Christmas is just around the corner, so you may be shopping for gifts for that angler on your list. There are all kinds of choices — but not all of them are good. Over the years there have been some famously not-so-good gifts that were marketed to consumers who were shopping for anglers.
For example, here’s one of those “I can’t believe it’s been that long ago” shockers: It’s been 20 years since the December 1998 invention of Big Mouth Billy Bass (OK, 19 years, since it was first offered for sale in 1999).
The animatronic singing plaque-mounted fish was dumb, just dumb — but boy, were there a bunch of them sold. Big Mouth Billy Bass became the fad, must-have gift for anglers. At the peak of Billy’s popularity when they were hard to find, the silly things were bringing close to a hundred bucks apiece (and “vintage” ones are selling on eBay for between $25 and $80 now!). Kind of like a fisherman’s version of the Cabbage Patch Kids or Beanie Babies craziness.
Most of the Big Mouth Billy Bass were bought as gifts for someone. Some people did buy them for themselves, but most were bought for others by well-meaning friends. “Oh, look at the singing bass. Isn’t that funny? We should get that for Uncle Ralph, he’s a fisherman and he’ll like it.”
Yes, I was given a Big Mouth Billy Bass. Yes, it was funny at first, but I haven’t seen it in years. I suspect that it went the way of most fad gifts: It was on display for a while, then got boxed and put away in the garage or attic, then finally made the trip to the landfill.
I wonder how many of them are in the Charlotte County landfill? Can you imagine the look on the face of some archaeologist a thousand years from now who is doing an excavation at the landfill in order to learn more about our culture, and up pops Billy Bass? I hope that he uncovers more about us than that.
Fishermen tend to be passionate about their chosen sport, and that passion means that there is money in the fishing game. Big Mouth Billy isn’t the only gift item ever brought to market with anglers in mind. There is a long list of lures and gadgets which have targeted fishermen, many of which were basically gimmicks with little utility. Do you remember the Popeil Pocket Fisherman by Ronco?
This completely unremarkable bit of fishing gear became remarkably successful by being one of the earliest items to be heavily pitched by TV infomercials back in the 1970s. Everybody, and I mean everybody, had heard of the Pocket Fisherman. And very conveniently, the box it came in was the perfect size to be gift-wrapped.
The most amazing thing about the Pocket Fisherman is that they are still being sold after 40-some years. No, wait: The most amazing thing about the Pocket Fisherman is that they are now being sold for $50.
Remember the famous Flying Lures back in the 1990s (and still sold at FlyingLure.com)? What about the Banjo Minnow? There are probably anglers for whom these became favorite lures, but most fishermen would probably agree that any fame garnered by these products is more a result of savvy and persistent marketing than of fish-catching ability. After all, if a lure is “illegal in some states” and “banned from tournaments” then it must be good, right? Right?
So, what should you be getting for the fisherperson on your shopping list? Anglers are notoriously picky about their stuff, so this can be a challenging question. The answer is really simple: Your best bet is to ask your recipient what he or she wants. I’ll bet you they don’t mention anything about singing bass.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Call him at 941-639-2628 or email Captain@KingFishFleet.com.