire to a life of daily fishing with friends and family. As often happens, the company lost is momentum and through a series of new owners over the next 30 years, the company failed to continue to build off of the strong business base that Jim had created. As a result of changing manufacturing standards, a collectors market began to emerge among Bagley bait enthusiasts looking for those original Bagley baits that were made during Jim’s years of ownership. There was a strong belief that those pre-1980 lures, made under Jim’s tight standards for quality of materials and craftsmanship, were vastly superior to the Bagley products now being produced. Serious bass anglers, who loved those original Bagley baits, were now paying top dollars to find classic Bagley baits, which were becoming increasingly more difficult to find.
In late 2010, Jarmo Rapala, as part of the ownership group of First Cast, Inc., bought what remained of the Bagley Baits and set his sights on reenergizing the brand. As an admirer of Jim Bagley for his attention to quality and of his product ingenuity and innovation, Jarmo initiated significant changes in operations, enhanced production processes and quality control, all areas that had clearly slipped during the preceding 30 years. As the former CEO of the worldwide Rapala Group and as part of the legendary Rapala family, Jarmo knew that the company needed renewed manufacturing standards and a revival of the tradition of design innovation that was central to the past success of Bagley. He dug in. He knew it would take time but he also knew that the standards were set high by Jim Bagley and by those core enthusiasts of Bagley.
In late 2014, First Cast, Inc., as part of an internal group restructuring, partnered with an investment group to bring greater focus and resources to the continued re-building of the Bagley brand. The Bagley Bait Company, LLC., emerged from the reorganization with a new and expanded operation and an active investor group. Jarmo Rapala continues to manage all Bagley production and product innovation. Bill Cullerton is focused on managing the company sales structure and key account relationships and Don Hultstrand, a past Normark/Rapala executive leads the Bagley team as President. In late 2014, Bagley will be introducing over 200 new SKU’s as part of several new product models that include both balsa and plastic baits. Some of these new models reflect unique manufacturing techniques; all developed by Jarmo over the last few years and are a true reflection of the tradition of product innovation – a Bagley hallmark – first started by Jim Bagley in 1954.
In 2015 Bagley introduces the HCM Process to balsa lure production. Bagley Bait Companies long tradition of innovation, paired with a 60 year legacy of creating some of the worlds most coveted and legendary lure models, continues with the introduction of the HCM manufacturing process. The HCM Process – Heat Compression Molding – is a significant step forward in the world of balsa wood manufacturing. As an alternative to the traditional balsa carving and “drill and fill” processes still practiced today by current balsa makers, the HCM Process results in a finished product that is superior in consistency and function. The process ensures that each lure is precisely weighted and balanced so that it achieves the subtle action and attributes expertly designed into a specific lure model – each and every time. Learn more
In 2016, Bagley Bait Co. introduces locking lips to their larger baits such as Monster Shad, Ukko 20 and Bang O B.
(The history of Bagley was written in collaboration with Dan Basore, a fishing historian and owner of Historical Fishing Display)