Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Fish science

Lead Masters lives on
The Lead Master may be gone, but Jim Pearce's legacy lives on. He's willed the business to his employees, and in many ways you could see, even as he ran it, a primary goal was to provide his people good jobs, good benefits and a good life. When times were tough he'd done what he had to, to keep his people employed rather than downsizing away those jobs.

You may not have noticed the name, Lead Masters, but if you're a SoCal salt angler there is no doubt you have at least a few of its products in your tackle box. In addition to sinkers, egg weights, jigs and such, there are rods, rod holders, pier gaffs, squid getters, mini jigs, stretch wrap, wahoo bombs and leadheads.

THE LEAD MASTERS lineup proves to be a lot more than rent rod sinkers, and the basics — from flying fish to crying towels. When folks complained their wahoo bombs got torn up too easily, it simply validated the copy not only cost less but got bit better than the competition.

If you think back to your most recent trip to the tackle store, you might recall a section where all the item tags were distinctive yellow, often non-glossy construction paper, sometimes with bright red and green writing. Most of it consists of the basics, torpedo sinkers, egg weights, cannon balls — but wherever there was an item some producer included too high a profit margin in their price structure, say a $20 jig Lead Master could bring to market at half that price, a Lead Master version would soon be on tackle store shelves.

He used to claim, as a sinker maker, he was the "armpit of the fishing industry."

He kept his people working and the terminal tackle industry honest. Sometimes the Lead Master version would be merely a less spendy substitute sans cachet, but others his crew would, in their designing-building-testing, redesigning and retesting, make massive improvements on.

One outstanding example was their weedless lead-head. The story was, Doug the mold maker ran the prototypes through a swimming pool endlessly, and ultimately came up with an eye forward head shape that swam and landed hook up every time. It did as well as the ever snagging eye-on-top designs. But being eye forward, it shed kelp without catching.

It is, at half the price, perhaps the most effective weedless lead-head on the market. We tossed it over the kelp, up onto the breakwater in the dark and bounced it back down into the water, over the kelp and down the face for hours between snags. It got bit, and it stuck the fish.

Those heavy enamel glow egg sinkers everyone wants — all Lead Master.

In addition to tackle, Lead Master ended up with an embroidery arm and silkscreen shop. Perhaps you've noticed those beautifully embroidered polos and jackets around the show hall — big bright leaping tuna and billfish, bass and barracuda, yellows too, all woven thread. Yep, that's Lead Master too.

Uniquely, Jim Pearce never claimed to be much of an angler, but he loved the fishing industry and fishing. One year, on his 60th birthday in fact, he won the Friends of Rollo boat — a beautiful Harold Davis custom sport fisher based on a speedy, tough commercial class hull design! He named it the Jetty Jumper, of all things, but that's another story. He never claimed to be much of a navigator either.

Still, he had outstanding fishing tackle, mostly because, everyone in the industry loved him, and made sure he did. You might have seen him tending Sal Valone's booth in the Fred Hall Long Beach Show -- Bob Sands Fishing Tackle, where he had a full selection of Lead Master products out and sold them for Bob Sands. It would have been him, his sales rep. Allen, Emilio Rebolar and Sal there, maybe his friend and neighbor David Rehres too.

As a boss and dad he was hard driving, pushed people to their limits, made them work hard to do the best job they could. But, once they had succeeded, he gave the fruits of their labor right back, as if to show them what they could accomplish.

One evening during the Del Mar Fred Hall Show, we exhibitors had wrapped it up for the evening and several of us were headed for a swanky pizza place, as swanky as pizza gets. All warned me Pierce almost made the waitress cry last time, demanding this and that, complaining stuff was not right and generally harassing her to do more.

I didn't know him well at the time and was incredulous. It was all true! And he did a repeat performance of being the worst customer possible. Our waitress kept her cool nonetheless. When the meal was done though, Jim thanked her nicely and left her a tip of perhaps 4 times the norm, as if to say, thank you for putting up with customers like me so gracefully.

At his Memorial two weeks back, stories were being told, and his eldest daughter, Kristina, got up and told how when she was growing up, her dad wouldn't be satisfied with any report card less than straight "A"s. If there was a "B" on it, she told, she was in for a stern talking too. Her academic success propelled her far, and you could tell she was life-long proud to tell the tale.

But that's not the end of the story. A few weeks back she was tearfully going through her dad's old files and found HIS report cards – all "C"s and "D"s she said. He knew her strengths and had pushed her make the most of them.

So now, in passing, he's given the shop and business he and his crew had nurtured, to them, so they can carry the ball forward, continue to make tackle, keep us in sinkers, have jobs and earn a good living.

He leaves behind two highly successful daughters Kristina and Kimberly, sons-in-law Kevin and Christian, niece Esperanza, grand kids Kaden, Kennedy, Kinsley and Landyn Elena, and his 99-year-old mom Ria.

His last big project was turning his backyard into playland for the kids, complete with pool, trampoline, zip line and swings. He'd proclaimed it complete and got to revel in seeing each of them enjoy it for the first time just the week before was he called to the happy hunting ground.

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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.

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