My Little Cleos: How a wiggling spoon became my favorite lure
My 40th high school reunion is next month. It brings to mind not only memories of football and foosball but also of fishing, including my first great fishing trip.
It wasn't a very long trip. Lake Eufaula is just a few miles away from my hometown of Stigler.
But for a few years each spring after my high school graduation, a few of my classmates and I made sure to reunite at Lake Eufaula and camp at Porum Landing.
We would chase sand bass during the day and crappie at night. I really didn't know much about fishing then other than it was a lot of fun.
The guy in our group with most of the fishing knowledge (and a boat) was my classmate Tim's older brother, Rick.
At his suggestion, we bought a bunch of humped-back silver spoons at the local bait shop to catch sand bass. For years, I didn't know white bass and sand bass were the same fish.
Growing up in Stigler, I never heard anybody talk about white bass. Only sandies. The first time I heard someone mention a white bass I assumed he was talking about fishing in the ocean, because there weren't any white bass in Oklahoma that I knew about.
We slayed the sand bass on Lake Eufaula that spring with those humped-back silver spoons called Little Cleos.
It was my first time to catch sandies when they were schooling on the surface and it was memorable. We would find the fish in the morning and evening and catch one on practically every cast.
We were slinging those Little Cleos in and out of the boat so fast it's lucky someone didn't get a hook in the head. I almost lost an ear once when a Little Cleo zipped past me.
We also trolled with the spoons and a Lake Eufaula flathead couldn't even resist the shiny and twisting sand bass buster.
I thought I had a log on the end of my fishing line until the catfish's big, ugly head emerged from the water near the boat.
We didn't have a net, so my buddy, Bob, attempted to grab the flathead around the gills to pull it in. The catfish started violently shaking, snapped the line, escaped Bob's clutches and swam away.
I still blame Bob to this day for not having the guts to act like a noodler and grab Mr. Whiskers by the mouth to pull him in the boat. It would have been the biggest fish I ever caught. I know because the fish gets bigger every year.
After that fishing adventure, the Little Cleo became my go-to bait. When I went bass fishing in farm ponds, I would tie on a Little Cleo.
When I ran out of bait shrimp on a Gulf Shores, Alabama, dock a few summers later, I tied on a Little Cleo and caught the biggest speckled trout of the night with the silver spoon.
All those years ago, I was too dumb to know those schooling sand bass would have attacked anything shiny we threw at ‘em. I thought the Little Cleo was something special back then, and I still do, if only for sentimental reasons.
Eventually, I lost all my Little Cleos bought at that Porum Landing bait shop many years ago, but I quickly restocked. They were a must for my tackle box.
My buddies and I eventually graduated from sand bass fishing on Lake Eufaula to redfishing in Louisiana, deep sea fishing in Florida and bass fishing in Michigan. Then we grew up, started raising families and the fishing trips ended.
I don't fish with the vintage Little Cleos that I still have, the ones with the topless exotic dancer stamped on the back. I don't want to lose them.
I keep them around as a reminder of good times with good friends, because that is what fishing is all about Charlie Brown.
Editor's Note: If you have a favorite lure or one you are sentimental about, email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org and email any photos with fish you have caught on the lure.
HISTORY OF THE LITTLE CLEO
For 43 years, Little Cleo spoons had the image of an exotic dancer stamped on the back.
The spoons were first introduced in 1953 by the Seneca Tackle Co. in New York, which was started two years earlier by a songwriter and music publisher named C.V. “Charlie” Clark.
He named the spoons the “Little Cleo” after a woman he watched perform in the 1930s. Clark believed the wiggling and dancing of the lure would bewitch the fish much like Little Cleo’s dance had mesmerized him.
The Little Cleo is considered a classic. Field and Stream ranked it one of the 50 best fishing lures of all time.
According to the magazine, Little Cleo spoons are thick in proportion to their surface area, so they fish relatively deep.
This makes them a favorite trout spoon, but in sizes ranging from 1/16 to 11/4 ounce, they're suitable for everything from panfish to steelhead and stripers, the magazine states.
Not to mention Oklahoma sand bass.
Little Cleos still catch fish and are still being sold today, but no longer with the image of the partially clad woman.
In 1996, a female employee of a major retailer was offended by the image of the topless dancer and the retailer insisted it be removed.
Rather than risk the loss of the customer’s business, Acme Tackle Company of Rhode Island — which bought Seneca in 1980 — removed the image from the lure.