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New sheriff in town

7/26/2008

LAS VEGAS — Tim Norman worked as a cop for 17 years and retired a sergeant in the Atlanta Police Department when he started a new career, at age 40. This year's ICAST show marked an anniversary for him.

"It was at ICAST 2000 when Mustad said 'We want you to put down your gunbelt and come to work for us full-time,'" Norman said.

With a daughter who was 3 at the time, thinking he'd need to work at least another 20 years to support a family, the Chattanooga, Tenn., native said, "I didn't think I had another 20 years in me as an Atlanta police sergeant."

Norman was a good-enough bass fisherman to fish BASS and FLW events. It was during those years, when bass fishing was a hobby, that Norman began promoting products for various sportfishing manufacturers.

But Norman knew he didn't have the specific knowledge and practical experience necessary to design new products. That's where his experience as a cop led to a new business philosophy.

"As a policeman, I realized my limitations," said Norman, now 48. "A lot of times as a cop, you have to act as a lawyer, a preacher, a counselor — and I wasn't any of those things. When it came down to it, all I could do was recommend a solution to people's problems.

"It taught me not to overstep my boundaries, to know my limitations."

Norman was successful helping Mustad introduce the new Ultrapoint hooks. But it was while working for lure manufacturer SPRO over the last 3 1/2 years Norman really demonstrated how to put his new "Most Wanted" list into action: Instead of hunting down criminals, Norman began contracting with fishing pros, like Dean Rojas to design the Bronzeye Frog, Bill Siemantel for a signature swimbait series and Gary Klein for a new jig design.

"It's not complicated at all," Norman said. "If you just set your ego aside for a few minutes and get the best experts available in the world for the goals you're trying to accomplish, you're going to be successful."

Norman came to ICAST 2008 with a different company; he is now the president of Youvella, a European hook manufacturer that is now part of the Fish Harder companies, which include Tru-Tungsten and Picasso.

However, Norman's business philosophy remains the same. That's the main reason he was able to assemble a staff of Bassmaster Elite Series pros that includes Mike Iaconelli, Ish Monroe, Greg Hackney and Peter Thliveros.

"We're going to use that same philosophy 100 percent — pro-designed, pro-tested, pro-approved," Norman said. "The pros won't settle for having their names slapped on a product anymore now that they know what it's like to design and produce one from start to finish."

If you want to hear a bunch of pro bass anglers start bellyaching, just bring up the subject of fishing hooks available specifically for their needs.

"You won't find any fishermen out there that don't complain about the hook market," said Hackney, a six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Gonzales, La. "I've used every brand of hook out there for certain techniques, trying to find the one that's just right."

Hackney is known for being a shallow-water specialist — flipping, in particular.

"Nobody has made a good flipping hook," Hackney said. "A sure-enough-designed, big-rod, big-line, heavy-cover flipping hook."

Monroe, a five-time Classic qualifier from Hughson, Calif., has grown increasingly frustrated with a hook he had to tweak with a pair of pliers to ensure consistent hook-sets.

"We are basically designing our own hooks now (with Youvella), where we're not going to have that problem anymore," Monroe said.

With Monroe, Hackney, Iaconelli and Thliveros, Youvella has four pro bass anglers with different strengths in fishing techniques. Hackney, for example, is a flipping specialist. But the other three pros rely on flipping for particular tournaments, too. And whether it's flipping or finesse, treble hooks or single points, Norman has sold them on the idea that all four men will have to agree on a new design before it goes to market under the Youvella brand.

"Three out of four won't do," Monroe said. "We've got four of the best fishermen in the world, and if we all agree, it ought to be the best product on the market. If only three agree, then there's something wrong somewhere, and we need to figure out how to change it."

Youvella's new hook designs are currently undergoing a second series of field testing by the pros. While some designs should be available this fall, it will be 2009 before Norman's full influence on a new set a bass fishing hooks will be widely available.

You have to look back to the SPRO Dean Rojas Signature Series Bronzeye Frog to get a full picture of how Norman's "Most Wanted" list works.

"I'm not patronizing you," said Norman, who knew the employer of this writer. "But the whole world for a fisherman revolves around ESPN(2) on Saturday mornings.

"And I watch every episode. If I'm out, I tape it. And I've paid attention to what the pros (on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour) were getting excited about.

"I learned from ESPN on Saturday mornings about (topwater) frogs becoming a hot item. That's where I learned about swimbaits becoming a hot item. That's where I noticed jerkbaits were turning into a real craze — just from watching the Bassmaster shows on ESPN Outdoors.

"That's the truth. It's not complicated."

But it can get complicated when you tell a pro bass fisherman you're going to make a lure to his specifications. And make it so well that he can win money using that lure in a tournament, not just get an endorsement check for allowing the use of his name.

Although Norman is no longer with SPRO, which is headquartered in Kennesaw, Ga., and affiliated with the hook-maker, Gamakatsu, his fingerprints continue to appear throughout its lure catalog for the coming year. A triple-jointed, hard-plastic Bill Siemantel BBZ-1 Shad in a blueback herring color pattern is certain to be a popular lure.

It was Norman who contacted Arkansas pro Mike McClelland almost two years ago about designing a jerkbait. And his signature Mc Stick lure, featuring a ball-bearing weight-transfer system, will be available this fall.

Elite Series pro John Crews of Virginia has added a deeper-running design to his SPRO "Little John" crankbait series this year.

Syd Rives is now the sales manager at SPRO. He trained under Norman's philosophy, and there's no reason to argue with the success it has produced.

"It seems to have worked beautifully, so we'll keep doing it," Rives said. "It sometimes seems like we go through 18 million prototypes, between action, color samples, hook sizes and everything else. But the pros are doing the little nit-picky things to make these baits perfect.

"They're making the baits they want to win tournaments with."

Said Norman, "Syd's one of the finest young men I've ever known. I couldn't have turned the company over to a better person."

Norman's still somewhat in shock about how the opportunities keep getting more exciting each year for an ex-cop who turned his hobby into a second career.

"I haven't been sued, shot, stabbed or spit-on since I got in the fishing industry," Norman said.

And if Youvella can quell the hook complaints from today's bass pros, Norman will be able to put another notch of accomplishment on his "Most Wanted" list.