SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Ron Stevens is in the middle of a literal feeding frenzy.
Stevens is president of Lure Parts Online, a Springfield company that sells components needed to make fishing lures to 25,000 customers in 55 countries.
Right now, the fishing world is hooked on the Alabama Rig, a five-lure setup that is the hottest, and potentially most controversial, thing in fishing.
“It has been really going crazy for two to three months,” Stevens said. “A guy won a tournament with [the Alabama Rig] last fall, and it just exploded.”
The Alabama Rig gives the appearance of a whole school of swimming baitfish. The official design starts with a lead lure “head” with five wires emanating out, each with a swivel and lead jig combined with a plastic worm or other lure.
YouTube videos show happy anglers reeling in multiple fish at once.
But therein lies a problem.
The Alabama Rig is not always legal.
“An angler from Effingham called me and wanted to know if he could use it,” said Dan Stephenson, Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist and administrator.
“When he first called me about it, I was Googling it at the same time so I could see a picture of it.
“It was all new to me three weeks ago.”
Because of its multiple hooks, the Alabama Rig is not legal on lakes, such as Lake Springfield, that have rules limiting anglers to two poles and two hooks or lures per line.
Maine’s regulations appear to ban the use of equipment like Alabama Rigs. According to the state’s fishing regulations, “Except as otherwise provided, it is unlawful to fish other than with a single baited hook and line, artificial flies or artificial lures and spinners.”
How the Alabama Rig fits into Illinois fishing regulations has caused confusion among anglers.
“A lot of people have questions about it,” says Rod Cooke of the Sangchris Bass Club. “A lot of guys are using it and probably don’t even know it’s illegal. They probably don’t even know about the two-hook limit.”
Stephenson said Illinois Conservation Police officers know about the Alabama Rig. Anglers using it where it’s not allowed have mostly been issued warnings.
Cooke says some clubs don’t allow the rig’s use during tournaments.
The rig is legal on some lakes, such as the big U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lakes, like Shelbyville, Rend and Carlyle. It also is allowed at Kincaid Lake and Lake of Egypt.
Anglers can use an Alabama Rig on the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri, but not between Illinois and Iowa.
People can check the 2011 Illinois Fishing Information booklet under site-specific regulations.
There are ways around the regulation, according to Stephenson.
If the angler clips the hooks off three of the lures or replaces those lures with spinning blades to attract fish, the rig is legal.
“But they can only have two hooks [or lures],” he said.
Stephenson said the two-pole rule has been in place for years, mostly to preserve lakes as sport fisheries instead of commercial fisheries.
It is an issue that is not going away.
Stephenson said a manufacturer is creating an Alabama Rig for muskie fishing in Georgia, so he called seeking information on Illinois muskie lakes and where the use of the rig would be allowed.
He said fisheries administrators are meeting Jan. 31 to look at the two-pole rule and to seek answers to questions about the Alabama Rig.
“What are the biological problems?” Stephenson asked. “If you do catch three, four or five fish at once, they might beat themselves up, or it might take longer to get them off the hooks.
“I can see that as being a concern in July and August. That’s about the only reason I can think of we’d be against them biologically.”
Any rule change would take a year to wind its way through the administrative rules process and probably not take effect until April 2013.
Stevens, of Lure Parts Online, said it is a challenge to keep parts in stock.
“Everybody is trying to make them in their basement and in their garages,” he said. “We have these guys call us and say, ‘I’m making 100 a day, and I need the parts.’”
Stevens said he has never seen anything like the Alabama Rig craze.
“If we could keep the parts in stock, I could sell thousands,” he said. “The wires, we could sell thousands of those, too. If we could sell the head, there’s no telling how many of those we could sell.”
Lure Parts Online is the retail companion business to Cast Industries Inc., a company that manufacturers cast metal lure parts like jigs.
Stevens said the retail business sells parts manufactured by Cast Industries and other vendors. Both businesses are at 580 North St.
A complete original Alabama Rig, manufactured by Mann’s Bait Company, can cost up to $40.
Mann’s has exclusive license to make and sell the Alabama Rig, and Stevens said he is expecting a shipment of complete rigs to sell next week.