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Economy had snag for area fishing icon

Buzz Ramsey, shown here in the ’90s on the Deschutes River in Oregon as he was earning respect as a Northwest fishing guru. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Buzz Ramsey, shown here in the ’90s on the Deschutes River in Oregon as he was earning respect as a Northwest fishing guru. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

How bad has the economy been?

Northwest fishing icon Buzz Ramsey has been out of work since January, but he leverages his fishing allowance by using “poor man’s ramps,” as he terms locations without fees, to launch his boat.

“My wife is looking forward to getting a paycheck again,” he quipped last month as a six-knot current swirled around his anchored and heavily sponsored jet sled near Bonneville Dam.

Maggie Ramsey’s wait – and those of thousands of Oregon and Washington guides, anglers and others who flock to his frequent seminars – is nearly over.

Just when everyone thought the region’s fishing tackle industry and economy were getting boring (Joe’s tanked, Sportsman’s Warehouses were sold, Luhr Jensen & Sons closed and its Hood River factory shut down), Ramsey is emerging from the ashes.

He’s been picked up by market-savvy Yakima Bait Co. of Granger, Wash., the largest surviving lure manufacturer in the Pacific Northwest.

Ramsey, 59-going-on-40-looking, started last month, driving from his home on the Klickitat River to Granger for a few days to visit the company’s staff as its new brands manager. Yakima created the position for him after emerging from economic downturns of its own.

For more than 30 years after his graduation from Benson High School (sheet metal apprentice) and a stint with a heating company in Portland, Ramsey was at the hub of angling innovations at Luhr Jensen & Sons Inc. in Hood River as its promotions manager.

When the company was unexpectedly sold to Rapala VMC Corp. in 2006, Ramsey turned down a similar position for personal reasons and went to work instead for Pure Fishing, Inc. As economic gloom spread into 2009, though, Purefishing’s problems also deepened and Ramsey fell to a companywide downsizing in January with just a few hours’ notice – on a cell phone as he was in a company booth at a regional outdoor show.

“I thought ‘I’ll get a job,’ ” he said, “but it’s tight out there.”

He visited with Yakima Bait officials, but had to wait as the company weathered deep losses of its own, much of which stemmed from Joe’s bankruptcy. The company is almost exclusively into lures, with such popular brands as Worden’s Roostertails, Flatfish, Hildebrandt spinners and Toman spinners and others.

Ramsey, who remains on the Pure Fishing pro staff (uses and endorses products such as Garcia Ambassadeur reels and Stren Line) and still uses many Luhr Jensen products he developed, will work from a home office.

The fit to Yakima Bait is natural for Ramsey, who’s already thinking about improvements in the company’s lures, refreshing various dies and molds, exploring the Yakima/Worden’s logos and developing catchy names for new products.

“I’m not going to have 30 years on this one like I did with Luhr Jensen, so I’m going to try real hard to make a difference,” he said. “I want to continue to have my relationship with anglers on a personal level. It’s what I’ve always been all about. We’re in a partnership together.”

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