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Creme of the Crop

A transplanted Texan changed bass fishing forever with one plastic worm.

By Dyanne Fry Cortez

In  1949, Nick Creme created a plastic fishing worm at his home in Akron, Ohio. A decade later, he brought Creme Lure Company to Tyler, where it remains today. Bass fishing has never been the same.

When an accomplished bass angler says he caught one on a “worm,” it’s understood that he means an imitation worm made of soft plastic. There are dozens — no, hundreds — of plastic-worm lures on the market today, not to mention plastic lizards, crawfish, minnows, bugs and frogs. But the Creme Wiggle Worm — later renamed the Scoundrel — is generally considered the first.

Creme was the classic American entrepreneur: a man with an idea and the determination to see it through. He was a blue-collar worker, a machinist by trade. Akron in the 1940s was a fast-growing industrial center where a guy like Creme could find work, own a home, raise a family and indulge a passion for fishing in his spare time.

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In those days, “worm” meant a real, live earthworm. A nightcrawler, if you were going after big fish. Digging for bait meant time away from the water, and supplies had a way of running out just when the fish were biting. Creme dreamed of an artificial worm that would dangle from a hook just like a real one. Since it didn’t seem to exist, he set out to make one.

Previous inventors had tried making worms from rubber. After reading up on chemistry, Creme saw more promise in the emerging field of plastics. He went to Cleveland to visit with DuPont, the company that had already invented nylon and was getting into vinyl. A lab tech gave him some chemicals to try at home. Working in the kitchen with his wife, Cosma, Creme cooked up mixtures of polymer, pigments and oils. They lugged the glop to the basement and poured it into a mold he’d made from a steel model of a real nightcrawler. After months of trial and error, they produced a plastic worm that looked alive.

Creme spent the following year field-testing his new bait — which is to say, he took it fishing.

In 1951, he put the 6-inch Wiggle Worm on the market with a mail-order ad in Sports Afield. It came rigged with a three-hook harness, much like the rig used by many anglers who fished with live bait. A customer also could buy a packet of five replacement worms without the hooks.

Sales were modest at first, but they picked up some at the Cleveland Sportsman’s Show, where a distributor friend of Creme’s dangled some Wiggle Worms in the aquarium at his booth. The Cremes moved the operation out of their house and opened a small manufacturing plant.

Eventually, the worm crossed paths with a Texas angler who was looking for a way to fish underwater brush piles.

 

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Wayne Kent, present-day CEO of Creme Lure, doesn’t remember the angler’s name, but he’s pretty sure it happened on Lake Tyler. The 2,200-acre lake (now Tyler West) was built the same year Creme invented his worm, and around the time Skeeter built the first bass boat. More East Texas reservoirs appeared in the 1950s. The new lakes flooded acres of former woodlands, creating excellent cover for black bass.

“Developers used to just bulldoze trees and close the dam,” recalls Kent, “but no lure could go in there without getting hung up on a log.”

Then that anonymous angler took a bare plastic worm and devised what came to be known as the Texas rig. He cut the brass eyelet out of a bell sinker, threaded the sinker on a line and tied a hook behind it. He poked the hook through the nose of the worm, brought it out the side, then rotated the hook and tucked the barb back into the lure’s soft belly.

This “weedless” rig could glide right through a brush pile, and bass went right after it.

Kent was a teenager in 1959, working part time at Milton Goswick’s Bait and Tackle Shop. Suddenly, Creme worms were the hottest items in the store. Goswick couldn’t get enough to meet the demand. One day he made a long-distance call to Akron and got Cosma Creme on the line. She said yes, the company was several months behind on orders. No, she couldn’t send an emergency shipment; they didn’t deal with individual retailers.

Just before he rang off, Kent heard Goswick ask if she liked roses.

“He called one of the dealers in town and had two dozen rose bushes shipped to Mrs. Creme in Akron,” he recalls. Goswick got his worms, and Mr. Creme came to fish some Texas lakes and see what the locals were doing with his products. Within the year, he opened a plant in Tyler and brought his family down from Ohio.

If Ohio in the ’40s was the right place to invent the plastic worm, the ’60s were a fine time to bring it to the Southern states. That decade saw the formation of local bass clubs, the first modern tournament and the founding of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.). Competitive anglers had good luck with plastics, and Creme’s creative marketing helped spread the word on their success.

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“In those days, fishermen didn’t really communicate outside of their own towns,” says Kent. Creme was one of the first lure manufacturers to employ field testers. He paid people to fish with his lures and demonstrate rigging techniques at sporting goods stores and events. His network included celebrity anglers like Bill Dance, winner of 23 national titles and host of Bill Dance Outdoors. He also hired local anglers like Bill Coleman, who taught school in Tyler and fished whenever he got the chance.

Creme found Coleman on the big bass board at Lake Tyler’s Concession No. 2. The board covered the front wall of the restaurant/tackle shop and displayed a running tally of notable catches on the lake.

“If you caught a fish over four pounds, you could go in and they’d have your name up there. There was a little square and you’d put the weight in and the date you caught it,” Coleman explains.

He put 63 catches on the board in 1963, “and Mr. and Mrs. Creme asked me to come work for them in the summertime.” He spent 19 seasons traveling to stores in places such as Texarkana, Wichita Falls and San Antonio and a few in neighboring states.

Wayne Kent will tell you how Creme’s worm spawned other fishing innovations. Tackle shops sell worm hooks and bullet-shaped sinkers, designed with Texas rigging in mind. There are fishing rods with stiff tips and heavier action for bouncing a worm across a lake bottom. And, of course, other companies have gotten into soft plastics, adding their own twists to Creme’s invention.

Perhaps inspired by Creme’s example, Kent and his wife, Judy, started their own home-based lure company in 1965, when they were students at Tyler Junior College. That company, Knight Manufacturing, merged with Creme Lure in 1989, five years after Nick Creme passed away.

Creme Lure is still a family business, run by Wayne and Judy Kent with help from their son and daughter. The original Scoundrel worm, offered in three sizes and three dozen colors and patterns, is still one of Bill Coleman’s favorite lures.

“I don’t think there’s been a bigger impact on the sport of fishing,” says Kent. “It’s just a total industry that was created by one man in a basement.”


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