One of the original Ray Norman Spinning Fish with a salmon caught at Buoy 10 back in 2013.
There are a thousand overnight success stories in the entertainment world. When the real story is told though, it is not instant success, but the grueling tale of years, sometimes decades of hard work before an actor or singer makes it.
The overnight success story is not quite as common in the fishing tackle industry, but there are stories of fishing lures becoming instant successes after spending many years sitting gathering dust on small tackle store shelves.
One of the hottest lures in some areas of the country right now is the SpinFish, made by Yakima Bait Company. Featuring a wounded-baitfish action, the SpinFish pulls apart in the middle to allow bait and scent to be added. The lure has grown in popularity, seemingly overnight, among many freshwater anglers.
While it might be new to some, the SpinFish is not all that new. In fact, it’s humble beginnings can be traced back to 2009.
The original Spinning Fish developed by Ray Norman came in two sizes and a handful of colors.
First designed and created by Ray Norman of Seaside, Oregon back some 12 years ago, the first versions of the SpinFish were created out of frustrations Norman had with other bait-holding lures.
“After fishing for a day with one of the other lures that holds bait, I got tired of reeling the lure in and seeing the top up and the rubber band missing,” Norman said. “So, I decided to try to create a better way to allow bait to be added to the center of a lure.”
With several attempts working with different molds, Norman finally came up with a version of his design that he was happy with, and called the new lure the Spinning Fish.
Happy with his lure, Norman went about patenting it. He got a conditional patent in 2009, and then an unconditional patent in 2010, which allowed him to start producing and marketing the lure. He developed two sizes of the Spinning Fish—a three-inch version and a four-inch version—and made them in a few colors.
After rebranding the lure, Yakima Bait added two new smaller sizes of the SpinFish and added a number of new colors for trout and kokanee.
The lures sold here and there, but never really caught on. Being a professional in the timber industry and in ironworking, Norman didn’t have the time or expertise in the fishing tackle industry to really get the lure going.
Enter Yakima Bait Company. In 2012, Norman contacted the Northwest lure manufacturer, known for their Rooster Tail and Mag Lip product line, among others, to see if they might have interest in purchasing his lure.
Norman’s call landed on Jarod Higginbotham’s desk, and after looking at the product and with his knowledge of bait-holding lures sales from the retail level, Higginbotham took it higher up the ladder at Yakima Bait.
One of the people who looked at it was Buzz Ramsey, who has a lifetime of knowledge in designing, selling and fishing with various lures. He was a little skeptical at first.
Back in 2013 Dan McDonald, president of Yakima Bait Company, fished with Ray Norman, inventor of the SpinFish, and found out first hand how productive the lure can be.
“In my years working in the tackle industry, first at Luhr Jensen, and then at Yakima Bait, I have seen a steady barrage of product ideas from angler invertors,” Ramsey said. “And it is so rare any have ever been seriously considered.”
Ramsey said it helped that Norman had all the tooling, and the patents handled, making it a little more appealing.
Then, in 2013, Ramsey and Yakima Bait Company president, Dan McDonald fished with Norman at Buoy 10. That trip gave them a chance to really see the then Spinning Fish in action.
“I was impressed with how well it fished,” said the well-known salmon fisherman Ramsey. “It was hooking as many fish as the spinners.”
At some point in negotiations between Yakima Bait and Norman, the creator of the lure decided he wanted to keep trying to market and sell the Spinning Fish himself. So that put things on hold for a few years.
“We stayed in touch with him,” said McDonald. “And when Ray was finally ready to sell, we worked out a deal.”
Ramsey said once they had the product under the YBC umbrella they went to work on rebranding it.
“We felt like it needed a shorter name,” Ramsey said. “And it needed more colors and new packaging.”
Anglers around the West are learning that the wounded baitfish action of the SpinFish is deadly on trout.
It took a bit, but with some work the Spinning Fish became the SpinFish, with fresh new attractive packaging and a number of new angler-approved colors.
“It was similar to what we did with our Mag Lip product,” said McDonald. “We took a lure called the Flatfish M2SP, renamed it, gave it new packaging and new colors, and reintroduced it. It has been incredibly successful.”
“Having compelling packaging with instructions, and appealing colors that anglers can relate to was vital,” Ramsey said.
According to McDonald, the next step was to get the lure out to their network of pro staff made up of guides and outdoor communicators.
“There is a lot of preliminary work that goes into a lure before we introduce it to the market,” McDonald said. “We want to make sure the lure is working like it should, and that we have all the right colors.”
During that time, Ramsey was working on two smaller versions of the SpinFish. The two larger existing sizes have great potential with salmon, steelhead, lake trout and other big fish, but the company believed smaller versions would have great appeal and success with anglers fishing for trout, kokanee and other fish.
