For over 40 years I would answer the phone and the voice at the other end would respond “Hello Sport.”
No introduction needed. I knew it was Wayne Kent, and more likely than not he had an idea he wanted to bounce off me. With his death last month at the age of 77, those calls are no more.
A native of Tyler, Wayne has been involved in the fishing tackle industry since he was a teenager, first working at the Milton Goswick’s Bait and Tackle Shop on East Front before making lures in his mother’s house and then the owner of his own tackle company.
Wayne and his high school sweetheart turned wife, Judy, founded Knight Manufacturing in their home in 1965. They had some successes including one a soft plastic called the Tube Worm.
That bait is actually how we met. In the mid-70s, a delivery man stopped by my newspaper office desk to tell me about the big bass he had caught on a Tyler-made worm. Of course, coming from a company called Knight, I was interested. It became a running joke about my “ownership” in the company.
In 1989, the Kents purchased another lure company that also had its origins in a couple’s home. Creme Lure was started in 1949 in Akron, Ohio, by Nick and Cosma Creme. Creme was the originator of the soft plastic worm, and eventually moved to Tyler attracted by among other things the roses grown in the area and the local demand for their product. After Nick Creme’s death, the Kents purchased it.
Among his many traits, Wayne was a visionary. The problem often was he was too far ahead of his time.
I remember one day in the late ‘90s or early 2000s, I heard the familiar “Hey Sport” and the roller coaster conversation began. I don’t remember the entire call, but I remember Wayne asking why we could not have high school bass fishing like they do football, basketball and golf. I agreed, but the question was how. We left it at that, only to watch high school bass fishing take off a decade or two later by those who figured out the answer.
He also had a sense of humor to go with the vision. Once during struggling times, he printed a product catalogue with the next year’s date, giving him several years life from the same publication. In reference to the date, the catalogue proudly stated “Years Ahead Of Its Time.”
Wayne had a flurry of ideas he thought would attract newcomers to fishing. One was an all-in-one starter kit that included everything someone needed whether they wanted to fish for bass, crappie, catfish or panfish. He got them to market, and through the years several other companies have followed suit.
One of his more recent concepts was packaging designed to the Hispanic community. Again Wayne was probably ahead of his time and it was a tough sell to retailers, but hang on, some day in the future someone is going to get it done.
Being a family-owned business, Knight/Creme did not have the research budget of some of the big names. Instead they have always done things the old-fashioned way, partnering with fishermen who came up with lure designs like the late J.C. Boucher Jr., of Tyler, and Herman Firman, of Louisiana. It was Firman who came up with the Lit’lFishie, a life-like swim bait that was years ahead of its time and still a staple of Creme’s lineup.
Wayne was always creative at naming baits, but once yielded to my suggestion on the Scremer, a soft plastic that was purported to create more noise in the water than its competitors. The name is again in Creme’s catalogue this time as a swim bait.
Admitting that sometimes there really is no such thing as new ideas, just changes to old ones, Wayne came out with a line of baits called Same Thing. They were like others mass marketed, but he sort of hid them in plain sight.
Fishing tackle is an industry where every successful bait design is going to be ripped off. Wayne once found a knockoff of a Creme worm. It was so blatant you could still see where they attempted to scratch the Creme name out of mold after using one of the company’s worms to create it.
Wayne was also a survivor in an industry where companies pop up and disappear constantly. Knight/Creme has survived by recognizing what it is and isn’t, and with a solid base of followers. After all, there is no soft plastic worm company older than Creme Lure.
More importantly Wayne was a good guy. He knew and respected the history of the tackle industry and those involved in it. I heard Wayne lament a lack of ethics from time to time, but he never called out anyone by name. Nor did I ever hear anyone talk bad about him.
Possibly the biggest thing was that Wayne’s successes, and to be honest failures, were family affairs. His wife, Judy, was at his side all the way. His daughter, Leslie, was once involved in the company, and son Chris has been there 25 years following his father’s footsteps. That family atmosphere was big to Wayne.
Wayne Kent was a big deal in the fishing industry. From his mother’s kitchen to the plant east of Tyler, Wayne helped get a lot of people started in fishing of all kinds and kept them fishing for years. And I bet he had more big ideas written on a notepad on his desk just waiting for the right time.