Oar-Gee Lures are about to celebrate a quarter of a century of lure making. Dave Magner reveals the success story of why these lures have endured the decades…
Wagga Wagga, in the Riverina region of southern New South Wales, is a real hot spot for lure makers. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that, along with the New England district, it probably has produced more lure makers per capita than just about anywhere else in the country.
This rural city has been the fertile breeding ground for some of our best known and longest serving craftsmen, having spawned brands such as Custom Crafted Lures, AC Lures, Legend Lures, Muldoon lures, Mudguts Spinnerbaits and of course Oar-Gee Lures.
Having spent quite a few years in Wagga Wagga, I was fortunate enough to be there when Wayne and Debbie Lennon started Oar-Gee Lures 25 years ago.
As is the case with most local lure makers, when Wayne first began carving lures back in 1985, he was motivated to do so simply because it was so difficult to get his hands on the lures he was after. This was back in the days when Aussie anglers had a very limited choice of native fish lures; sure there were some home grown classics out there but as most were hand-carved, production runs were limited and the majority were sold close to where they were made. As a result, most serious cod chasing around town was done with well known imports like Mudbugs, Hellbenders and similar.
Not being happy with that situation, Wayne started making his own lures and they quickly proved to be successful. Encouraged by his early success, he played around with quite a few different designs and production methods for a number of years while he learned the ropes as a lure maker. Finally, in 1990 Wayne made the big decision to quit his part time jobs and go into full time production.
His debut as a full time lure maker must have really had him wondering if he’d made the right decision. He took 100 lures down to the very first 4x4 Tinny and Tackle Show in Melbourne and managed to sell just three of them! I guess the Oar-Gee story might have ended badly right there had not fate played a hand. A big, bearded bloke by the name of Rex Hunt walked up and asked him about his lures.
As it turned out, Rex knew quality when he saw it and he arranged to film a segment about these new Oar-Gee lures from Wagga Wagga. What a turnaround that made! The following year at the Tackle Show Wayne sold 1000 lures and his business really kicked off. And as there was now sufficient demand for his lures to get them into retail tackle stores, it was the last time Wayne had to take his own lures to the Tackle Show. Of course, Oar-Gee still made regular appearances there, but these were in conjunction with J.V. Marine.
Since those heady days, Wayne estimates that he has sold close to half a million lures. His range has expanded from the original Wee Pee, Pee Wee and 75mm Plow and now includes some 18 different models, with more in the pipeline.
Wayne’s Oar-Gee story probably shares a few similarities with other lures makers in that the married ones must have had very supportive and understanding wives. It must have looked like one hell of a big gamble in those days to quit a perfectly good job with a regular wage and risk everything just to make a few lures. And Oar-Gees were only selling for the princely sum of $6 (wholesale) each back then, which meant Wayne had to make and sell a lot of lures just to keep his head above water.
Luckily, Wayne’s wonderful wife Debbie proudly tells me she has stood beside him every step of the way. Not only has she supported him as he set out to follow his dream of becoming a lure maker, but she has also had a very hands-on role in the production of the lures themselves. For instance, in the very early days while Wayne was working the midnight to dawn shift at the servo just to try and make ends meet, Debbie would often be sitting in the shed hand-sanding all the lure bodies down so that they would be ready for him to paint the next day.
Deb is more than just a partner in a lure business. She obviously has a love of fishing herself, as she has been on the Recreational Fishing Freshwater Trust Fund Committee board for over 10 years, in her role as the Region 6 representative. Debbie (and Wayne of course) also ran the Freshwater Masters competition for 10 years. The Freshwater Masters was an invitation-only competition which they instigated so that female anglers would have a chance to fish against the blokes, as this wasn’t something they could do in the Cod Classic back then.
While plenty of lure makers have come and gone over the last quarter of a century, Oar-Gee lures are still in there and going strong, which is a credit to this hard working duo.
A lot of their success is due to the fact that Oar-Gee lures catch fish, and lots of them. But there is also the fact that Oar-Gee Lures are not just effective but built to last.
Wayne is not the sort of bloke who takes short cuts with what he does. He takes a lot of pride in his finished product and he won’t put lures out there in the market place unless they have proved themselves worthy of the Oar-Gee name.