The SpinFish pulls apart in the middle and allows baits and scents to be added. The scent, combined with an enticing wounded baitfish action makes the lure deadly on a variety of fish.
You don’t just snap your fingers and have two more sizes. Ramsey spent months working on getting the molds and tooling just right to make sure the smaller versions of the lure would have the same appealing wounded-baitfish spin that makes the larger sizes so deadly.
Now there is a two-inch and two-and-a-half-inch SpinFish and it has tested incredibly well with pro-staffers for kokanee and trout.
As the two new sizes were being developed, McDonald started getting the SpinFish larger sizes out to the retailers in the Northwest via his sales reps and through his contacts with buyers in the industry.
Where a small lure maker struggles because they don’t really have the knowledge, experience and track record of bringing a product to market, Yakima Bait has a history of successful lure introductions, which made it much easier to get placement in the tackle shops and outdoor stores in the region.
Yakima Bait created new packaging, colors and sizes of the SpinFish and reintroduced it two years ago.
McDonald said it is their infrastructure, including their relationship with retailers and distributors, that gives larger companies an advantage when it comes to introducing a new product.
“Our customers, the wholesalers and retailers, have real confidence that we’ll deliver what we promise when we bring them a new product to sell,” McDonald said. “They know we are going to promote the product and create a demand for it in their stores.”
The demand comes from anglers having success with the lure and getting that story out there.
“A product just doesn’t show up in the store and start flying off the shelves,” McDonald said. “Someone has to have some success with it. They have to try it and say ‘yes it works.’”
After adding a number of colors that salmon and steelhead anglers were requesting, the SpinFish became even more productive.
That’s where social media comes into play. Once the word got out that the SpinFish was catching fish it did start flying off the shelves. In fact, the lures sold so well, so fast, that Yakima Bait had trouble keeping up.
“We had no idea how to estimate the huge demand,” McDonald said. “Anglers were buying them up in big lots. The pegs were empty right after they were filled.”
Of course, the arrival of coronavirus pandemic in the middle of all of this didn’t help. Not only did a government-mandated shutdown halt all production of all of Yakima Bait’s products for five months, so many people had time to go fishing, the demand for the SpinFish rose unbelievably.
“We had some unhappy customers,” McDonald said. “People wanted the SpinFish and they couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Ever since they were allowed to have employees back in the plant, Yakima Bait has been working hard to get all sizes and colors of the SpinFish out to stores in the region.
Fishing in Southeast Alaska last summer the author caught several nice kings, and was surprised when a halibut came up off the bottom and hit his SpinFish.
Today the SpinFish comes in four sizes and in over 20 colors, including a number of different metallic versions with various bright colors that are proven to catch salmon and steelhead.
The patented, pull-apart body design allows bait to be placed inside of the lure, creating a steady scent stream as the SpinFish rotates through the water. Another unique feature of the lure is holes are set in the bill of the lure to allow the leader to run up one side or the other, giving an angler the choice to have the lure spin clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Some anglers will substitute a small wad of cotton for bait, and by dousing the cotton periodically with liquid scent, the SpinFish can smell like herring, sardine, shrimp, anise or any other favored scent.
The larger sizes of SpinFish are rigged with two super-sharp single hooks tied on 30-pound test leader. The smaller sizes also feature two extra-sharp single hooks tied on 20-pound leader. The lures are ready to fish right out of the package.
Over the past year the folks at Yakima Bait Company have heard some incredible success stories from anglers fishing with SpinFish. In Alaska stories and photos of some incredible salmon and halibut catches have come in.
Denis Isbister, producer and host of the TV show Wild Fish Wild Places, has caught big Lahontan cutthroat, Chinook and coho salmon, rainbows and even lingcod on the different sizes of SpinFish.
Well-known Lake Chelan guide Sam Baird started using the two-inch SpinFish for kokanee in early 2021, and has had such incredible success with the smallest size on the huge lake in Northcentral Washington, that he rarely uses any other lure now.
While trolling for salmon in British Columbia a couple of years ago, Denis Isbister (R), host of the TV show Wild Fish Wild Places, caught a nice lingcod on a SpinFish.
“We really believe in the long-term viability of the SpinFish,” said McDonald. “It is simply due to the fact that they catch fish.”
Buzz Ramsey agrees. “I’m sure anglers will catch anything, if they are trolling with SpinFish,” the Hall of Fame angler said.
So, from modest beginnings in a small town on the coast of Oregon, the SpinFish has now become one of the must-have lures for anglers around the Northwest and beyond. One angler-slash-inventor who couldn’t be happier with the success of SpinFish is Ray Norman. He’s proud of his creation, and extremely grateful that Yakima Bait Company was interested in taking his lure to new heights.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Norman said. “I’m very pleased with how it has all happened.”
It took a while, but the SpinFish has now become an overnight success.