*This story is part of a community feature series sponsored by the City of Wetaskiwin*
Wetaskiwin’s Bill Tomkow spent decades casting his line in Central Alberta’s lakes and rivers, so when retirement afforded him a little extra time, he used it to find a way to make fishing even better.
“He’s a crazy fisherman – they eat it, breath it, sleep it and dream it, and they’re always fiddling with something for it,” laughs Bill’s wife, Tilly Tomkow.
Bill, now 91, “was always working on something,” and after his retirement, that “something” turned out to be a revolutionary new lure, especially suited to Central Alberta’s white fish and Bill’s personal favourite, walleye.
By adding a fourth hook to the lure instead of the usual three, the lure became a game-changer for local fishing enthusiasts, doubled back to back with spoon-shaped blades.
Bill spent hours at the family’s dining room table, assembling and painting each lure by hand.
“He was quite an active person and he’d always be making up something, beyond fishing lures,” Tilly says.
In 1978, Bill launched his own home-based business, Bill’s Tackle Design. While the Wetaskiwin Special lure – also known as the Wild Wizard lure – couldn’t be patented as it wasn’t different enough from existing designs, Bill produced an amazing 10,000 lures that he then sold to area tackle shops.
“He worked at it day and night, and when he had enough stock he drove around Central Alberta and sold the lures,” Tilly recalls.
A local outdoorsman described the popular lure like this: While it doesn’t look like anything special, when you drop it into the hole in the ice and dip it up and down, “it flutters like a dying minnow and gets the fish really excited.”
Once Tilly also retired and the couple took their first winter trip to Arizona, their son Brian and daughter-in-law Janet took over the family business – operating during the off-season from farming. The business was later sold, but with local enthusiasts still carrying the Wetaskiwin Special in their tackle box, the legacy remains.
And so does the impact Bill’s passion for fishing had on his family. As his son Brian later commented, “it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do together as a family.”
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