In a new series Simon Everett traces the origins of this iconic tackle brand
Soft plastics are seen as the new wave in lures, but as Simon Everett tells us, they have been around for over half a century.
It is human nature, we have to solve problems that don’t really exist, or keep inventing the wheel. The current craze for ‘soft plastic’ lures is a case in point, with a plethora of styles, models and makes to try and sift through and make choices about. How many of the current crop of anglers realise that these lures are not a new craze at all? They have, in fact, been in regular use for over half a century, nearly 70 years in fact. Redgills have been around a long time, but they are still as effective as when Alex Ingram, the founder and designer of the Redgill series, produced those first commercially available soft plastic lures.
Origins in art
Alex Ingram was from Liverpool originally and studied art at the Liverpool school of Art, then joined the army at the outbreak of World War Two, serving first in heavy tanks from El Alamein across the desert to Tunis, then with the Americans landing at Arromanches and fought through northern Europe. During this campaign he was badly wounded and repatriated to recover from his injuries. Throughout those campaigns he carried a small set of watercolours with him and produced several pictures that are on display in museums both in Britain and America. After the war he moved his family south, to his wife’s home of Mevagissey where her father was a fisherman. With his contacts with the fishing folk he decided to put his artistic talents to producing a better lure than anything that was available.
The forerunner of the Redgill was the Mevagissey eel, a simple tapered tube body with a C-shaped tail that held the hook and slotted into the back of the tube with the line being fed through the nose and tied direct to the hook. The ones I remember had slightly translucent brown body with a silvery-white tail and they worked brilliantly, as anyone who uses curly tails now will testify. The genie was out of the bottle and Mr. Ingram then spent hours creating the first sandeel shaped lure. The detail on those early Redgills was incredible, there were scales, gill covers, eyes in a sunken socket and even fin rays were sculpted into the body. It truly was a work of angling art and it took the angling world by storm when it was first released.
Specially designed hooks
In 1977 Redgill introduced a new hook system designed specifically for lure fishing. The early Redgills used readily available bait hooks, albeit of high-quality stainless-steel, but they were not quite perfect and the eel did have a tendency to slide back down the hook. The new hook system used a double loop that allowed the tag end of the wire to hold the lure in place, but allowed the eel to slide up the line when playing a fish. The eye of this new hook was in line with the shank, creating a direct pull along the wire to negate leverage. The 210mm Redgill had already taken the bass, pollack and coalfish British records and the improved design was destined to be even better. The twin pack 112mm eels were also to be released with the new hook system and they had recorded shore caught bass to 13lbs 8ozs and pollack to 18lbs. These lures were quite simply the best and orders flooded in from around the world.
Precision wreck fishing
The new, improved Redgill, coincided with the advent of precision wreck fishing coming to the fore, with Ray Parsons on Sunlit Water, Dave Pessell’s Sweet Home and of course the skipper who did more to further wreck fishing than anyone else, Steve Barrett on Boa Pescador who only took midweek charters to save weekends for steaming in box searches to find uncharted wrecks. These boats would regularly come back with more than a tonne of fish from a single outing and they invariably used Redgill on a flying collar rig, or multiples thereof. This proved to be the most effective way of fishing the Redgills at depth, but the versatility of the eels made them usable in a wide variety of situations.
Methods used for fishing Redgills
I can remember the excitement when these new lures first appeared, boxed in their yellow based, clear lidded boxes. Trolling them astern of my little dinghy soon had me catching, bass and pollack were the main catches, but I did get the odd mackerel and garfish on them too. The rig for this was very simple, the reel line was tied to a small swivel, then a 6ft length of trace line to the Redgill. To prevent the line from twisting and to take the lure down about a foot or so, I used a tiny spiral lead of about 1/4oz that was bent into a slight U-shape and wound on the line just reel side of the swivel, so that it acted as a keel to prevent the reel line from getting twisted up.
Another trolling rig that was used for running over shallow ground involved putting a couple of swan shot on the line just ahead of the hook, inside the body of the Redgill. For slightly more weight a small, drilled bullet was threaded on the line and allowed to sit snug against the nose of the eel. These were how we fished them casting off the rocks too. Surely these were the first ‘lead head’ lures!
A neighbour used a trolling board to take his Redgills down the gullies, the eel was on a 12ft trace off the bridle at the back of the wooden diving board, like an otter board, but working vertically. When he turned the boat, the diving board, being wooden, would float up with no pressure on it, preventing the lure getting snagged. When a fish took, the strain pulled the diving board into line so the fish could be played to the boat normally. His main target were the large pollack in the gullies along the South Hams coast and he had many over 15lbs within a hundred yards of the shore.
Next time we shall look at the modern line of Redgill lures, how they have developed and their impact on fishing around the world.