By TONY REID | (Decatur) Herald and Review

LOVINGTON, Ill. (AP) — To make a successful angling lure, you must first become a fisher of men.

People, of course, buy what works. But they also demand quality, and first-time buyers, looking to test drive a new fish enticement, tend to swallow what looks good. Knowing all that and having a product that does actually reel in fish as well as buyers has allowed the Reeves Lure Co. to drop a line in some lucrative waters these last 50 years.

They cast themselves as a very cozy operation with Pam Reeves, the family matriarch who has run the business since 1984, operating from her house out in the sticks near Lovington. She oversees everything including a staff of three working from their own homes who paint the jig bodies — molded pieces of lead with a hook tucked inside that form the basis of most lures.

All the jigs, finished in bright, fluorescent colors, also have painted-on eyes. Reeves is an accomplished peeper painter herself, blobbing on the color with a precise round dab. Those whose finesse might fade after dabbing eyeballs on their 1,000th jig in a row aren't going to make the cut as ocular daubers.

"You start dragging the paint around and, well, it doesn't look professional," explains Reeves. "I don't think it's really crucial for the fish, but the angler will notice. And they don't like sloppy."

They don't like paint in the eye of the hook, either — the little loop at the blunt end where the fishing line gets tied on. Cheap, foreign-made lures tend to miss subtle little touches like that, but fishermen bobbing around on a chilly lake trying to thread line with numbed fingers through a paint-blocked hook eye always remember the experience.

"Is that a big deal? Oh gosh, you should hear them scream about it," says Reeves, who explains that her lures are designed to catch panfish such as bluegill, crappie and walleye.

And she was absolutely mortified once when an angler called up to complain he had actually come across a Reeves jig with a paint-locked eye. It was a blow to the family company akin to being told your check had just bounced. Reeves immediately found out what color and size of lure he had been using and sent a free package of 10 to the fisherman's Chicago home. He was so shocked at this level of customer service he called back later to say he was sorry for his attitude and hadn't been angling for a free gift.

"I just said `No, no, that's all right; you had one with paint in the eye, and that's not acceptable," says Reeves. "I treat people the way I would like to be treated."

This loving attention to detail appears to be a genetic trait, swimming in the bloodstream like trout in a brook. Reeves' son Cody, 47, handles all the jig lead molding, another painstaking process done by hand, and he also hand-builds certain fancy jigs using elaborate combinations of flashy material and thread that magically morph into life-like bugs and other fish entrees.

Each is a miniature aquatic work of art, and yet Cody Reeves says he can knock one out in about 3 minutes. "I can do it with my eyes closed. It's not that difficult," he explains. "My grandpa taught me how when I was about 5; I remember him giving me 50 cents if I made three of them."

Grandpa was the late Charles Reeves, who founded the lure company. Pam Reeves, his daughter-in-law, took over in 1984 and has grown and developed the customer base. A crowded notice board in her workshop is stuffed with pictures of monster fish caught with the family product, and Reeves lures are being used by anglers all over the country and in Canada.

Many customers call up to place their own orders (Reeves sells direct as well as through stores) but often, at this time of year, the calls are an excuse to chat. The cabin fever ravages of winter weigh heavy and, anxiously anticipating a fresh fishing season, anglers gasp for the oxygen of swapping stories with someone who cares. And the company owner really does, even if she happens to be behind on eyeballing 1,000 jig heads when the phone rings.

"Customers want to know how you're doing, where you've been," says Reeves with a smile. "I've got friends I haven't met all over the country."


Information from: Herald & Review,