Outdoors: Soft plastic lure company keeps anglers fishing

By Charles Johnson/Special to The Star
Republished with permission.

EUFAULA  AL — Plastic worms have long been a mainstay in an angler’s tackle box. In the late 1950s, there was only one basic design and two colors for soft plastic worms. Today, anglers have a multitude of sizes, shapes and colors to fit any fishing situation.

Soft-plastic baits are popular with anglers in both fresh- and salt-water fishing. There are slight variations on colors and sizes, and many anglers have a favorite color depending on the bait style and fishing conditions. But, anglers may not know exactly where their favorite soft-plastic baits are made.

The KVD KVD Perfect Plastic made in Eufaula.

The KVD Perfect Plastic made in Eufaula.

Southern Plastics Company, located in Eufaula, has manufactured and packed soft-plastic lures for decades. Today, the company supplies many top name lure companies with soft plastic baits. About 50 employees pour, inject, color, grade and pack thousands of lures each day.

The company makes soft-plastic lures for Strike King, Zoom, Rage, Bass Pro Shops and others. The process is complete from mixing the vinyl to packaging for store display. The employees take pride in knowing the lures they make provide fishing fun for many anglers.
How plastic worms are made
The process for making soft plastic worms has been automated somewhat in recent years, but there still are some functions performed by hand. Each step of the process is critical in the manufacture of a product that is consistent from batch to batch.
“In our manufacturing process, we provide quality checks along the way to make sure there is consistency form lure to lure,” said Lisa Hagler VP for operations and part owner of Southern Plastics. “We polish and check each mold regularly for any defects or flaws.”
Hagler said one person is responsible for mixing the vinyl for each batch. He knows exactly the amount and what the consistency should be in each mixing. The vinyl mixture is transferred to large stales steel drums for pumping into the lure molds. Each lure has a recipe for plastic, color, flavor and glitter, if required. The color recipes are posted on each drum designated for a particular injection station. Flavors and glitter are added as needed depending on the lure requirements.4 in worm
“After mixing, the molten plastic is sent to individual injection stations for molding,” Hagler said. “We have 38 injection molding stations. We run approximately 50 million units (lures) a year.”
The lure molds are made of aluminum alloy and are kept as pairs. Each mold can have from 18 to 200 cavities, depending on the lure. The molds are inspected and polished regularly for uniform operation and lure quality.
After the molds are injected with the vinyl mixture, water is circulated in the mold to cool the plastic to aid in easy removal of the lures. A vegetable based release agent is sprayed in the mold cavities before the next batch of lures are run.
SWG589Both sides of the molds are clamped together and held tight with air pressure. After the plastic lures have cooled in the mold, it is separated and the lures removed. The soft-plastic lures come out of the mold on a tree, similar to leaves and sticks. The lures are then pulled off the tree and placed in bins for packaging.
Quality control and packing
Some of the larger more complex lures, like the Zoom Brushhog, go into a water bath to assist in the cooling process. There are several checks and inspections for each batch of lures. Color, size, weight and even taste are checked for each lure batch.
“We run a durometer test on each batch of lures to check the hardness (or softness) of the plastic, said Hagler. “There are three levels we check for medium, hard and KVD.”
The “KVD” Hagler is referring to is the KVD Perfect Plastic baits sold by Bass Pro under the KVD label. These are special baits and each gets a close inspection. The KVD baits also get a special heat treatment for 24 hours in an oven.
checking plastic

A technician inspects a batch of plastic baits. Photo Charles Johnson/The Anniston Star

Since flavors like garlic and/or coffee are added to certain baits as taste test is required. Yes, inspectors actually taste the lure to ensure the proper flavor. Hagler has done her share of taste testing on scent-flavored lures, her favorite to taste, coffee. “We use coffee grounds and coffee oil to flavor certain lures,” Hagler said. “Each batch has to have the right amount of flavor.” A weight check is performed on each batch of lures.

By the weight, inspectors know the quantity of the lures in the batch. A scrap factor is calculated in the mixing process to obtain the desired quantity of each lure group. After the lures are separated and inspected they are ready for packaging.
Extra-large tubs of finished soft-plastic baits are carried over to the packing area. There workers count by weight and pack the required quantity in individual packs. The packs are grouped together and banded for boxing and palletizing. An average shipment to Bass Pro Shops would be around 35 pallets. A Strike King shipment is usually around 18 pallets. Southern Plastics will usually run 10,000 cycles (lures) for Zoom for one type and one color of a specific lure. The company makes 1,800 different units for Bass Pro.
A special relationship
When he was 8 years old, Terry Spence began helping out Tom Mann making plastic worms. From 1978-84, Spence was operations manager for Mann’s Plastics, which is now Southern Plastics. Spence is now co-owner and president.
Tom’s brother, Don, oversaw the operation of the plastic lure manufacturing in the early days. Don had developed a special relationship with Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops. Morris often visited the plant, and he and Don would fish and conduct business.
“It was Don that convinced Johnny (Morris) to sell a private branded bait,” said Spence. “That was never heard of in the fishing lure industry.”
Morris took that idea and began selling hobo worms under the BPS label. The lures sold well and other BPS products were soon added.
The relationship between Southern Plastics and Bass Pro Shops continues today. Every Monday morning at precisely 4:58 a.m., an order from Bass Pro is sent electronically to Southern Plastics. That order is usually filled by Thursday.
“At the end of the year the Bass Pro buyer will call and ask if we have any stock,” Hagler said. “They will purchase whatever we have left on the shelf.”
The busiest time of the year for Southern Plastics is from Labor Day to Good Friday. Lure stock is packed and stored in climate controlled areas. It can be palletized and shipped in short notice. Hagler said their top selling lure is the 5-inch Stiko for Bass Pro. The lure comprises about 34 percent of the sales from Bass Pro. Southern Plastics is a five star rated vendor for Bass Pro with a 99.7 percent report card.
The next time you hook up a soft-plastic bait, more than likely it was made in Alabama at Southern Plastics.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoors editor.
You can reach Charles at [email protected].

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