Hooked on making lures

Jeff Lampe

His first creation was a piece of plastic worm with rubber bands tied here and there.

'We called it the Rockbuster because rock bass used to really like it,' Paul Clay said.

The heyday of the Rockbuster came and went nearly 40 years ago while Clay was growing up in Princeville. But Clay, now 48 and living in a restored farmhouse northwest of Chillicothe, still enjoys creating fishing lures.

For the past decade he's kept busy making jigs, spinnerbaits and — more recently — chatterbaits for bass anglers. Most days when Clay returns home from work at the Mitsubishi Motors plant in Normal, he heads to his shed. There he turns chunks of scrap lead into fishing jigs, using a variety of custom molds.

After a few hours of molding, Clay moves inside to a bedroom where he powder paints jigs, adds plastic skirts and tinkers with his creations. Always he looks for improvements, relying largely on input from co-workers or tournament anglers. The irony is he's too busy modifying his baits to actually use them much.

'I fish, but not as much as I used to,' Clay said. 'I don't have time.'

Among his latest improvements is upgrading hooks: Owner for spinnerbaits and chatterbaits and Gamakatsu for jigs. He also top coats jigs with epoxy paint to help reduce chipping.

Clay calls his latest creation the Mad Willow. It's basically a chatterbait with a willow-leaf spinnerbait blade dangling under the hook.

'It's the coolest bait to watch in the water because the blade doesn't spin, it flutters,' Clay said.

From my own personal tests I can tell you the Mad Willow catches fish, including a chunky 3-pounder out of a Peoria County lake two weeks ago. That was one of six bass in about two hours that hit Clay's chatterbaits.

His spinnerbaits are more popular, though any sales are by word of mouth. Clay has never advertised his Dine-a-mite Bait company. Even so, a handful of tournament bass anglers regularly call Clay with orders for specific combinations of colors, blades, paint patterns and hook sizes.

A typical call might be from an angler wanting a buzzbait that spins counter clockwise instead of clockwise. Or a spinnerbait with a wild pink, hatchet-shaped blade.

'I can throw together about anything you want,' said Clay, who takes orders via e-mail at or at (309) 251-6611.

And there's definitely a market for his services. While the racks of tackle shops are already packed with what might appear to be every color or shape of lure imaginable, there's always someone who can't find what they want.

Locating custom-made lures to fill that niche is not easy, even though the Internet is filled with helpful Web sites like To me that's not really a huge surprise. What would you rather do, fish or spend a day being splattered with hot lead while molding jigs?

'I just like the making part,' Clay said, shaking off another lead splatter. 'It's not for the money, for sure.'

That's true because another appeal of Clay's creations is his 'Wal-Mart pricing': Arky-head or football-head bass jigs with rattles are $2.50, buzzbaits cost $2.50, chatterbaits $3, Mad Willow chatterbaits $4, bass spinnerbaits $4, crappie spinners $2.5 and five crappie jigs sell for $1.

At those prices, Clay will never be enticed to retire early from Mitsubishi. But he will entice anglers to keep using his lures. Really, that's what he's after.

'When guys fish a tournament and call me to say they caught fish with my lures, it's cool. It makes me feel good,' Clay said. 'It's fun to have people be successful with things you make.'

JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail