July 22, 2008
Mitchell Co. - Almost every morning of the week, Bobby Bass puts on a special, freshly ironed white shirt with distinctive creases and a badge.
"I'm a policeman in Sale City, the Chief of Police," says Bobby as he buttons the shirt in his bathroom.
The dedicated law man is also a dedicated fisherman, dedicated to catching crappie, also known as speckled perch to many people, and bream.
"When I'm not working, I'd rather be fishing," says Bobby when asked if he likes law enforcement or fishing the best.
He sometimes awakens at four o'clock in the morning, quietly slips out and goes fishing, but you could call it fishing research. Bobby makes fishing jigs and he wants to know which ones entice fish to bite.
In 1999, Bobby decided to try his hand at making his own fishing jigs for a practical reason.
"I couldn't buy the colors I wanted," says Bobby.
"There's no book. It was all trial and error and a heap of trials," says Bobby as he sits in his small building with an uncertain plywood floor with insulation tucked between the roof and rafters. In here, he feels like a king, deciding how many jigs to make and what colors to paint them.
It took him two-and-a-half years to learn how to make his first one.
He would go on to become an expert on crappie fishing, one time writing a popular internet column and talking with fellow fisherman about their experiences. Bobby says he learned a lot about fishing from others. He sells his handiwork jigs nationwide.
"I like being my own boss," says Bobby and many people envy him, and he likes having a special talent.
"You're doing something not many people can do," says Bobby with obvious pride.
Hundreds of packs of jigs in various sizes and colors hang from peg-board hooks ready for sale to bait shops or mail order or to individuals who drop by. Often, fishermen ask Bobby to make a special one for them.
"I make one for him and I make one for myself. I'll try it out to see how well it works," says Bobby.
Time means nothing to him as a big window air conditioner fends off the hot temperatures with ease. Neither wall clock works, as if stuck in time.
"You're completely relaxed and no one is out here but you," says Bobby.
Bobby finds jig making reduces his stress. He credits his home-based industry with literally saving his life after a divorce and numerous surgeries.
"Reducing stress and catching fish, both them together mean a heap to me," says Bobby.
His modest industry includes two small, electrically heated pots-one to melt lead and the other to melt plastic.
"Everything has to be just right-the temperature, the weather-for you to come out here and pour," says Bobby who operates the pouring pots by hand. There's no computer or any type of automation involved with his assembly line.
He designed the intricate molds for the lead and the plastic to make his jigs. A special machine shop made each mold to laser precision.
"I do 288 at a time," says Bobby, who can't stop once he gets started on a run. After they cool, he takes them outside, literally puts them on long bolts that hold a rack full and spray paints them.
After the paint dries, Bobby gently packs the jigs in a small plastic bag one at a time and staples his label precisely at the top. He points out a five-word phrase on each one: Made by fishermen for fishermen. On the back of label are the words "Thank You" in red.
I want people to know that I appreciate their business," says Bobby.
He produces 50 types of jigs of various sizes and colors. He knows which one to send by looking at a number on the upper left side of the label. However, fishermen created names for some of the most popular.
"People call and say they want a John Deere. I know it's the green and yellow one, "says Bobby. (John Deere is a very popular brand of farming equipment with its legendary
green and yellow colors.)
"'Bobby, you got any Christmas Trees?' Well, I know exactly what they are taking about-number 13-red, green, yellow,'" says Bobby.
When asked, "What comes first the jig or the fishing," Bobby immediately knows.
"You got to make the jig, before you can fish with it, says Bobby with a laugh.
In reality, he doesn't go fishing.
"I go to catch fish," says Bobby. "Fish aren't dumb. You're pitting yourself against a fish and if you can outsmart him, you'll catch him, but a lot of people can't outsmart him. You got to think where he'll be at a certain time."
His friends know where to find Bobby, usually in one of two places-a police car or in his modest workshop making fishing jigs.
"It just means the world to me," says Bobby.
A fishy world that reduces his everyday stress more than anything else.