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Famed fishing lures come from Renton garage
Famed lures come from Renton garage
It’s been 50 years, but Ed (Bud) Hill fondly recalls the fishing trip. He and his brother-in-law Jiggs were at a Canadian lake, and they were catching fish galore — returning to the fish house before lunch and dinner with their limit of fish. An angry crowd watched Hill clean the fish before lunch, a bigger crowd before dinner.
Hill asked a lodge employee the reason for the attention. She said most people had been there a week and caught nothing. Maybe they should hide their gear.
A quick trip on the lake with a young man confirmed their gear was the secret to their fishing success. The young man caught his limit of fish.
“He was beaming,” Hill says. “The whole week he hadn’t caught anything.”
Their gear was Genuine Jack Lloyd All Diamond Trolls, a company that Hill, 84, and his wife June, 81, and their daughter Kris, 55, now run. The trio makes the steel and brass lures out of their Renton garage, as they have since buying the company in 1976.
“It’s always been a home workshop type of deal,” says Hill.
Jack Lloyd started the business in California in 1916. His first lure was a pewter spoon from the silverware drawer. He set off for a lake with the spoon, polished, its bent handle attached to fishing line. His logging buddies laughed, but he returned with a “whole mess of fish,” Hill says. “They said, ‘Jack, make some for me,’ and it grew into a business.”
Lloyd added spoons and a diamond design to mimic fish scales, and the mess of fish caught increased. The mess of fish grew so big that a state law was passed in California in 1927 forbidding use of Lloyd’s tackles, or any gear with more than two “attracters.” (The law has since been repealed.) Lloyd and his wife Alice moved north, to Spokane and then Seattle, stopping briefly to open a tackle shop in Port Angeles.
When Lloyd died in the early 1930s at age 47, Alice took over until 1969, when she sold to a couple Medina guys. The Hills bought the business a few years later. Bud Hill was about to retire from teaching — math and science and football, baseball and basketball at Hazen High School.
“I didn’t want to sit down and have nothing to do,” he says. “I saw too many teachers pass away three months after retiring ‘cause they didn’t have anything to do. I didn’t care to fish every day; I didn’t care to golf every day like some
people do. That’s why we went into it.”
Bud retired in 1982 and June in 1987. She was also a teacher — PE and counseling at Renton’s three middle schools. Kris ran the company until then. She had just finished her English major at Washington State University.
“The business had started getting bigger, and there really was no point in me going to find a job,” says Kris. “I had one. Plus, I got to be at home with my dogs. It gives new meaning to ‘Take Your Dog to Work Day.’”
The Hills string the trolls on a workbench in their garage, which they call “the shop.” Because fishing is seasonal, making trolls isn’t a year-round job. They start shipping orders after the first of the year, and stop around mid-summer. Mid to late summer to November is slow.
The Hills were starting early on a big July order on a recent day. Gunarama Wholesale, Inc. in Spokane wants 43 dozen. The order is just one of four or five orders the wholesaler buys each year.
Jack Lloyd trolls come in several varieties, each targeting different fish. But all are a string of shiny brass plates shaped like spoons, interspersed with red beads and a red diamond-shaped rudder, strung on either stainless steel wire or cable. When dragged at a slow speed behind a boat, the shiny spoons, with indentations like fish scales, look like small fish in trouble. Hungry larger fish are attracted to such fish. One end of the lure is attached to a fishing pole and the other to a fishing line strung with a piece of bait. The lure works best dragged behind a boat moving slowly around a lake. But the trolls can also be cast from a dock – so long as the fish appear to be moving.
The Hills buy the troll parts from across the country. The wire from Wisconsin, connecting links and swivels from New York, beads from Connecticut and brass from wherever the price is best. They send the brass away for diamond stamping and nickel plating, but do the rest of the work themselves. That work includes polishing the spoons, then twisting, looping and stringing the wire and packaging and shipping the products. They use four small crank machines they call the twister and kinker. Two of these machines they believe to be Jack Lloyd originals.
The Hills can comfortably finish 42 dozen trolls in about two weeks. With sleepless nights, they can do it in a week. Crunch times demand they all work together. To avoid confrontations, Kris used to work nights and June days. But they work together better now.
“She’s the boss,” June says.
The Hills sell to a couple wholesalers other than Gunarama and occasionally to resorts that stock fishing tackle. But many of the companies they once sold to have gone out of business. Bud says others are now owned by younger kids who don’t know the difference between Jack Lloyd trolls and his competitors. Jack Lloyd trolls are clearly the best, Bud says. Why?
“I don’t know, it catches fish,” he says. “It was the first troll ever put on the market, and all of these others are copies.”
The diamond design was also a first, Bud says, but Lloyd couldn’t patent the design because a tire company had already done so. Most other trolls are on cable instead of steel wire, likely because it’s cheaper and easier to store in a tackle box.
Jack Lloyd trolls used to be for sale at local Pay Less and Ernst stores, but they’ve since gone out of business. Now the trolls are only available in Chelan, Fife and Spokane.
Business is OK, Kris says, but orders have decreased in recent years. Maybe it’s time to think about entering the 21st century with a Web site. But they don’t want to bite off more than they can chew. They like the low overhead and low-key nature of their garage business.
Kris and June like having spare time to craft. And maybe one of these years they’ll have time to go fishing. Their old fishing poles are stored in the rafters of their garage. They don’t have time now because fishing season is when business is busiest.
But for now the three Hills are content to keep making those trolls. The work is relaxing, June says.
“It’s probably kind of silly, but we enjoy doing it,” Kris adds.
Emily Garland can be reached at email@example.com or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.
The Hills don’t sell Genuine Jack Lloyd All Diamond Trolls out of their home. But call them for more information: 425-226-9686.