|By Larry LeMasters
A famous fisherman, President Grover Cleveland, once said, “The community of fishermen constitutes a separate class or sub-race among the inhabitants of the earth.”
Many people have observed this sub-race standing knee deep in mountain streams or broiling in a johnboat under a scorching sun. But fisherman have an even more natural habitat: their workshops, where for more than 100 years, they have tinkered and toyed with thousands of variations on fish traps and lures, always trying to invent a better lure.
Many of the lures that fisherman made seemed designed to attract other fishermen, not fish. Feathers and gaudy eye-catching colors were the norm, but over time, realistic lures, that fish enjoyed biting, replaced the Victorian gaudy lures of old. But realistic lures soon gave birth to oddball lures designed to laugh fish to death as much as to catch them.
W. J. Jamison Company produced one of the most oddball of all lures — the Blatz beer bottle popper. This lure, known as the “Bass-Pop,” is highly collectible. Other companies also made beer bottle lures, and many of these lures were given away as promotional items by the company. Today, these beer bottle lures sell for as much as $85.
Not all oddball lures are genuine antiques. A case in point is the Shad-Quack lure available from BassPro Shops in the late 1980s. Resembling a mallard duck, the Shad-Quack is an attractive duck-shaped fishing lure. The Shad-Quack and Jennings Decoy Company of St. Cloud, Minn., made these flighty lures. The Shad-Quack sold new for $1.25 but now brings $50 or more if found mint with box.
As oddball lures go, nothing is more oddball than the Marathon Muskrat Muskie lure. Believed to have been made by Marathon Bait Company around 1970, this ratty lure has bead eyes, a cord tail, and real fur. If you are lucky enough to find one, be prepared to pay about $85 for it.
Ever wonder if the fish or chicken you eat in a Chinese buffet is actually cat? Here’s an oddball lure that seems to answer the question. The “Hong Kong Mouse,” produced by Paw Paw, has a single treble hook, a plastic lip, a rope tail, and protruding ears. It looks exactly like a mouse, ending forever the debate about the Chinese buffet. These rodent lures sell for about $30.
Paw Paw also produced the PP Wotta-Frog lures, which varied in size — some have glass eyes and others a reversing diving lip. Produced in the 1950s and ’60s, some PP Wotta-Frog lures had glass eyes and others a reversing diving lip, and, today, they sell for around $100.
Over the years, many manufacturers have produced frog-styled lures. An early example is the Luny Frog made by Heddon in 1927. Heddon advertised the Luny Frog as a solid Pyralin (a type of plastic material) lure that is “practically indestructible.” In good condition, a Luny Frog costs about $125.
Another frog lure worth collecting is the Harrison-Hoge SuperFrog. These frogs were produced in black, brown, yellow, white, and green, so collecting all of them can prove demanding. Look to pay $25 to $60, depending on condition and packaging.
While the list of frog lures appears endless, one worth looking for is the Brady “Fish Dinner” frog lure. Advertised by the W. H. Brady Company of acting “more like a frog than a frog,” this lure, with box, costs around $175.
Another type of oddball lure worth mentioning is the fish decoy. Spear fishermen often use fish decoys to attract fish. The earliest examples of fish decoys that are known are Eskimo in origin, and some of these are believed to be more than 1000 years old. While most decoys are fish, one oddball is the turtle decoy. The one shown here (manufacturer unknown) is about 5-inches in length with tack eyes, leather tail, and four metal legs. It uses a slip type weight. Most fish decoys were handmade, so makers are unknown. It is easy to see how these decoys became the inspiration for lures. In some cases, such as the minnow shown here, simply adding a hook was all that was needed to create a lure.
Spring loaded fish lures act more like a bear trap than a lure, but they are ingenious in their cruelty. The Kridler Fish Lure, manufactured by Phillip W. Kridler of Detroit, Mich., during World War II, is a fine example of a spring-loaded lure. When the fish pulls on the lure, four spring-loaded hooks fly out of the lures’ body, impaling the fish. The lure is only 3-inches in length and cost about $500 per inch or $1,500.
An oddball among oddballs is the automatic fish hook (actually more of a trap than a hook), the only fish hook that I know of that incorporated two mirrors into its design. According to William Zeigler, “A fish seeing his image upon looking [into the mirror] therein will appear to see another fish approach” the bait. The fish, not wanting to lose the bait will strike before the approaching fish can. Watch for automatic fish hooks wherever you go since they are valued at more than $5,000 on today’s secondary market. While the manufacturer of these lures is not known, the box is clearly marked “Automatic Fish Hook” if you are lucky enough to find a box. The lure itself is stamped PAT. PEND.
I suppose that fishing tackle and lures hold a soft spot in my heart because, like many an American boy, I grew up fishing with my dad. We lived along the Missouri River, and often fished backwater lakes and ponds for bullheads or sunfish. One of my most prized possessions is an old Shakespeare rod and reel that I bought for a birthday present for my father in the early 1960s. I saved money earned from a paper route to buy them. Dad never used them much since we mainly fished with a pole, a bobber, and a worm. But he always kept them nearby to show other anglers what I had bought him. Sometimes a gift is more than just a gift.
Like many of you, I look at old fishing tackle and lures in every antique shop or auction I go to. Special memories always float back when one sees a lure from the past, and this is especially true if one sees an oddball lure that makes one wonder how many fish have laughed at fishermen’s efforts over the years.