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The Alphabet Lures

big o

One of the first plastic version “Big O” bass lures produced by Cotton Cordell.

Sounds like a thriller for LMN Television, doesn’t it?

The slow days that the end of summer bring are a good time to reflect on some things that “used to be”, but are still with us. Today, let’s talk about the man who started the “Alphabet” lures rush decades ago. Cotton Cordell, a pioneer in the bass bait business, passed away a couple of years ago in his hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

He was one of the innovators of the above mentioned “Alphabet Lures”  The Big O. Then came the Big N. And the Balsa B.  And more… the granddaddies of modern artificial plastic bass lures.

A designer of fishing lures, Cotton created and established Cordell Tackle, Inc., the largest fishing tackle manufacturer in the world at the time it was sold in 1980. Cotton was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (1987), Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame (1997), and Bass Fishing Hall of Fame (2002). He was a Mason 32nd Degree.

cottonThe “Big O” became a bass fishing bait legend and set off a stream of similar products that were called Alphabet lures because they were named everything from “Big O” to Little “N” and the like. I still have a tackle box full of them that would probably catch fish as good as any modern lure. Cordell’s first and biggest sensation in the lure-making world was the Hot Spot. It probably caught more bass back in the day than any one lure other than the FlipTail purple worm. The Hot Spot was the forerunner of the Rattletrap type lure that is a hot commodity for bass anglers today.

Did I just date myself or what?

I was fortunate enough to meet Cordell several times and one time even get to go fishing with him once. It was just after the “Spot” was put on the market and he and a group I was in spent a weekend on Toledo Bend using bass teeth to wear the paint off several dozen of those new baits. Those were the good old days when if you didn’t catch one on just about every cast, you wondered what was wrong.

We stayed at a place on Toledo Bend I only remember as “Dog Trot”. It was a ratty old place with rooms on both sides of a big open hallway. We fried fish in the hallway one night because it was raining outside and everybody was laying odds on not if we would burn the place down or not, but when. Fortunately, we didn’t.

Darrell Griggs of West Monroe had started up a little outdoor magazine in West Monroe called Louisiana Woods and Water. If you remember that, you may remember when the printing press was invented.  I worked for him in my college days as a part-time writer, lure tester, janitor and coffee maker in a cramped office whose only “storefront” was the stairs up the the two room suite on Trenton Street.  Magazine photographer Billy Heckford of West Monroe, who later spent years as NLU’s head photo man, also went on the trip. I’ve got a box of them around here in a closet somewhere.

Today, I take a few minutes to remember the man and what he did. It’s something we should all do for anyone who played a significant role in developing the outdoors that we love so much.  If you’ve got somebody like that and they are still around, don’t forget to tell them a Big  “Thank You”.


A little Big O history:   A biography published when Cordell was inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 1988 noted his career began in the early 1950s when he was designing and making lures for Creek Chub and Heddon lure companies before he went into business for himself in the mid 1950s. His first designs at Cordell Lures included the Red Fin, the Gay Blade and the Hot Spot.

Fishing Tackle Retailer writer Ken Duke’s documented Cordell’s legendary ascension in the business, when Cordell purchased the rights in 1973 to a wooden lure from Fred Young, and turned the design into the Big O, a handmade bait Young named for his brother, lovingly nicknamed “Big Otis”. Cordell sold 1.3 million in the first 13 months when he began mass producing them in plastic.

Here’s a neat fact:  Today there’s an original Fred Young Big O for sale for $500 on Ebay. At the time Cordell bought the rights to the lure, you couldn’t get one of the original fish-catching machines unless you rented it — that’s right — rented it. The going price was $5 to $20 a day from local tackle shops and marinas, but only after leaving a substantial deposit. No kidding.

Here’s a link to a neat story with evem more info:


Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 9.32.17 AM

Two original hand carved Fred Young “Big O” lures. No two were alike, except they would all catch bass faster than green grass through a goose.


One thought on “The Alphabet Lures

  1. Cotton Cordell & I once visited at length in my office. He was an active member of 2nd Baptist in Hot Springs. We talked a lot about fishing and a lot about the Lord. We had prayer for his business and his church before he left. He was a great guy.

    Posted by emil turner | August 26, 2018, 12:3611:21 pm

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