Alberta family celebrates fishing lure milestone

The unveiling of a monumental lure took place June 1 at the annual Kids Can Fish event, where the Len Thompson Community Fish Pond was restocked with yearling rainbow trout. Children had the opportunity to personally carry the young fish down to the water in pails and release them into the water. The Lacombe Fish & Game Association was on hand with a hundred fishing poles to lend to those who wanted to try their hand at fishing. |  Maria Johnson photo

From humble beginnings to world records, Thompson-Pallister Bait Co. celebrates 90 years in monumental fashion

LACOMBE, Alta. — Thompson-Pallister Bait Co. Ltd. celebrated its 90th anniversary in a monumental fashion.

On June 1, the fourth generation family business unveiled what is possibly the world’s largest fishing lure; a 27.5 foot model of its classic red and yellow Five-Of-Diamonds spoon, the company’s most popular lure.

Together with a 14-foot hook, the structure spans more than 40 feet and is located a block from the bait company factory at the Len Thompson Community Fishing Pond named in memory of the company’s founder.

It was a proud day for Thompson’s descendants including grandson Richard Pallister and his children Brad Pallister and Jessica Pallister-Dew, who are now at the helm of the company.

“It’s extremely exciting. I’ve had the biggest smile on my face all day,” says company general manager Brad Pallister, who spearheaded the project after a staff member suggested they join the ranks of communities boasting large tourist attractions.

Pallister said the production of the huge lure was stressful. He first approached fabricators in Red Deer and Calgary.

“They said building a curved spoon of that size wasn’t possible, or very difficult.”

Pallister then talked to a local company, Comet Welding, that took on the challenge. The company researched the different properties of steel and the techniques necessary to create the spoon and then spent hundreds of hours fabricating.

As far as the family knows, this lure is more than double the size of the current record holder for the world’s largest fishing lure in Florida. Brad applied to Guinness World Records in anticipation that Lacombe, Alta., will claim the title.

Jessica Pallister-Dew, custom and marketing manager, said she is proud to carry forward the legacy of her great-grandfather.

“It’s more than just a product. It’s an experience. We’re selling time spent with family and good days on the water.”

Jessica had copies of her children’s book Fishing With Grandpa, which she wrote in celebration of the anniversary.

Len Thompson was born on the farm at Abernethy, Sask., in 1894. He took over from his father, who first homesteaded there in 1882, and grew seed grain and raised Clydesdale horses.

When the First World War broke out Len saw action in France as a sniper. After the war he returned to the farm. His war injuries included burned lungs from a chemical gas attack. The doctor prescribed plenty of fresh air. Being an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing, he agreeably complied.

“I wasn’t loath to spend a lot of time travelling the shores of the lakes in the Qu’Appelle chain, just fishing and forgetting,” he wrote in his memoirs.

A favourite was Katepwa Lake, just a short distance from the farm.

“The action of the various lures did not satisfy me (and I tried them all) so I began whittling plugs at first and later on filing and shaping spoons,” he wrote.

“At first, I contented myself with changing existing models but the decision was gradually thrust upon me that if anything worthwhile was to be accomplished it would be with a totally new spoon of my own design”.

Richard says his grandfather never travelled far without his ball-peen hammer and a file.

“He was always fiddling, always improving.”

Thompson believed the slow wobbling action that antagonized game fish into striking could be created through the right combination of shape and weight.

The spoon that launched Thompson’s career in 1929 was a medium-sized red and white. Today it sits under glass, front and centre at the Lacombe factory as a reminder of the company’s humble beginnings.

Red and white lures are air brushed with each step of the manufacturing process completed by hand. Any employee can remove any lure that does not measure up to company standards at any time during the production process. | Maria Johnson photo

Thompson and his son-in-law, Cecil Pallister, also had a sideline business reloading bullets and shotgun shells.

Len Thompson Bullet and Bait operated as a part-time, winter business from the farm until 1945 when he decided to make a career change. He travelled to Toronto where he secured suppliers of brass, components, paint, packaging and equipment enabling him to enter into full-time year-round lure production through Len Thompson Bait Company in Abernethy. The farm was leased out.

After a decade of strong growth, further expansion was necessary. Len and Myra Thompson and Cec and Myrtle Pallister relocated to Lacombe in 1958 to form Thompson-Pallister Bait Co. Ltd.

“They were closer to suppliers and customers,” says Richard.

Lacombe is central on the Calgary-Edmonton highway corridor. The area offered fantastic fishing and hunting opportunities. An added bonus was the town’s naturally soft well water that enhanced the polishing of the brass lures.

Richard said that Len continued to experiment and tinker in the shop while Cecil streamlined the manufacturing, a hands-on process of punching, polishing, painting, piecing together and packaging.

One of the main pieces of equipment is decades old.

“Grandpa bought this used punch press in 1945 for $711,” says Richard. “It’s punched out every lure the company has manufactured since.”

Although Len passed away in 1979, his name lives on as an imprint on each of the 500,000 spoons manufactured annually at the Lacombe factory.

Cecil carried on the business through the 1970s and early 1980s when he and Myrtle turned ownership over to their three sons, Richard, Syd, and Greg.

In 1986, the Len Thompson Bait Co. began to look outward.

“We didn’t know what the rest of the world was doing, so we went to our first ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades) in Dallas,” Richard says.

“ There was 10 acres of guys in 10-foot by 10-foot booths selling reels and rods and fishing tackle.”

The sheer number of vendors and customers were a revelation of just how popular the sport was.

“We quickly realized this can be bigger,” says Richard.

In 1994, Thompson-Pallister bought True North Electric Food Smokers and Accessories of Edmonton. Smoker manufacturing has since discontinued although True North continues to sell wood chip and seasonings. More recently it bought Northern King Lures, a well-known trolling spoon brand originally from Rochester, New York.

In 2012, Richard acquired sole ownership of Thompson-Pallister Bait Co. Ltd. A few years later, he passed the reins to Brad and Jessica.

“I’m always around though. I’m a consultant”, he says. “And the guy that cuts the grass and plows the snow.”

Richard is also the factory tour guide, historian and on-site Len Thompson Museum curator.

Today, Brad and Jessica are working to expand the company to areas where they are not as well known: further into Eastern Canada and the United States.

By The Numbers

  • The monument is a scaled-up version of the company’s most popular lures — the No. 2 red and yellow Five-Of-Diamonds.
  • Almost 40 percent of lures sold by Thompson-Pallister contain the Five-Of-Diamonds pattern.
  • The spoon is about 10 feet across at the widest point and 27.5 feet in length and weighs 2,600 pounds.
  • The hook is eight feet wide at the base, 14 feet long and weighs about 900 lb.
  • The hook is made from four-inch pipe.
  • Ten gallons of paint were used, and 14 to 15 gallons of clear coat. The hook was powder-coated for durability.
  • About 3,000 lures are manufactured daily at Thompson-Pallister Bait Co. Ltd.
  • More than 50 million lures have been produced since 1929.
  • The first full-time factory opened in Abernethy, Sask., in 1945 and was moved to Lacombe, Alta., in 1958.

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