It’s a name that is synonymous with freshwater fishing for much of the northern hemisphere.
Len Thompson spoons are well known in the angling community.
The Red and Yellow ‘five of diamonds’ design, one of the oldest Len Thompson designs, is possibly the most famous fishing lure in the continent.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Richard (Rick) Pallister, the maternal grandson of Len Thompson who now owns the factory (though he leaves much of its operation in the hands of his son, Brad).
Rick said how it is heartening to hear so many anglers call Len Thompson lures their favourite.
Thompson was a farmer from Abernathy, SK. After returning from a bad experience in the First World War, he received medical advice to spend a lot of time outside and relax.
Rick said Thompson took this to mean he should spend a lot of time fishing and hunting.
After years of trying many different manufactured lures, Thompson began experimenting with making his own, convinced he could make something better than what was commercially available.
He believed that the slow, wobbling action of a spoon as it moved through the water that antagonized fish into striking could be created with a more intricate combination of shape and weight.
Rick said that the history of the company is very important to him and one of the reasons Len Thompson lures have not changed much over the years. He said he would rather continue producing his grandfather’s old-fashioned, time-tested lures than follow much of the fashion currently happening in the world of bait-making.
“I would much rather sell a yellow-red five of diamonds than a rainbow trout fish skin lure.”
As mentioned, little has changed in the spoon-making process of Len Thompson’s lures over the years, but the process is a little more industrial than when Thompson first started experimenting.
The process begins with the spoons being punched out of a brass coil that Rick said weighs nearly 300 lb.
The punch press that is used is actually the same one Thompson bought in 1945. Rick said it has punched out every Len Thompson lure to date, a number that is close to 50 million.
After the spoons are punched out, they go into an industrial rock tumbler that removes the spoons’ sharp, rough edges.
From there, the spoons enter another similar process where ball bearings polish the spoons to make them nice and shiny.
After that, the spoons are dipped in a clear coat of paint called lacquer. They are then baked for about half an hour at 300 degrees. Once out of the oven, the undersides of the spoons are complete.
Rick said the shiny brass undersides of the lures are very important to their success. As they move, wobbling through the water, the brass creates a flash that is easily visible underwater and attracts the attention of fish.
However, the topsides of the spoons still need to be painted. So, after being removed from the oven, the lacquered spoons are placed on racks and painted using an airbrush and permanent painting masks that form the trademark designs created by Len Thompson.
Once painted, the spoons go back in the oven for a bit of a longer bake, about 50 minutes at around 325 degrees.
No matter how attractive the spoons look to fish, they won’t catch anything without hooks. So, the next step is to attach the hooks to the spoons, which is done by hand. Finally, the spoons are sealed into their packages, UPC codes are attached and the spoons are placed in boxes for storage and shipping.
Thompson’s first lure, or what is credited as being such (Rick said he thinks the real first lure is probably in the bottom of a lake somewhere), can be seen in a display case inside the Len Thompson factory.
It was made from metal cut out of a bean can and hammered into a spoon shape. Other such early prototypes can be seen in the factory or in photos of Thompson on fishing expeditions.
Once Thompson had decided on a shape he liked, he fashioned chisels from car springs to continue shaping the spoons by hand. Today, all Len Thompson spoons are based on that same shape.
Lack of useable metal for the making of fishing lures during the Second World War put Thompson’s spoon-making business on hold. Rick said that once the war was over, Thompson decided to get serious about the production of his spoons.
Shortly after, Rick’s father and Thompson’s son-in-law, Cecil Pallister, got involved with the business as well.
Rick said Cecil handled the production end of the business while Thompson continued making the designs.
During this time, the operation became more professional. They started using professionally made dies to punch the spoons out of metal and used higher quality paint with permanent painting masks instead of just slapping paint on with a brush.
In 1958, the family and the business relocated to Lacombe to be closer to suppliers. Its first factory in Lacombe was located at 5019 51 St. in the same building that now houses the Lacombe Express.
Now a family company for four generations, Thompson-Pallister Bait Co. now manufacture their lures at 5860 Len Thompson Dr. and continue to be a part of Lacombe’s rich heritage.