Editor: iBass360’s Ryan Said recently sat down with 4X4 Jigs founder Thomas Perry to discuss his company’s story, their products, his hopes and aspirations for the business and his take on the industry’s direction. 4X4 is located in northeast Alabama where Tom was born and raised. His home lake is Wilson and his favorite, Pickwick. When not fishing or designing jigs, Tom enjoys hunting and working with horses. Still on his bucket list is a trip to Okeechobee at that right time of year for a personal best. Visit www.4x4bassjigs.com or Facebook.com/4x4BassJigs
iBass360: To start off, thanks for taking the time to discuss 4X4 with the 360NATION. Let’s begin with how you got started making and marketing your own jigs.
Perry: Believe it or not, I started making baits when I was about six. I am 55 now so I guess that’s about forty-nine years making my own baits. I was born and raised in northern Alabama as part of a six generation fishing family. We lived on a creek, so, when I was real young, I would go down to the creek with a fishing rod made out of a stick. I used little squirrel tail jigs made by neighbor to catch bream, small bass and so on.
Like any fisherman, I lost a lot of jigs in rocks and trees and such. Needless to say, my neighbor got tired of making them for me, so he decided to show me how to make them. At first, it took me three days to make one bait! They were actually made with squirrel hair from squirrels we hunted and ate. I had to use the materials we had available for making the jig head, painting the head,and gluing and tying the hair, so it took a little time, but it was worth it. I caught a lot of fish on those squirrel tails and still have a whole bunch of them!
iBass360: So where did you take your fishing from there?
Perry: As a teenager I started bass fishing more regularly. I got a little frustrated when I got to the local tackle shop and all I found was the same old cookie cutter baits. Everything seemed to be the same. Recalling my early efforts, I again started making my own jigs. I had the opportunity to go to college and I was good enough to play some baseball. But fishing was my real game, and after I got out of college I purchased my own boat. This is when fishing got more serious.
I remember it like it was yesterday, One day when I was 21, I was out fishing on a well-known lake and there was a Red Man Tournament going on. I caught a glimpse of one of the competitors- a guy from California- wearing a shirt with logos on it. I had never seen a sponsored angler before. He saw me catching a bunch of fish on my jigs and came over and asked me how I was catching them. I cut the jig off my line and gave it to him. I gave him my phone number and it wasn’t long before he was calling me to make more jigs for him. Have to say I never expected to be shipping my jigs out to California for a sponsored angler and his buddies! That was the beginning, and I have been supplying pros with baits for years since.
iBass360: I guess a bit of good fortune put you on that lake that day.
Perry: That’s for sure. A lot of pros have told me I did it backwards. Most bait companies have to start out marketing to the average weekend angler, hoping to attract enough attention to bring on pros to represent them. I started supplying just to pros, who then spread the word to the local anglers. It was about ten years ago a number of my friends and fishing contacts finally convinced me to start my own company. I went to the bank and took out a $2,500 loan to get things set up, and I am happy to say I paid it back from the sales of the next couple of months.
My daughter and I came up with our logo. We brainstormed one day on a paper grocery bag with some markers and crayons, then I took the result of our father/daughter “design meeting” to a local designer who cleaned it up a bit. The first year was me working by myself then I had some investing interest from a family friend. We decided to split the business 50/50, and we’ve officially been 4x4 Bass Jigs for the last 11 years- a company built from the dreams of a six year old kid making squirrel tail jigs.
iBass360: So, at this point you had some California anglers onboard spreading the word, how did you leverage this to establish a presence for 4X4 in the broader marketplace?
Perry: Believe it or not, Ryan, pretty much everything I have done has been by word of mouth and the national tournament exposure I have gotten from the Pros. Some will say I am a bit
crazy, but I have only been to one tackle show in my whole life. My print advertising budget is $0, and it is not because I didn’t explore it. I did a little advertising early on, but we could not afford ads in Bassmaster and FLW magazines. Pretty soon though, enough pros were catching fish and winning tournaments with my baits that those media outlets were calling me to do articles! I’ll never forget when the editor of FLW, Curtis Niedermier, called and asked me for an interview and pictures of my baits!
