HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Legendary lure maker Carl Richey (“Cotton”) Cordell died today at the age of 86. He gained his greatest fame as the manufacturer of the Big O crankbait — the first of the fat-bellied “alphabet lures” of the 1970s — but his impact on the bass fishing market was much bigger.
Cordell was born in Benton, Ark., in 1928 and earned the nickname “Cotton” as a young boy because of his wispy blonde hair. He got into the tackle business in 1952 when he began manufacturing lures for Pflueger, Creek Chub, Heddon and others. Two years later he began branding his own lures, including the Gay Blade, Red Fin and Hot Spot (one of the early lipless crankbaits).
In the early 1970s, an Atomic Energy Commission employee and lure maker named Fred Young created a wooden diving lure named for his brother Odis. The “Big O” took the bass world by storm and soon there were dozens of imitators. Cordell purchased the lure from Young in 1973, and began mass producing them in plastic. He sold 1.3 million in the first 13 months.
Bobby Dennis, now Sales and Product Development Manager of Luck “E” Strike U.S.A., began working for Cordell when he was a college student in the early 1970s. Dennis calls Cordell “a mentor, father figure and friend.”
“Cotton was first and foremost a fisherman,” Dennis said. “A lot of people don’t know that his dad owned a dock on Lake Catherine (Ark.) and that Cotton guided on the lake. He got me and a lot of other people started in the fishing industry. He was Bill Dance’s first television producer and bought Bill his first camera.
“I can’t picture Cotton without a piece of wood in one hand and a pocket knife in the other. He was always working on a new lure body and experimenting with designs. He gave me some of the best advice I ever got in my life. He told me, ‘Don’t try to be everything to everybody.’ He was also extremely dedicated to his church and served as a deacon for many years.”
When Cordell sold his manufacturing operation to EBSCO (parent company of PRADCO Outdoor Brands) in 1980, Cordell Tackle Company was the largest lure manufacturer in the world, making 22,000 lures per day and employing more than 500 persons in Arkansas and overseas.
Cordell was inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame in 1997.