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Elwood L. Perry, 90; Invented the Spoonplug Fishing Lure

Times Staff Writer

Elwood L. “Buck” Perry, who invented the Spoonplug fishing lure and is considered the father of structure fishing, a system calculated to aid anglers in finding their catch, has died. He was 90.

Perry, the owner of Bucks Baits, died Aug. 12 in Taylorsville, N.C. His family, announcing his death on his website, gave no cause of death but said he had been in declining health.

A lifelong fisherman, Perry concluded that fish move predictably, not willy-nilly, along routes dictated by underwater topography, following contours in the lake or streambed. He also decided they spend much of their time in deep water and move along the contours to shallow water, where they become more active. How far they go depends on several conditions, including weather and the water, he said.

To help figure out where any variety of freshwater fish would be, he developed a combination of a spoon and a plug, which he patented in 1946 as the Spoonplug. He described the lure as “a shoehorn that’s been tromped on by a horse.”

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Perry designed seven sizes, the largest for deep water. To map a river or lakebed, he used the smaller ones first to tap the bottom, then gradually substituted larger sizes to go to deeper water until he found fish. Perry could cover a new lake in a few hours.

He never accepted the excuse that fish weren’t biting, responding: “You’ve got to go out and make them strike.”

“Spoonplugs,” he said on his website, “are lures (tools) specifically designed to find productive structure, locate fish, and make them strike.... The wobbling action is designed to trigger strikes, especially when bumped or ‘walked’ along the bottom.”

In 1973, Perry published “Spoonplugging: Your Guide to Lunker Catches.”

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“It’s the bible of structure fishing,” Scott Richardson, outdoor editor of the Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph, wrote in a column after Perry’s death. “Whether anglers adopt Spoonplugs or not, its pages contain the basics a fisherman needs to know about finding fish.”

In 1981 Perry published a nine-volume home study guide to structure fishing. He also published a newsletter, “The National Spoonplugger,” and for many years was education editor for Fishing Facts Magazine.

In 2000, In-Fisherman magazine named him to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

The Spoonplug failed to take off in its first decade. But in 1957, Perry was invited to demonstrate its effectiveness in the “fished out” Lake Marie near Chicago. When he pulled out fish after fish, the Chicago Tribune (owned by Tribune Co., which also owns The Times) and others published feature stories. Anglers started buying Perry’s tackle.

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Perry toured the country for many years, teaching others how to use his fishing system, which many called simply “spoonplugging.” In 1966, he greeted fishermen at a “Spoonplug booth” at the May Co. department store in downtown Los Angeles and a year later was sponsored by the store at the Los Angeles Sportsmen’s Show.

He often invited local outdoorsmen to go spoonplugging with him, using their enthusiastic testimonials in advertisements.

In a May Co. ad published in The Times in 1966, Southern California fisherman Charles Davis related: “I read of Buck Perry and his Spoonplug in two national magazines, but I didn’t believe all I read. I do now.

“We left the dock at Salton Sea at about 8 a.m. We located a school of corvina at 9:25 and in the next 25 minutes we caught our limits of nine fish. The fish ran from four to six pounds. The boats around us were not catching them before, during or after our catch. We were back at the dock by 10 a.m. and, needless to say, everyone at the dock was flabbergasted.”

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Perry was born July 10, 1915, in Hickory, N.C. He earned a degree in physics and mathematics at Lenoir Rhyne College in Hickory, where he was named most valuable player and all-conference in football and was captain of the baseball team.

He taught math and physics at Hickory High School and helped coach sports before moving to North Carolina State University to study mechanical engineering. He served in the Army Transportation Corps during World War II.

Perry worked briefly in a family business after the war, then started manufacturing Spoonplugs in his garage.

His company expanded to other products for a time, including golf clubs and specialty furniture parts. But after a fire destroyed the plant in 1971, Perry rebuilt and concentrated on selling Spoonplugs and other tackle.

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Perry’s first wife, Marjorie, died in 1978, and a daughter, Sharon Perry Smith, also preceded him in death. He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Geraldine “Jeri” Stowe Perry; a son, G. Reid Perry of Hudson, N.C.; five stepchildren; 24 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.


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