Almy: Zara Spook lure endures

Anyone who is interested in fishing lures has heard the name “Heddon.” Here is the story of how James Heddon, founder of the lure company that bears his name, created one of his most famous offerings of all, the Zara Spook.

James Heddon was just killing time one day in the late Nineteenth Century, whiling away the hours as he carved on a piece of wood. Taking a break, he tossed it into the swirling waters of Dowagiac Creek. Suddenly a large bass rolled up, grabbed the piece of wood and disappeared into the depths.

That image of the huge bass nailing the piece of wood stuck in Heddon’s mind. Thinking about the event back in his shop, Heddon carved another chunk of wood to the approximate shape of a minnow. Then he used his tools to add a set of hooks to it. With that act, he created the first artificial plug.

It did just what he hoped it would. It caught bass — lots of them. Making several more, he fine-tuned his carving technique and hook mounting procedure. As the lures took on a more polished look, he set up shop and formed one of the country’s first lure manufacturing companies in 1894.

The Heddon Company was destined to produce some of the greatest fishing lures of all time. Ever heard of the Lucky 13? That’s a Heddon offering. How about the Tiny Torpedo? That is also one of Heddon’s creations. The Sonar, Bayou Boggie, River Runt and Crazy Crawler were a few of the other great lures Heddon’s company unveiled to the fishing public.

The Bayou Boggie was technically a vibrator or lipless crankbait and the precursor to the modern Rat-L-Trap and Spot lures. The Torpedo is still one of the greatest topwater lures ever made. It catches tons of fish every year in a wide variety of sizes from the “Teeny” on up.

Tossing this lure on the Shenandoah River is a sure way to entice strikes from our local jumbo smallmouth bass. On nearby Lake Anna, it’s deadly on largemouths and even striped bass.

But one of the most enduring lures Heddon ever devised was the Zara Spook. Anyone who is familiar with topwater fishing likely knows about this lure. It was originally called the Zaragossa, because it had a wiggle “like the gals down on Zaragossa Street,” said its creator, referring to a red light district in Pensacola at the time it was invented in 1922. Redesigned in 1939, the bait’s name was shortened to Zara Spook, in reference to the skeleton-like pattern painted on its flanks.

No other plug has the action of the Zara Spook for “walking the dog,” a side-to-side motion that skilled anglers give these lures that drives gamefish wild. Originally made of white cedar, the Zara Spook is now manufactured out of plastic, but still has the same seductive action.

Tactics: Cast out, let the lure rest for a moment, then rhythmically twitch the bait with sharp jerks, giving slack line in between. The lure should jump first to one side, and then the other. Once you get the hang of it, this “walking the dog” presentation is easy to use and drives bass, pike, muskies and pickerel mad when they’re on shallow flats, near shore, or schooling on top in open water during summer and fall. Also try a more traditional approach of simply twitching the lure, then pausing.

The smaller Puppy and Pooch models are particularly deadly for river smallmouths. There are few better ways to spend a spring or summer day than tossing one of these smaller Zaras to the feisty smallmouths inhabiting our local Shenandoah River or the nearby Potomac, Rappahannock and James rivers.