A snag of patent lawyers, complex contracts with lure companies and surprisingly thin royalty checks — that’s not what this Oklahoma angler bargained for. He was just doing what every bass fisherman does — looking for a better bait.
Greg Dorris has been bass fishing for a half century, and he is only 54 years old. He learned from his late father J.E. Dorris, who had worked as a guide on Lake Eufaula, the largest impoundment in the state and a storied bass haven.
Greg had won a couple of state championships bass fishing in his younger days, and even fished with Bassmaster legend Bill Dance as a 13-year-old amateur taking part in a pro event.
He kept fishing, kept catching big bass, and started passing the passion for the sport along to his son. But Dorris never felt like he had these bass all figured out.
“Every bass fisherman spends their whole life trying to find something better,” said Dorris, a career educator who teaches fourth grade. “All my life, I’ve tinkered with different lures and baits, just hoping to do better in tournaments. My dad did the same thing.”
So, in that endless search for something magical, Dorris came up with “Whiskers,” a soft, plastic bait that resembles a crayfish, but is dressed with flimsy strands, much like the skirting material used on buzzbaits and spinnerbaits, and fished with a Texas or Carolina rig.
When his custom creation started catching fish, Dorris decided he had better get a patent on the unique design. Fishing became a little less fun when he learned that the patent process cost $6,000. He borrowed the money from his 83-year-old mother, but only after he drove 100 miles to her house and demonstrated the lure’s unusual movements for her.
“She had to see it for herself, so she filled the bathtub up with water, and once she saw how those whiskers moved, she got out her checkbook and wrote me a check,” said Dorris, who lives in tiny Bristow, located in the center of the state, between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
He felt the need to patent the lure after he and his son, Jordan, had used it on an Oklahoma lake where a tournament was taking place, and they had done better than the pros, catching one bass after another on his crayfish bait that had been hit so many times the claws came off. With just the whiskers left, the bass attacked the bait even more vigorously.
THE OKLAHOMAN/DOUG HOKE Enlarge
Dorris applied for a patent in August of 2011, and received that protection for his lure in January of 2012. His invention needed a name, and when his wife Audrey said the strands just looked like whiskers, that tag stuck.
The search for a company to manufacture and market the “Whiskers” lure was akin to finding big bass on a foreign body of water. One company first showed interest, but then rejected the lure.
The search took another weird twist when Dorris got a congratulatory call from an acquaintance, telling him they had seen his lure for sale.
He was shocked, since he had not sold the patent, or the design. He called the company that was selling a remarkably similar lure with the same name, and learned that they had never checked for existing patents before putting it on the market.
“I didn’t want to start any trouble, so they said they’d put me in for a certain percentage,” Dorris said. “I haven’t received much yet — but I guess the lure is really selling.”
A Missouri company called Tightlines UV is manufacturing and selling the “Whiskers” lure. In an interview with the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, Tightlines UV president Brett Ware said he took 1,000 bags of Whiskers to the Bassmaster Classic in Alabama in February, and sold them all by noon of the first day. A major national retailer is reportedly planning to sell the Dorris lure.
“It’s real exciting that my lure is out there, people are seeing how good the lure is, and that they’re catching fish with it,” Dorris said. “I’d like to get what I’m due, but I didn’t get into this to get rich. I did it to catch more fish. My dad and I, all we did was fish, so I know my dad will be very happy with this.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.