As for distribution, I have had my baits in local stores around my house from the start. Most of the orders for tackle from other stores has been the result of pros taking my baits back to their hometowns and asking their local shops to order them. One other thing I did relatively early on was to sign one Randall Tharp. We designed a jig together and that was the first custom bait we offered. Randall has since had some other opportunities, and he has moved on, but we still carry that jig under the name “Signature Series Jig.”
iBass360: We’re a social media based market company so we have to ask you, how have you leveraged social media and the use of pro staff for 4X4?
Perry: I have a few guys running social media for us. Obviously I post on Facebook but no there are no intense marketing campaigns or anything. My posts are basically day to day updates of products and on-the-water action. I will say though that I have one guy doing YouTube videos with my new crappie jigs and it is amazing the response he is getting. He consistently outsells the bass stuff just through those YouTube videos. We also have a pro staff consisting of Boyd Duckett, Brandon McMillan, Chad Pipkens, and Joe Webster. These guys have direct influence on the design of our baits.
iBass360: Speaking of design, let’s talk about that process of creating baits. What inspires you when creating new lures?
Perry: It’s really two connected things. The first is to focus on solving fishing problems or situations. Sometimes it is me who identifies the problem, sometimes guys approach me with problems and we work together to solve them. The second thing may seem obvious but you have to know it works. It has to put fish in the boat under the situation or problem it was designed to address, and it really needs to be better than the previous solutions. I am inspired by tackle that
works really well because it has been optimized for the details of the particular fishing technique. When I first retailed the Signature Series jig it for $4.99, everyone told me no one
would pay that much for a jig, but they did. Why? Because it had the testing behind it and was built with high quality components- and the angling community recognized that.
iBass360: Obviously you are talking about setting your jigs apart from the competition. How have you succeeded in differentiating your product from the many other jig producers out there?
Perry: I believe I differentiate 4X4 through the design process and paying attention to every little detail. I design baits to put fish in the boat. That is our thing. We don’t design baits to make money. If they do the first job right, the money will come. I take my time in the design process, and we won’t take a bait to production until I know everything is right. I spent nine months designing the Signature Series. I spent three to four days a week on the water for nine months trying out everything- hook angles, lead placement, line tie design, etc. I went through several different prototypes a week, and it was only after nine months of 40 hour week testing and tweaking, that I knew it was ready. It’s won several hundreds of thousands of dollars and several national level victories, so I am pretty confident in my process.
iBass360: Do think your designs are best applied to a particular style of bass fishing- pitching, flipping, deep structure, finesse? Do you see your products as having an advantage in a particular application or type of fishing situation?
Perry: They are really designed to cover a whole range in terms of single-hook baits. We have light finesse shaky heads all the way up to 1oz plus jigs and spinnerbaits. When we designed the Signature Jig, we designed it to be flipped, skipped, or cast and a lot of small details went in to that. We designed our swim bait head specifically for the 2.8, 3.3. and 3.8 Keitech-type trailers. I also have heads for nine-inch magnum swim baits. There are so many different situations, we now have 187 different products.
iBass360: How did you go about deciding what materials to use to optimize your jigs’ performance?
Perry: As I mentioned, we take a long time in the design process and look at a lot of different things. I know you won’t be surprised to hear that it is often the small things, a degree or two bend in a hook eye for instance that make a difference. To understand these subtleties, I leverage my pro staff.
When we designed the Signature Series, the pros I was talking to told me they have limited
space in their truck and boat. They travel all over, and want as few selections as possible that get the job done. As far as colors, that meant black and blue, and green pumpkin. We also wanted one unique color for when the fish want a different look. We settled on a color we call Golden Craw since gold colors seem to be pretty universal fish catchers. Fifteen national tournaments have been won with three colors. So I think the first rule is don’t make it complicated for the angler.
