I have been using and collecting Zebco and Quantum rods and reels for years. Some of the first fishing I ever did, we used Zebco 33s and Zebco 202s. I still have many of these combos in my fishing nostalgia collection, and even though they are retired, they hold some very fond memories and were the impetus for what I do today.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Zebco 33, and just hearing that brings back fond memories of days along the banks of our Central Illinois ponds and streams. The days with grandpa and dad fishing for anything that would bite, fishing Six Mile Creek with my buddies and always looking for that magic lure that would catch more and bigger fish.
What fishing was about then
When we fished then it was more about catching, and we were never species specific. We would catch crappie, bluegills and warmouths, chubs and bullheads. Bullheads were always fun on a willow limb like pole and a trusty Zebco 33. We changed line once a year, and it was usually 8-pound monofilament we bought at the local grocery or got on a special trip to town.
The grocery store in our small town, Hudson, Illinois, was the center of our universe, and they carried everything from bread and milk to minnows and crappie jigs. We also always looked forward to a cold bottle of Nehi or a RC Cola and a cold candy bar after one of our adventures.
The multispecies, multi-technique combo
Contrary to today’s rig for every technique we had a Zebco 33 and the pole that came with it. Our tackle box was a grocery sack, our pockets or even, when we stepped it up a notch, and old Umco Model 10. It has a belt loop holder and was double sided perfect for hanging off our handle bars on our bike or that long trek down to Harold’s Pond, a half-acre mud hole fed by a spring. It wasn’t Kentucky Lake or Sam Rayburn, but it was our honey hole. We always knew, even though we didn’t catch many, it was the home to some big bass.
That rod and reel are still with me, and so is the tackle box. Many of the baits I used in it I still have, but most of the plastic lures like Créme Worms and Mister Twister grubs have since met their demise. Some of the first plastic worms we used were those and Mann’s Jelly Worms, and for some reason, strawberry was our favorite.I can remember casting that worm, weighted with split shots, across Harold’s pond and watching the curling mono as it met the water next to a clump of cattails or an old stump on an early morning when dew was thick and the air was heavy.
We always wore long pants on those trips to keep the cockle burs and Spanish needles from eating us up and they would always be soaked and heavy from all the dew. It never seemed to bother us much; we marched there through foxtail and weeds. We never once got in trouble on any of those trips. It was about the fishing.
That rod and reel never failed me. I would fish live bait one day, and the next day cast a lure with it. It was wimpy by today’s standards, but I caught everything from channel cats to snapping turtles on it.
Today’s pros started there too
I got a warm and fuzzy feeling talking to Gary Klein at this year’s Bassmaster Classic. Gary and I have been close friends for years, however, this was Gary’s 30th Classic and about the only major tournament he has never won. Instead of the usual banter about the bite or the technique we spent our time talking about a special Zebco that he planned to make his first cast with of that Classic.
The glimmer in his eye told me he had a Harold’s Pond in his life and his association with Zebco/Quantum was more than a sponsorship. It was genuinely part of his make up. Gary is a stoic guy, but that day I saw a twinkle that made this Classic special.
Driving one of the best built boats, with the best in tackle and gear, supported by the best electronics and the best engine didn’t matter. I don’t think that winning the Classic did at that time either. He was there soaking up 60 years that Zebco had been in business and knowing he gets to do the only job he has ever had. Fishing for a living and knowing that Zebco/Quantum had been on the journey with him.
I will never forget that day, at that very moment sharing a bit of nostalgia about where fishing was and where it is now in our hearts and careers with one of my best friends and one of my heroes in the industry. Happy Anniversary Zebco!