Lure of making fishing tackle hooks Humphreys in 1959 … the rest is history
Bill Humphreys Sr., an icon in the artificial-lure manufacturing business, remembers that when boys were 6 years old in his hometown they were given a fishing rod and a gun, as he had 76 years ago.
Thanks to Humphreys and the H&H Lure Co. he started in 1959, countless youngsters were able to get their hands on an Original H&H Spinner, and later, as they grew up, they got the revered H&H Cocahoe Minnow. It would be neat to know just how many anglers, young and old, caught their first fish on something produced by Humphreys over the past six decades.
H&H Lure Co., 60-percent saltwater fishing tackle and 40-percent freshwater tackle — plus a plethora of accessories — celebrated its 60th anniversary in June and continues celebrating the milestone in July and the rest of 2019. Humphreys, 82, was pleased to talk about the progress of the company that had a humble beginning, then mushroomed into a worldwide brand.
H&H Lure Co. grew and grew and grew some more, particularly after it entered the saltwater fishing side of making artificial lures, he said. Today, it produces more than 25,000 items, plus private brand/OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) products for several tackle companies. An OEM makes equipment or components that are then marketed by its client, another manufacturer or a reseller, usually under the reseller’s own name.
The Baton Rouge company also makes terminal tackle, push poles, marsh anchors, trotlines, decoy weights and many other accessories for the outdoors.
Family-owned from beginning
Humphreys is proud of his company, his family and his loyal employees. Family members in the business include his wife, Tommy Ritef Humphreys; his son, Billy Humphreys Jr.; a daughter, Tommie Maranto, and a grandson, Stephen Miclette Jr. Miclette, representing the third generation, is director of operations who joined H&H 11 years ago after graduating from Southeastern Louisiana University.
“I’ve been real blessed with the family, one that works with you. To start with one lure and build up with this…. I had no idea it would grow up to this. It just blossomed out. We did the legwork,” Bill Humphreys said from H&H headquarters in Baton Rouge, 12 buildings on North Dual Street that serves as a distribution center now.
Ah, the legwork. He worked 16 hours, seven days a week in the early years. He recalls going on the road across Louisiana, into Mississippi and around east Texas pitching H&H Lures, as well as the many promotions at stores in those states where people were invited to come meet artificial-lure manufacturer Bill Humphreys.
There’s a photo of him, 150 pounds soaking wet, 20 years old, smiling and standing tall in 1959 next to his second-hand bread truck he bought and converted into a traveling market, “Humphreys’ Wholesale Sporting Goods Baton Rouge, La.”
How did it all begin?
Humphries, from Baton Rouge, fished and hunted as much as he could as he grew into manhood. That probably wasn’t as much fishing and hunting as he would have liked because, well, he was busy.
“I did a little of everything,” he said.
Busy young man with realistic dreams
He had two newspaper routes while he was in high school and took on a third from his good friend, the late Jim Taylor, who started playing high-school football as a junior at Baton Rouge High School and then starred at LSU before a career with the Green Bay Packers that led to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Humphreys and Taylor remained friends after they graduated from high school. Taylor died in October 2018 at 83.
Humphreys also sold soft drinks in Tiger Stadium while future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle was tossing the football around for LSU. Tittle died in October 2017 at age 90.
All the while he was throwing newspapers and selling soft drinks in Tiger Stadium, Humphreys said he knew wanted to get into the sporting goods business.
“I had this opportunity. I knew exactly what I wanted to do in high school,” he said.
First, however, Humphreys competed for two in track and field at the University of Houston. Then he returned to Baton Rouge and enrolled at LSU, where he studied ½ years.
He also married a young woman named Tommy Ritef, who he started dating in the ninth grade. They celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary on June 2.
Mrs. Humphreys ‘a genius,’ son says
Tommy Humphreys was the first to help him get the business on its feet. At age 81, she is still the company’s head bookkeeper.
Billy Humphreys said, “My parents worked extremely hard … a lot of blood sweat and tears. My mother’s a genius. They didn’t have money, and she made this work.”
About that business startup in June 1959. The company’s founder had $2,000, his share of the inheritance after the death of his father, and, with the help of his father-in-law, the late Al Ritef — who signed for the loan — he borrowed another $2,000.
That was his stake in the wholesale business in which he sold sporting goods and fishing tackle, specifically the Original H&H Spinner, which the company proudly notes was the first spinner in America. After a few years, he said, he realized that in all of his travels and sales, he was competing against himself much of the time, so he gradually phased out the wholesale business to focus on making artificial lures. Fishermen have been happy ever since — fish not so much.
“I knew it would be better because I could go as far as I wanted to. When box stores started coming, they’d look for sinkers, hooks and whatever, which they knew I had from the sporting goods business. I had the knowledge,” he said.
Hard work shows to this day
Billy Humphreys, who graduated from LSU in 1983, paid a glowing tribute to his father.
“He had worked so hard, he made it easy for me as a young 22-year-old to walk into those accounts and sell products on a cold call. They didn’t know me, but they knew H&H,” he said, remembering his first trips to Shreveport, Dallas and elsewhere in the South.
“It was H&H country, and the competition wasn’t nearly as fierce as it is today,” he said.
Billy Humphreys, 59, the only son among four children born to the Humphreys, is the vice president and in charge of national sales who joined the company in 1980. He does what has to be done.
”I wear a lot of hats,” he said. “If a truck was out there on the dock now, I’d get a forklift if no one was around.”
What had to be done early in the younger Humphreys’ career was shift factory operations to Honduras, where the company stayed 15 years. But the back-and-forth shipping of raw material and product, the freight and labor, came at a high cost.
Bill Humphreys made lifelong friends during the stay in the Honduras, some who are scheduled to visit the U.S. in July to help him celebrate the 60th anniversary over the July 4 holiday holiday at his beach house in Gulf Shores, Ala., before attending the ICAST show in Orlando, Fla., July 10-12. That’s where the company will unveil its new brochure with the logo “Celebrating 60 Years of Manufacturing Quality Fishing Tackle” on the cover.
Billy Jr. takes manufacturing to China
Billy Humphreys initiated the company’s presence at what has grown to five sites in China.
“I had some friends in China. They said, ‘Why don’t you come over here?’ ” he said.
The Humphreys worked diligently over there to ensure quality control at the factories, starting with the precise way to paint jigheads. Over the past decade, Billy Humphreys has made an estimated 100 trips to China, he said.
“It’s been a fun business,” he said.
His father shares that sentiment. And appreciates the company’s indelible, historic mark on fishing.
“Well, the H&H (Spinner) is still around. That’s the first spinner of that type, the first safety pin type,” Bill Humphreys said. “I’m also proud of the H&H Cocahoe.”