My first professional bass tournament experience was in the spring of 1971 at Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains, and I almost won. In fact, had I listened to my instincts instead of other fishermen, I would have beaten my late friend, Billy Westmoreland. I learned a lot that weekend, but one of the best revelations was a special, hand-carved lure known as the “Big O” that had been developed by a kindly gentleman named Fred Young.
At the time, Fred was there selling sets of his homemade lures in egg cartons to anyone who had a few bucks. In the spring of 1973, however, that all changed when Bobby Murray, then an employee of Cotton Cordell Lure Co., was fishing a B.A.S.S. Tournament on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. He called Cotton Cordell from the marina to report that the hottest lure at the tournament was called the Big O. Cotton told Murray to 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, but that many tales about the legend of the Big O were circulating in the hills of Tennessee.
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 lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. His name was Fred Young.
Fred began whittling’ Big Os while convalescing from extensive surgery, and gave some of his lures to his brother Otis, who was a rather large fellow known in Oak Ridge as “Big Otis” …hence the lure’s name. Also, Otis was actively fishing local bass tournaments and winning many of them with his brother’s prized carvings.
From the beginning, Fred signed and numbered each of his lures, which at the time sold for $10 each. Records show that Fred Young carved in excess of 3,700 lures. These lures are prized and valuable possessions of many antique lure collectors today.
After locating Mr. Young, Cotton Cordell arranged a meeting at the Cordell plant in Hot Springs. 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, and within 13 months, Cotton Cordell sold a staggering 1.3 million Big Os.
The rest is history. Fred Young passed away in 1987, but left behind the legacy of a lure that is credited with the beginning of the “alphabet” baits that eventually became known as crankbaits.
“The Original Big O started a lure revolution,” stated Bobby Murray. “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.”
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.
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!