"Big O" Hails From Oak Ridge

Monday, January 17, 2005 - by Chad Gay, PRADCO Fishing

Bobby Murray has brought the Big O full circle.

In the spring of 1973, Murray, then an employee of Cotton Cordell Lure Co., was fishing a B.A.S.S. Tournament on Beaver Lake in Ark.. He called Cotton Cordell from the marina to report that the hottest lure at the tournament was called the Big O. Cotton told Murray... "get one and bring it home after the tournament."

An excited Murray had a Big O clutched in his hand when he arrived early at the Cordell office the next Monday morning. Murray reported that nobody knew the real story on this lure. There were many tales about the legend of the Big O. Some reports, which turned out to be true, told of fishermen actually renting the lures for $5 to $20 a day from local tackle shops and marinas, but only after leaving a substantial deposit. The only fact that rang true in most of these legends was that the lures were hand carved by an old timer somewhere near Oak Ride, Tenn..

In attempting to check out some of the legends and locate the creator of the lure, a list of some 42 such old timers resulted. All of them were living in, or near, Oak Ridge. Most reported that the "O" came from Oak Ridge, lending credence to most of the folks on the list. Reports were that the lure maker named the lure after his hometown.

Finally, after an extensive search, the creator of the now famous Big O was found. He turned out to be an old friend of a long time friend of Cotton's, and he did live in Oak Ridge. His name was Fred Young.

Fred began whittling' Big Os while convalescing from extensive surgery. He gave some of his lures to his brother Otis who, as a rather large fellow, was known in Oak Ridge as "Big Otis" - hence the lure's name. Otis was actively fishing local bass tournaments and winning many of them with his brother's prized carvings.

Fred, almost from the beginning, signed and numbered each of his lures, which at the time sold for $10 each...a price that fishermen bought easily.

It is reported that in all the years Fred Young carved Big Os he turned out an excess of 3,700 lures, every one signed and numbered. These lures are a prized and valuable possession of many antique lure collectors today.

Cotton Cordell arranged a meeting with Young at the Cordell plant in Hot Springs, Ark. From that meeting came an agreement between the gentlemen that allowed Cotton to make and market a plastic version of this successful winning lure. Cotton's plastic version was introduced to the marketplace in Cordell's 1973-74 catalog. Within 13 months Cotton Cordell sold a staggering 1.3 million Big Os.

The rest is history. Fred Young passed away in 1987. He left behind the legacy of a lure that is credited with the beginning of the "alphabet" baits - lures that eventually became known as crankbaits.

"The Original Big O started a lure revolution," Murray said. "It started the big plug phenomenon. Lures that featured a big, fat wobble. Everybody at one time has tried to make a plug like that. Rebel, Cotton Cordell, Norman, Normark...everybody has tried."

Now, thanks to Murray, this lure's history has come full circle. Murray convinced Cotton Cordell, which currently sells smaller versions of the original Big O, to replicate his prized Fred Young hand-carved Big O. Murray, who oversaw the replication process, said the balsa version that is only available at Cabela's is the exact size, color and action of his original.

"This is something very special," Murray said. "There are two sets of people out there who will be tremendously excited about the return of the Big O. The first group is the collectors. This is the first offering made that's truly a Big O in every since. They will be collector's items. The second group who will be excited are the anglers who've never had the opportunity to throw the exact shape and size of Fred Young's Big O. Let me assure you it is a fish catching machine."

Murray said this lure's tremendous success comes from its ability to attract fish. It is a fat-bodied plug that displaces a lot of water due to its wide wobble and tremendous buoyancy.

"The more buoyancy a plug has the more violent the wiggle in the water," Murray said. "Fish feel lures coming through the water by the amount of displacement a lure has under the water. Fish can feel a Big O more than other plugs due to its fat body and wide-wobble. They can feel the plug coming through their lateral line. It is just like a radar signal being sent out when water is being pushed every time the bait violently wobbles from side to side."

Cotton Cordell's Fred Young Original Big O is available for $7.99 only at Cabela's (800-237-4444)/www.cabelas..com/bigo. It's less than the price Fred Young once asked eager fishermen to pay for his hand carved creations. It's also the same proven size, action and colors that created a lure category. And, more than likely, it will create the same angler demand.

The Big O, it appears, has indeed come full circle.


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