Clearly the hooks we choose are application specific. From the wire size to the degree on the line tie, the hook has to be unique to the jig. I have incorporated various brands of hooks into my jigs because each feature is important to getting the job done. So rule number two is select the hook that fits the specific application best regardless of the brand. As an example, when we designed the Signature Series, several pros wanted one jig for everything- to skip, pitch, cast and flip. One of the guys also mentioned that it was important to him that the jig fall straight down and not pendulum back to the boat once it hit the water. I spent time studying how to make the jig fall straight and found I needed to weight it toward the back of the head to keep it from “penduluming” back to the boat. Employing a broader head allowed it to be pitched, flipped, or cast.
Notice I did not say skipped. That was its own problem, and how we solved that is an interesting story. I live in the woods down a ¾ mile driveway. One day I was working outside and had to relieve myself, so I found the nearest tree. As I walked back to the garage I had my head down, and when I reached the garage I looked up right at the keel of my boat. I had a “light bulb moment”. The keel of a bass boat, is designed to essentially “skip” across the water. At that point it dawned on me to add a “keel” feature to the jig. So I guess the last rule is, be open to new solutions. All told, we made 114 versions of that jig before we arrived at a design that could do all of the things the pros wanted.
iBass360: You said you offer 187 different products. If you could only use one of your jigs for 1 year, which would it be and why?
Perry: Without a doubt that would be the 1/2oz Signature Jig in the Golden Craw color. It catches
bass all across the country in every type of water. It has won money all across the country.
iBass360: You’ve worked with and are currently working with some big time anglers- Randall in the past, now Boyd, Brandon, and my friend Chad, to name a few. How do you use their talents to advance your business?
Perry: I leveraged Randall Tharp early on for his design expertise. Although the Signature jig has won a ton of money, the actual “winning-est” jig is the Brandon McMillan swim jig. It’s also based off the lessons learned from the keel concept, but it has some key changes. We spent ten
months playing with the angle of the eye. Upon retrieve, when it hit something, it would immediately rise to the 12:00 position. Brandon would call me from Okeechobee when he was fishing and we would talk through how the various iterations of the bait performed. The result was a bait that is 99% weedless and can be fished in just about any type of cover in a swimming fashion. Its had several major wins and top-five finishes in Florida, Alabama (Smith Lake) and on the Potomac. I can’t tell you the names of those pros since they are officially with other companies.
Chad came to us through Kevin Hawk. I had been working with Kevin on more “finesse” applications when he had to retire due injuries and wanting to spend more time with family. Kevin and Chad roomed together, and knowing his fantastic finesse skills, he recommended Chad to me. Chad has caught a lot of his fish on our new Turn N Burn shaky head. He will throw worms, creatures, and basically any soft plastic on it. Even down in Texas he was catching big
bass in the bushes using it and we’ve gotten great feedback from him.
iBass360: I’m a smallmouth angler, and I’m excited about your most recent offering, the “Little Head” for small swim baits. What can you tell me about the evolution of this bait?
Perry: That design was based on the Ultimate Crappie jig. We made our own screw lock to specifically accommodate the 2.8, 3.3 and 3.8 Keitech Swinging Fat Impact swim baits. It has a 2/0 medium wire Mustad hook. In testing we found that medium wire was essential for getting a good hook set over a long distance of open water. We went with a short-shank line tie to get the point of the hook about 1/8-inch above the line tie so that went you set the hook, the line tie does
not interfere with the hook set into the fish. We played with different hook lengths to get the maximum action. That jig has the benefit of all my learning from the crappie jig. This last year when the FLW was here at Smith Lake, I had fourteen trucks in my driveway of pros all wanting that Little Head.
iBass360: Speaking of crappie, iBass360 is actually multi-species in focus. I noticed from the web that you do a lot of crappie fishing and have some new jig heads for that market. Have you always been a crappie fisherman?
