Story Jason Browne | Photograph Kelly Tippett
Since the early ’80s a peculiar species of Mississippi frog has managed to populate the globe, as far away as Australia, Japan and Indonesia. These frogs frequent underwater fish habitats, where they’re snatched up by hungry bass lurking in weeds and grasses.
But where bass were once free to snack on tiny frogs among the scum, the predator-prey dynamic has changed.
Scum Frog lures are the brainchild of Dan Cunningham, a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native and veteran of the printing business who moved to Columbus in 1966 to work for the Beneke Corp. and went on to to found Southern Printing Co.
One day in the early ’80s, Cunningham was fishing with his stepbrother who wished aloud that somebody would produce a frog lure which could cut through underwater vegetation without getting hung up among the leaves.
“I thought that sounds like an opportunity,” said Cunningham. So he went to his friends David Harrison, an engineer at Beneke, and Ollie Oswalt. Harrison had experience working with Plastisol, the substance used to create fishing lures, and Oswalt helped design the custom machinery which would eventually produce Scum Frogs. The concept was simple. Cunningham wanted to design a frog-shaped lure with hooks positioned tight to the body of the lure so as not to snag on plants and debris. But the body needed to be soft enough to collapse as bass took the bait, exposing the hooks. “It took about four years to get the first frog to perfection,” Cunningham recalled.
As for the branding, Cunningham said the lure more or less named itself. “We were trying it out and threw it in some scum. Someone said ‘Boy, look at that scum frog come through.’ We were going to think of something creative but that just kinda stuck,” he said. “I was advised by my first sales rep that we needed to change the name. I’m glad we didn’t because it worked out pretty good.”
Cunningham began selling the early Scum Frogs at Woods & Water in Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, he kept brainstorming new ideas and developing new products. As the company grew, so did the lineup. When he incorporated the company he had four employees, including himself, and one product. Now Southern Lure Company has 10 employees and produces 15 lures, each in multiple colors. There are weighted Scum Frogs, noisy Frogs, walking Frogs, buzzing Frogs, dancing Frogs and glow-in-the-dark Frogs.
Fast-forward 25 years and Cunningham is selling Scum Frogs to every corner of the earth. He said a quality product at a reasonable price ($2-5.25) more or less sells itself. Now Scum Frog products are available in nationwide stores like Bass Pro, Cabela’s, Gander Mountain and the omnipresent Wal-Mart. Cunningham said the product line will continue to grow as he attempts to roll out something new each year. He stays in contact with fishermen to find out what they need and tries to provide solutions to problems. It’s a constantly evolving market, but one with which Cunningham is happy to keep pace. “If you have to work, it’s good to do something you enjoy,” he said.