While that’s easy enough to say, I guess you can get a better understanding of what’s involved by looking at the steps they go through to produce the finished product. Believe it or not, to keep the quality control at a high standard some lures are handled up to 50 separate times before they hit the tackle shop shelves. Now I know that sounds like a lot, but you have to understand that just painting some of the colours in the line-up requires up to 15 different passes with the airbrush to achieve the finished effect.
From start to finish, the production process goes something like this: The bodies are plastic injection moulded in Sydney and the blanks are then delivered to the Oar-Gee factory. All the remaining production steps are carried out in-house.
Once the lure bodies arrive, they are assembled and ultra sonically welded so that no glue is required. Wayne tells me that welding the bodies is actually stronger than gluing, as some glues can affect the plastic (especially the polycarbonate bibs) and weaken it. Even the wire from the towing eyelet is welded into the body for added strength; Oar-Gee were the first lure makers to develop this process.
They were also the first to develop a process that allowed them to paint their polycarbonate bibs without the paint affecting the bib and making it brittle. The painted bib approach has given them the option to provide a lure with a larger profile, without the need to tool up for a completely new lure. This move has been appreciated by those who like to troll for big cod in particular.
Anyway, once the bodies have the wires inserted and are welded together, they then have to be painted. Wayne used to do this himself but with the amount of lures they are putting out these days, he now employs a full time painter. And anyone who has used Oar-Gee Lures will know, they come in some pretty sexy finishes (the blue craw is a personal favourite) and each lure has received quite a number of coats before it is ready to go.
Once the paint and clear coat are dry, the lures have hooks and rings attached. Wayne uses nothing but the best and the stainless rings are actually an Aussie made product. The hooks are VMC and Wayne finds they are reliable and well and truly up to the task.
After that, the lures have to be tank tested. While some people only test a lure or two from each batch and claim their lures are tested, Oar-Gee still tank tests each one. Wayne has found that’s the only way to be sure the customer is getting a lure that he can rely on to swim straight right out of the packet.
Once the lures are checked, they have to be packed, bar-coded and then sent on their way. Oar-Gee Lures have always sold lures over a wide area, the longest serving retail outlets include, Rod’s Custom Rods and Wagga Fishing World (in Wagga Wagga), Bidgee Marine in Griffith, Dennis Lean Tackle Yarrawonga and Mullet Gut Marine in Toowoomba.
While some lure companies would be happy to rest on their laurels after 25 years in the business, not so with Oar-Gee Lures. Wayne has some new models in the pipeline, which include some tricked up Saltwater Oar-Gee that have been designed specifically with pelagics like mackerel in mind.
Even though the Oar-Gee name has always been synonymous with cod and southern freshwater native species, several of Wayne’s more recent releases have been aimed at the saltwater market. These have included the Little Ripper, which is a proven tournament bream lure and the Oar-Gee Oarsomes.
The Oarsomes are a rather different looking lure but have quickly proved themselves to be top notch barra trolling lures in the impoundments and in the wild rivers of the tropics.
This new direction has come about due to Wayne’s growing love affair with barra and his regular trips to the Northern Territory to fish the famous Barra Classic, which Oar-Gee sponsor. So, even though Oar-Gee Lures might have been around for a quarter of a century, you can bet that you will see plenty more new models and lots of innovations as they move into the future. Here’s to another good 25 years!
Oar-Gee Lures Time Line
Keen lure collectors may be interested in the following information. Using this timeline may help you to estimate age and collectability of Oar-Gee lures.
1985First lures hand carved from timber.
1986 Switched to balsa bodies coated with fibreglass resign.
1986/7Started using Australian white beech, hand making bodies using a band saw and belt sander and lots of sand paper. This was the start of the Plows Pee-Wee and Wee-Pee.
1992 Displayed at first fishing show Melbourne.
1993 Television show with Rex Hunt.
1993 Changed to polyurethane bodies made by lively lures.
1996 Set up our own polyurethane injection moulding machine, and did own on-site moulding.
2000 Changed all lures to plastic injection moulding. 75mm Plows, 60mm Plows, Pee-Wee, Wee-Pee, Shads and Lil Ripper.
2004 First Barra Classic and team the Daly Oargees finished fifth.
2006 OAR-GEE becomes registered trade mark.
2006 Bib locking system and Oarsome barra lure are granted Patent Pending.
2006 Released the first of the Oarsome range of Barra Lures.
2006 Released the painted bib range of Plow lures.
2008 Released the 100mm Plow lure.