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August 04, 2008
The Doll Fly: A Lasting Legacy - 0
If you’re an angler who grew up fishing in the 1950s and 60s, chances are that you still refer to all alloy-head jigs as “doll flies,” just because that’s what you’ve always called them.
But, do you know why?
Were you aware that the term doll fly began as a specific brand name that became synonymous with lead-head, bright-colored crappie and bass lures? As a result, “Doll Fly” was transformed into one of those eponyms of American jargon, much like Jell-O and Kleenex.
And beyond that, the Doll Fly isn’t a fly at all, it’s a jig.
The man behind the lasting Doll Fly legacy, luremaker Elmer “Doll” Thompson, died quietly a few weeks ago in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn.
“Doll” founded Thompson Fishing Tackle in 1952 and was soon producing his signature lure—displayed on bright cards hanging in Western Auto stores, Marathon gas stations, and mom & pop tackle shops across the country—by the millions.
At the peak of production, the company--with a plant in Knoxville and one in Port-au-Prince, Haiti--made an incredible 75,000 lures a day. That’s 27.5 million a year!
That’s one helluva lot of jigs.
Bob Hodge, the fine outdoor writer for The Knoxville Sentinel, noted in Thompson’s obituary that the company’s flagship lure was comprised of a hook, alloy head and polar bear hair. That right, real polar bear hair.
Hodge wrote that in a Charlotte Observer article appearing March 17, 1963, Thompson told the writer he had cornered the market on polar bear skins.
“If I couldn’t buy another polar bear hide for four or five years it wouldn’t halt my production one single lure,” he told the paper.
How times change, huh?
Thompson Fishing Tackle added other lures to its line during the 1960s, including the popular Doll Top Secret crankbait. Then, in 1972, Doll Thompson sold his company to Brunswick Corp., the pool-table maker that also owned Zebco Corp. at the time. He served on the board until 1975, when he retired.
So, for all you young fishermen out there in your 20s and 30s (and even lower 40s): when you hear some crusty old sage angler call any furry-tailed crappie jig a “doll fly,” remember the legacy that Doll Thompson left to all of us who live to fish for slabs in cold spring waters.
And don’t forget to tell him about the polar bears.