Bill was best known for his invention of the "Rat-L-Trap" line of fishing lures which is recognized around the world as among the most popular and most effective artificial lures in history. The invention of the "Rat-L-Trap" with it's unique sound chamber design is considered to be one of the most important innovations in the history of the fishing lure industry, spawning the development of dozens of other lures and tackle products incorporating some form of the designs first created by Bill Lewis.
The impact upon sport fishing and the fishing tackle industry will forever be influenced and advanced as a result of the inventions and innovations of Bill Lewis. Bill will be dearly missed by his family, his employees, and his many friends around the country.
Bill was born February 14, 1921 in Laurel, Mississippi. He attended Laurel High School and the University of Alabama. In high school, Bill was an All-State football player for the undefeated State Champion Laurel High School team. He received football scholarship offers from several Division I universities, but his plans for college football were interrupted when he was called to military duty.
Bill served as a B-24 Bomber pilot during World War II. He completed 30 combat missions as well as an additional 10 voluntary ground support missions transporting gasoline to General Patton’s troops in Europe. For his service, Bill received numerous decorations including the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After attending the University of Alabama, Bill was accepted to the prestigious Chicago Academy of Art. After graduating, Bill worked as a commercial artist in Chicago, Illinois and Dallas, Texas. Bill started his first fishing tackle business in the early 1960s and continued manufacturing fishing lures under the name Bill Lewis Lures until his death June 17, 2005.
Bill is survived by his wife, Eula Bass Lewis of Alexandria; his son, W.H. “Buddy” Lewis and wife of Alexandria, LA; Marcia “Marcy” Olson and husband Norm of Alexandria; his brother, Jack Lewis of Vicksburg, Mississippi; his sister, Ottie Jean Gray of Laurel, Mississippi; and grandchildren, Michael Olson, Chase Olson and Wesley Higgins. He is preceded in death by his daughters, Stephanie Lewis and Eileen Lewis; and parents, William Henry Lewis and Ottie Jean Tarvin.
The Legacy of a Fishing Tackle Industry Pioneer
William "Bill" Lewis
Bill Lewis was best known as the inventor of the famed "Rat-L-Trap" fishing lure, and for starting Bill Lewis Lures, an internationally recognized fishing tackle company which origins date back to the early 1960s. Bill's business began with a love for fishing and a knack for making homemade baits that seemed to out catch the best store bought brands. Against the odds, Bill decided he would try to make a living doing what he loved to do, and so began a one man lure company operating out of the kitchen of his Jackson, Mississippi home. Later Bill moved his small tackle business to Alexandria, Louisiana and into the heart of what is commonly called the Sportsman's Paradise.
Early years of selling spinner baits and soft plastics from the back of his old Ford ("rattletrap") station wagon gave no indication of the success the business would later enjoy. On more than one sales trip, Bill had no choice but to sell his products below costs just to earn enough gas money to get back home. But Bill's perseverance kept the business alive until one day in the late 1960's he had an idea for a new lure that would ultimately propel the company to national prominence and change the sport of fishing forever.
Bill's invention, the "Rat-L-Trap" fishing lure, is recognized as one the most popular and most effective artificial lures of all time. Bill Lewis and his "Rat-L-Trap" line of fishing lures are household words among sport fisherman everywhere. To date the company has sold around 150 million lures which are distributed to all 50 states and dozens of countries around the world.
The invention of the Rat-L-Trap and it's unique sound chamber design is considered by industry experts as among the most important innovations in the history of the industry, spawning development of hundreds of other fishing lures and fishing products incorporating the design features first developed by Bill Lewis. Besides the enormous impact upon the evolution of fishing lures, Bill's inventions relating to sonic lure designs have led to unprecedented bioacoustics research and the development of advanced marine electronic products now becoming available to fishermen and researchers around the world.
In addition to his revolutionary inventions and designs, Bill Lewis is known for his unique marketing and promotional techniques which are also credited for the success of his business and products. Well before advertising his products through conventional means, Bill spent many days on lakes such as Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border pitching his now famous Rat-L-Trap lure one on one to every fisherman he met. As the story goes, Bill often would pull out a pocket knife and cut off a lure tied to a fishermen's line leaving him in total astonishment. Bill would quickly replace the "stolen" lure with his then unknown "Rat-L-Trap" lure along with a guarantee that if they didn't catch twice as many fish on the "Trap" he would buy them (2) of their lures (which were no longer in their possession). Bill recalled that he never had to honor a single guarantee made on his lure and instead received countless phone calls and testimonial letters from fishermen thanking him for "stealing" their less effective lure and replacing it with his Rat-L-Trap.
In the early years of business (and continuing today), Bill applied a well known "principle of life" to his unique promotional strategy. He practiced the principle of giving first and being rewarded later. Over the course of doing business, it is estimated that Bill gave away well over (1) million Rat-L-Trap lures to fishermen around the world. He had full confidence that each and every recipient of a free Rat-L-Trap would ultimately become a loyal customer. Tens of millions of satisfied customers became solid proof that Bill's innovative marketing strategies were right on target.
One of Bill's most rewarding experiences was in creating literally thousands of jobs within his community and elsewhere around the US. Bill was especially proud of his company for providing work opportunities for hundreds of disabled and handicap workers. Despite the industry trend, Bill refused to move his plant outside the US where assembly labor can be less than 10% of costs to be "100% Made In America." According to some calculations, the decision cost the
company more in extra profits than the profits which the company has made. Bill wasn't interested in maximizing profits at the cost of his employees losing their jobs here in the US.
For over 40 years, the inventions and innovations created by Bill Lewis have provided fisherman throughout the world the capability of enjoying more successful fishing experiences. The future of sport fishing and the fishing tackle industry will forever be influenced and advanced as a direct result of the contributions made by Bill Lewis. Bill Lewis was a real "American Success Story" and a true pioneer in the sport of fishing and the fishing tackle industry
Accolades received by Bill Lewis and Bill Lewis Lures during his career in the sport fishing industry include: named among Bass Angler Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) list of "Most Influential People In Bass Fishing History"; recipient of the Isaac Walton League Innovation Award; Top (3) All Time Best Fishing Lures (Rat-L-Trap) by Field & Stream Magazine; and others.