KLAMATH FALLS -- Any good fisherman knows the key to catching a fish is catching its attention.
Bob Lewis recalls being regularly out-fished by friends dropping lines in creeks and ponds as a teen in New Mexico. An image of a 52-pound Chinook salmon caught on the Rogue River shows he eventually came into his own. Lewis, now 89, doesn't spend much time on the water anymore, but fishing is still a major part of his life.
"I'm more interested in improving and making gear than I am catching a fish," he said.
Lewis of Klamath Falls spends most days surrounded by oodles of fishing tackle in a small apartment studio. He tinkers with just about anything, reconstructing lures and adding attractants to "flashers" or "plugs." A self-described innovator, Lewis finds his greatest happiness discovering ways to combine materials like tire rubber and plastic worms into jigs that dance like mice or behave like live bait.
"I come up with a lot of different ideas. It gives me great pleasure to make something that is different and does a better job," he said.
The design of Lewis' most prized innovation took two years to perfect.
Lewis explained that planers, which are often used in the Midwest to float lures in lakes and ponds, are similar to bobbers: They float along the water's surface, while a jig or bait runs below. What makes planers different from bobbers is they don't just flow downstream with the current -- they can move directionally across the water.
But what makes Lewis' planer unique -- other than the fact it works with up to 200 feet of line out -- is a modification he made that allows his planer to not only move directionally across currents, but to travel upstream without taking any line in.
"You can stand on one side of the riverbank and direct it. You let it go downstream, and at the point when it reaches the end of the line, it goes across in a semicircle to the other side all on its own. When it reaches the end of the line again on the other side, it goes upstream against the current, and it'll go up to about 90 degrees," Lewis said.
"There isn't anything that comes close to these," he added.
Bucky Patrick, a friend of Lewis', explained that when water hits the rudder-like mechanism in the middle, a force is created that propels the planer upstream.
"That's the magic of it," he said. "When you stop letting line out, the effect of the current will kick it, and it will turn slightly and start zipping to the other side."
Similar to Lewis' planer design, his hand-crafted bait divers perform unlike typical divers. He said they can be used in fresh or saltwater in conditions deeper than 20 feet.
According to Lewis, normal divers are controllable only down to about 25 feet. His can be taken down to 50. Even at that depth, he said, it's possible to get a specific angle by setting the specialized center rudder to that degree.
"It's controllable for diving, at the same time it's controllable on a lateral. You can cover at least five times as much area," he said.
Despite Lewis' confidence in his planer and diver designs, he plans to keep fine-tuning both for more directional control. Lewis said he'll also keep improving lures and tackle by adding attractants and modifying them in unusual ways.
Patrick said it's not uncommon to stop by Lewis' to find him dropping new creations in a bathtub full of water. He likes to see how they move.
"I have to do something to keep from going nuttier," he chuckled. "This gives me something to play with and hopefully someday I'll be able to put my innovations on the market."