Perry: Truth is, I have only been crappie fishing for two years. How I have come to love it is another interesting story. Two years ago I was trying out a new bass jig on a lake near the house. A tornado had knocked a bunch of trees into the water creating a sort of test tank for jigs. I looked down in the water and saw about eight crappie jigs hanging in the branches under the water. A couple days later I went back to test more bass jigs and the water had come down a couple feet leaving the crappie jigs hanging in the air- so I grabbed all them. I tied one of the little jigs on one of my bass spinning rods just to see what would happen. I flipped it into the trees and was hooking 2lb crappie, but every single one was coming off! I went home and got a light action rod and some 4lb line.
With my new combo I also got bit regularly but my landing rate was 50/50 at best. Perplexed by
this fishing problem, I looked harder at the crappie jigs and noticed that the hook point was in the same plane as the line tie. I also noticed that the hook was turned down at 3-degree angle. Basically when you set the hook, the only thing touching the fish’s mouth was the line tie, making luck the best hope that you didn’t yank the hook out of the fish’s mouth. Clearly not much
attention went into the design of that crappie tackle- understandable since most companies focus on bass. But since designing baits that work better is what drives me, I decided to design a crappie jig.
I changed to a shorter shank on the line tie so that it was not in the same plane as the hook eye. Next, I turned the hook point to a 2-degree upward angle. That way the first thing that touches meat is the hook point. The other problem to solve was I had was going through 40 soft plastic baits a day! I incorporated a small screw lock like we use in bass fishing- now I go through less than five a day.
iBass360: We have a lot of striper and saltwater guys in our community, do you see yourself expanding to saltwater baits, or are you happy staying in the bass/crappie game?
Perry: Actually, I am looking at saltwater a bit. I know they use a lot of swim baits and I can see myself offering some of my swim bait heads down the road.
iBass360: So I want to switch gears a little and ask you, because of your long term experience working with pro anglers. It seems we are on the verge of a whole new era of professional fishing with the new MLF being added to the Bassmaster and FLW tours. What is your take on all this? Are we advancing the sport, diluting the sport or do you have a different take altogether?
Perry: This is just my opinion, but I don’t see three tours driving drastically more sales of fishing products. What I do see is the opportunity to get more people watching. My number one customer far and away is Tackle Warehouse. Right now, my number one selling bait is the Ultimate Crappie Jig Head, as I said, due to people watching YouTube videos. His videos result sales of 15X my other products- just because people watch him online. The internet is the place to be right now and I see MLF capitalizing on that. Increasing viewership is their driving point. At the end of the day three tours should put more pros to work, which means more wrapped boats and trucks driving up and down the road as advertisement. I don’t think three tours is going to help quite as much as some guys are saying, but it is going to help some.
iBass360: Tom, I really appreciate the chance hear the stories! You have a rich story to tell and you speak of your work with great passion. Anything else to know about 4X4?
Perry: I guess the biggest thing I would want people to know is that besides doing work for pros,
I design baits for me. I want them to work for me because my love for fishing is no different than any other guy who works hard and wants to get out on the water and catch some fish. I put a lot of work in to designing baits will work better than the average jig in your tackle bag. When I sell a jig I know it is right for me, so it will be right for you. Every bait we market has had a minimum of six months of development testing and I am not kidding when I say we go through 50-100 prototypes to get it right. My baits have to perform for me, they have to put fish in the boat. The money will come if the baits work.
iBass360: Last question, what’s for dinner tonight in Alabama?
Perry: Fried deer tenderloin, homemade cornbread, buttered peas, and coleslaw!
iBass360: Man oh man I wish I as at your house for dinner! Thanks so much, Tom. Best of luck as you continue designing winning baits and #LivingYourPassion!
Ryan Said is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain and guide on Michigan's Lake St. Clair. He also guides on Lake Erie, and many of Michigan's inland lakes. He books trips through Marcels Guide Service - an affiliation that is in its fifth season. In 2011 after winning the Bassmaster Northern Open points championship, Ran had the honor of fishing the Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite series trail. He has fished the Bassmaster Open Series several times, as well as the Costa Series. Ryan is an engineer and teaches high school math. He has recently started coaching the bass fishing team at his alma mater, Lawrence Tech. Ryan fishes for Dobyns Rods, Lew's Reels, Costa Sunglasses, P-Line and Simms Fishing.