Russ Bringger, a top South Florida tournament angler and an innovative lure designer, died Feb. 15 at the age of 53 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Born in Central Florida, Russ spent most of his life in Pompano Beach, where he worked as a fabric salesman. Every chance he got, he fished for bass at Lake Okeechobee.
Russ was a good fisherman, and he achieved the ultimate when he won the 1986 Bassmaster Florida Invitational on Lake Okeechobee. He also made a name for himself as the co-founder of Gambler Lures, a Pompano Beach-based lure company that has grown from a small business that catered to local tournament anglers to one that sells its products throughout the country. And those products have had a major hand in winning two CITGO Bassmaster Classics.
Russ started Gambler with Barry Cummins in 1980. They loved to fish and thought that they had a good idea of what would catch fish on Lake Okeechobee. At the time, they were two of the best fishermen on Okeechobee. After Russ won the Bassmaster tournament in 1986, he gained a lot of recognition and Gambler did, too. Gambler went from a $10,000 company to a $75,000 company.
I bought Cummins' share of the business in 1992. Russ and I also acquired BANG fish attractant that year.
Working with Russ was a pleasure. He spoke his mind. If he saw something that he didn't like, he told you about it. He and I would fight about ideas, yell and scream, and then go to dinner. He never held a grudge.
Russ also was a man of his word. If he said he'd do something, he did it. We never had contracts. That's just how he was.
As a fisherman and as a lure designer, he was very innovative. He was never afraid to try something. He had ideas, fishing-wise, that really a lot of people looked at and thought he was nuts. For one, using a spinning rod to flip and pitch. But he had a lot of success in South Florida tournaments, so he must not have been wrong.
The first bait that Russ and Barry designed for Gambler was a 7-inch ribbontail worm because they needed a ribbontail worm that you could cast around reeds and cover. With other worms, the tail would wrap around the vegetation and break. Theirs had a beefed-up tail.
Russ also developed the paddletail worm, which has been around for 17 or 18 years. Now, there's not a bait company out there that doesn't have a paddletail worm.
I remember flying to New Orleans for the 1999 Classic with Russ when Davy Hite was leading. Davy caught all his fish on the Gambler Bacon Rind, which was a new bait. When Davy won the Classic, Russ was thrilled. Russ was just as proud when he found out that Mike Iaconelli used a Gambler paddletail worm to win the 2003 Classic.
Iaconelli stated that he used a Mann’s prototype swim worm, however Russ & I knew 100% positively that it was our 5” Gambler paddletail (now known as Flapp’n Tail) worm. All of the pictures in the magazines are our bait. Even when he was in the studio on the Bassmaster show, we know he was showing our bait. Russ knew for a fact and was very proud to say that he helped in the design of two Bassmaster Classic winning baits.
Russ was a great friend and I will miss him dearly. He will be missed by so many people in this industry. The nice thing is, his ideas and baits will live forever.
Footnote by Gary.
I met Russ back in the early 90's when I was putting on a kids fishing tournament for a local bass club. When I started to tell Russ about the tournament, he said to count him in. And he was there for the kids from that point on. He felt that the kids were the future of bass fishing. Russ was a good friend.