Collectors Bite on Fishing Lures

By Henry J. Pratt
 Nearly 170 years ago, a Vermont fisherman—Julio T. Buel—accidentally dropped a kitchen spoon in a near-by river, only to watch in awe as a pan-sized trout swallowed it and swam merrily away.
 Just exactly when fishing-lure manufacturing got started in the U.S. is unknown, but Buel received the first fish-lure patent in 1852. His breakthrough in lure research enabled Buel to build a successful factory in Whitehall, N.Y., and his early metal lures can be seen in a museum there today.
 Following lucky Buel’s early lead, thousands of fishermen through the years have filed patents for their own sure-fire fishing lures. Harry Comstock’s wooden-bodied Flying Helgramite looked like a deranged insect. Archer Wakeman’s Skeleton Bait resembled a miniature helicopter with sharp barbs attached.
 Several of the old fish-lure companies started making their authentic baits from cedar, on hand-operated lathes. Later, the lures were primecoated to prevent them from swelling and cracking when they got wet. Factory workers then painted the lures and attached hooks. Gill marks were added around the lure’s face, and the eyes, usually made of glass, were imported from Germany.
 “The old lures had a lot more character than the plastic ones most fishermen use today,” says Paul Caruso, an enthusiastic lure collector. While running only a modest fishing tackle store in New England, Caruso last year paid $5,500 for an old Miller’s Reversible Minnow. Two years earlier, a rare Haskell Minnow sold for $20,350, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
 Today, collectors everywhere are biting on old fishing lures as they become big business in the burgeoning field of popular collectibles. There’s even a national fish lure club with more than 3,000 members, along with several new lure collectible books on the market. A National Fishing  Tackle Museum is open to the public in Arcadia, Oklahoma, but paradoxically, has had few visitors so far.
 When it comes to biting on old fish lures, Seth Rosenbaum, a New York computer consultant, has a bigger appetite than Alaska’s King Salmon.  He has accumulated about 20,000 of the fish-fooling gadgets, worth a small fortune and then some.
 Some of Rosenbaum’s artificial lures resemble natural baits, such as mice or minnows. Others have been hammered from metal or chiseled from wood into delicious-looking bait morsels. Lures of every color and description line the walls of the collector’s walk-in closet, spill over onto his kitchen counter or lie on Rosenbaum’s living-room floor in a tangled but very valuable mumbo-jumbo of hooks, sinkers, feathers and bobbers.
 Many fish-lure makers in yesteryear had a sense of the whimsy, the exotic, and even entrapment. There are barebreasted Mermaid lures, baits shaped like miniature beer bottles, and “cruel” lures that keep live frogs trapped in place ready for hungry bass to hit and swallow.
 Lure trade names run from the pencil-shaped Woods PoppaDoodle to the Paw Paw Weedless Wow to the modern-day Dare Devil, Rooster Tail, and Mepps.
 One fish-lure bug says, “A lot of lures I collect now were surely designed to catch fishermen, not fish.” He adds, “The general public doesn’t care when a plug was made, but if the eyes blink or the legs kick, that’s entertainment and a catchy introduction to another good fish story.”
 Bob Lang, an engineering professor and cataloger of fishing memorabilia, says nostalgia—not practicality—is driving the old fish-lure market. “A lot of collectors are reliving their childhood,” Lang adds. “When they were kids, they’d walk into a sports shop, and gaze at all those exotic, wonderful fish lures with only 39 cents in their pockets.”
 Today, they can walk into a sporting goods store, and plunk down whatever it takes to buy the lures they like. Then, they try them in their favorite river, lake or stream and get ready to tell another tall tale about the big one that got away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *