Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Art of the Lure with Elissa Ruddick: The Viking Frog

Although little is known about the Viking Frog, thankfully the box top and patent give us a fairly short, but decent history. Oscar Christensen, a shoe repair man, whose shop was located in the front of his home at 320 Robert St. in Saint Paul, Minnesota, applied for a patent for his Viking Frog on Aug. 1, 1935. Patent number 2,047,768 was granted to Christianson for “The Look-Alive Bait” on July 14, 1936. The size of the patented lure is 4-1/2” in length, although a few 3-1/2” non-jointed leg versions have been found. It is not known if the smaller ones were actually made by Oscar, or possibly by other family members, but the similarities to the patented lure seem to be unmistakable. Oscar must have used items from his shoe repair business, such as the leather for the rear feet, as well as the little nails that were used on the underside to hold on the rear legs and on the sides to hold on the front hooks, that also doubled as front legs. Some had single hooks attached inside each front quadrant of the rear legs, making them four hook versions, while others had a single hook protruding from the center rear of the body, making them three hook versions. The rear legs were designed to spread out and back in while being retrieved, mimicking the natural action of a real live frog.

I don’t know if the Viking Frog turned out to be a fish catching bait, or a novelty, but from the company name on the box top, it looks like Oscar had it covered either way!

If you have any questions/comments, Elissa Ruddick can be reached at elissaruddick AT aol DOT com.

— Elissa Ruddick

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Friday Funhouse

The Video of the Week

This is a nice short video of the great Charles C. Ritz.

12 Things I Would Buy If Only i Could Afford Them

Holy moly is this Meek No. 3 tournament reel sweet!

This Eger bait in the box is attracting big time interest.

This Westchester Bug is incredible.

This B.C. Milam No. 3 is really great.

A Heddon bamboo rod in great condition will always find a good home.

A Heddon Bud Hi-Tail is a rare find.

Who doesn’t love a Pikaroon?

The Smithwick Gandy Dancer is a really underrated lure.

I love this Heddon Abbey & Imbrie Big Joe lure in the box.

The K&K Animated is one of the all-time classic lures.

Love this Knickerbocker tackle box.

This Pflueger Hawkeye is an awesome fly reel.

As always, have a great weekend, and be good to each other, and yourself.

— Dr. Todd

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Super Rare Creek Chub by Pat Washburn

I got the following note from Pat Washburn, an Ohio Creek Chub collector. The photos he sent in were of an amazing Creek Chub lure which I had not seen before. Here is his message:

As an avid antique lure collector, I constantly look at Joe's Old Lures Message Board and see your Fishing for History, which I very much enjoy.  As such, I have attached two pictures of a rare Creek Chub lure that you may want to include in "12 Things I Would Buy if Only I could Afford Them."  This is a mint #1910 Striper Strike in the amber flash color in the right box.  In his Creek Chub book, Harold Smith calls amber flash "the rarest of the Creek Chub colors." When I told him this summer at the NFLCC show in Ft. Wayne that I had found a #1910, he was amazed because he said that he had never seen this lure in this color even though it was a regular production color for the #1900 Striper Strike for several years.  So, I thought the readers of Fishing for History might like to see this.

I took the pictures in the large format on my digital camera so I believe that they are good enough quality for your online publication.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Wow! What a rare Creek Chub color! How cool. Thanks for sharing!

— Dr. Todd

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Fishing Advertisement: Old Gold Cigarettes (1939)

The Petty Girl became an American institution thanks to advertisements like this one, from the July 17, 1939 Saturday Evening Post. George Brown Petty IV was already well-known by this time (he began his series of "Petty Girls" for Esquire in 1933), but as he more finely honed his skill in pin-up air brush art, he would happen to peak at the exact right time, just as America was about to enter the Second World War. Few G.I.s did not have a Petty or Vargas print during those war years, art work produced specifically as pin-ups. But the earlier advertisements like this one show that the Petty style was already commonplace by the time the war began.

Interestingly, Petty (who used his daughter as the model for much of his art) maintained a hunting and fishing lodge near Hayward, Wisconsin, near where I grew up. While he was mostly interested in hunting, he did do some angling in those musky waters from time to time.

As for his artwork, I'll have to go with what George Lois, the famed art director at Esquire, once said: "I'm going on the record to swear that George Brown Petty IV consistently created better-designed women than God..."

-- Dr. Todd

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Voices from the Past: James Grant (1878)

There is nothing more delightful than coming across a reference to a fishing tackle maker in an unexpected place. In my “other job” as a history professor I try to keep up on recent research. A fairly recent book I picked up called Gwen Raverat: Friends, Family and Affections by Frances Spalding had been on my reading list for some time, as I waited for my recovered hard drive to boot I decided to read it. Raverat was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin and an active member of the Bloomsbury Group, as well as being a fine writer and artist in her own right. It’s a great biography enhanced by the fact on Page 9 we get this reference:

In 1878 James Grant, a fishing tackle maker, wrote to [Charles Darwin], wanting to know whether or not his discoveries had destroyed the evidence for God, as found in nature’s phenomena. Darwin’s reply is lost; but from Grant’s subsequent letter it is evident that Darwin had replied in a “kindly spirit” with a solution that neither upheld nor destroyed his correspondent’s beliefs but encouraged independent thought. “I do not feel,” Grant replied sadly, “that I can plan any reliance upon instinct or intuition in relation to the existence of God.”

Grant was one of the legendary Spey rod builders and, as the ad below from the book Grantown and the Adjacent Country: A Guide to Strathspey (1895) shows, active in all aspects of the tackle field. That he was an inquisitive and intelligent man goes without saying.

— Dr. Todd

Monday, September 15, 2014

In the News: A Love Letter to The Tirthan River in India

Occasionally a fishing story comes over the wires from an unexpected place. Such was the case about Diya Kohli’s “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish,” published in the New Indian Express. You’re always going to get my attention with a Douglas Adams reference, but it’s also a lovely tribute to a place most of us have never been: the Tirthan River in the Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh.

What’s neat about good fishing literature is that the location is interchangeable; Diya could have been writing about the St. Croix in Northern Wisconsin or the Mad River near Urbana, Ohio or the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. It’s just a lovely piece and well worth a read.

— Dr. Todd

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sunday at the Beach with Dr. Todd E.A. Larson: The Ostracod

Is there anything more full of wonder than a child at the beach? Underneath the waves is an entire world waiting to be discovered. Join us every Sunday for a day at the beach, and learn more about the aquatic world!

Fish that shoot laser beams? According to this article it's brought about by one of the most spectacular defensive displays of any creature in the ocean.

Actually, it's not the fish that produces this bioluminescence, it's a tiny flat crustacean known as the ostracod. Certain species of ostracods produce luminescent chemicals commonly called "blue sand" or "blue tears" and when eaten by certain fish, like the translucent cardinalfish above, these ostracods release this glowing chemical in order to attract predators so they won't be preyed upon any more. The cardinalfish, sensing how dangerous it would be to be lit up in a totally darkened environment, spits out the ostracod, resulting in the fireworks above.

A typical ostracod.

Another example of the supreme coolness of nature!

To learn more about ostracods, click here.

-- Dr. Todd

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Friday Funhouse

The Video of the Week

This is a super cool vintage video of marlin fishing in New Zealand by the IGFA.

12 Things I Would Buy If Only i Could Afford Them

Who wouldn’t like a Turner Spider?

This is one cool tackle box full of stuff.

Kind of really like this Abbey & Imbrie JVH reel.

This Heddon #606 is a-ok.

This Nixon Aristocrat is really cool.

A Hornet Lure metal sign is a nifty find.

Ever see a minnow trap this big before?

Any J.B. Crook reel is a rare find.

This is a gorgeous Tiny Tim.

This is a genuinely beautiful old unknown fishing lure..

Love these Fish Orenos in the box.

Bet you didn’t know a Kencor 7’ Crappie rod would be worth this much.

As always, have a great weekend, and be good to each other — and yourself!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dr. Todd Goes Pier Fishing: Part II – We're Gonna Need A Bigger Pier

Dr. Todd Goes Pier Fishing, or How I (Almost) Helped Win The ORCA Antique Tackle Fishing Tournament

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson

©2014 The Fishing for History Blog

Part II: We're Gonna Need A Bigger Pier

As others struggled to put together their jury rigged fishing outfits, we noticed the elderly couple next to us was having great success, pulling in one Spanish Mackerel after another. We asked their secret and they told us the fish were only about four feet under the water, so Butch would only let the bait sink up to where the mono leader met the linen line, and was soon rewarded with the first fish of the day, an eight inch mackerel. It was a pretty suave catch considering he had to set the hook by pulling the line with his hand.

A nice elderly couple landed about 30 mackerel, and took home nearly all the mackerel the ORCA crown caught to boot.

I decided to rig up the spinning rod. The ca. 1960 DAM Quick reel had about 20 pound test vintage mono which was about as stiff as a piano wire, but I was still able to do something few others could do that day: cast the line out. My first cast actually resulted in a fish.

Proof positive that I can indeed catch fish.

A close up of my 7 inch mackerel.

Pleased with the results, I passed the rod on to another ORCAn. Over the course of the next hour or so, a number of fish were caught, mostly in the eight to ten inch range. Butch and Paul Berinson also managed to catch Calico Bass, which are very beautiful fish. Anglers down the pier caught a couple of Guitar Fish, a type of ray. Several anglers were keeping their mackerel alive in buckets with battery powered aerators. We were told these fish made incredible live bait.

Butch became quite proficient at utilizing this pool cue rig to catch miniature fish.

We even caught a few beautiful Calico Bass.

As I watched these fishermen a thought occurred to me. With this many bait fish (there were massive clouds of anchovies everywhere), there just had to be a shark somewhere out there. I mentioned this to Clay Hood, who agreed and began to rig up the E.M. Holm surf rod (paired with the Penn trade reel) with a heavy sinker and a larger hook. I grabbed one of the smaller mackerel of around five inches, Clay baited the hook, and lowered the rig down to the bottom on the other side of the pier.

Clay Hood lowering down the mackerel bait below the peer. Remember later his thumb placement on the reel.

It was turning into a lovely day as we chatted about Clay’s tournament fishing history – he’s a really seasoned fishing vet who fished the Bassmaster Classic – when all of a sudden he noticed his bait going crazy on the bottom. As he began to reel the mackerel in, the rod quickly bent doubled and then suddenly snapped back. “Shark,” Clay said, as he reeled in the slack line. Sure enough, the line had been cut a foot above the hook.

The E.M. Holm rod in action.

Something big lurked below the waters of the Shelter Island pier.

Undaunted, Clay rummaged through Brian Funai’s tackle box and found a steel leader, which he tied on. The problem was that, for some reason, the mackerel being caught were all around ten inches, twice the size of the original one Clay had used. Having no other choice, I brought a 10 inch mackerel over and Clay hooked it up to his rig and tossed it under the pier.

From Butch’s hands onto Clay’s hook went this nice mackerel.

Over an hour passed with no sign of a fish. We passed the time talking fishing reels, of course, and noted the primitive nature of reels like the Penn Deep Sea Angler model. It had no anti-reverse, no free spool mechanism, no drag, and was the very definition of a simple winch. It did not even have a leather thumb drag like most of the saltwater reels of the 1920s and 1930s.

Biding the time …

It was fascinating to recognize that the rod's maker E.M. Holm had spent time fishing these very waters back in the 1920s and 1930s; the blurb above shows he visited the Tuna Club, as reported by the Catalina Islander on August 31, 1939. He built a number of rods for the Hollywood elite including silent film actor Tom Trento.

As Clay lifted the minnow off the bottom, once again the Holm rod bent to the butt. For a second or two, I thought that he had hooked up, but once again the rod snapped back to straight and the line went slack. I thought he had been cut off, but when he pulled his line up, all that remained of that mackerel was a head cut off at the gills.

Clay looks at amazement at what remains of the mackerel.

Clay smiles for Richard Lodge as I implore him to put the bait back in the water.

“Throw the head back in!” I implored, knowing the fish was probably still down there. Clay dutifully dropped the line, and no more than two seconds after it hit the water, his line went from vertical to horizontal in an instant.

In all my days of fishing, I have never seen a fish hit so fast and so hard as the shark that hammered Clay Hood’s bait on that San Diego pier. The visual evidence was striking; since the Penn had no anti-reverse, the handle spun like a windmill in a hurricane. I had heard the term “knuckle buster” many times in conjunction with these old saltwater reels, but this was the first time I had ever seen exactly what they meant by it. Anyone foolish enough to try and grab the handle when a fish like this hits would have broken fingers in a heartbeat.

The only way to stop the fish was to thumb the line, and Clay dutifully planted his thumb on the revolving spool as the shark ran directly under the pier. The Holm surf rod bent to the butt, the reel sizzled, and then it was all over but the shouting. The shark had wrapped itself around the pier on the far side and threw the hook. In three seconds that fish had taken a hundred feet of line, which if my math is not off, is around 23 miles per hour. That’s a fast fish, folks, and a speed easily reached by Shortfin Mako and Blue Sharks, both commonly found in the area. I’m not saying it was either of these species, but there can be no doubt it was a shark of some kind that hit that mackerel.

As we stood in stunned silence, some joker in the back quipped, “we’re gonna need a bigger pier.”

It was insane. I have never, and likely will never, ever see such a vicious strike, especially in conjunction with a vintage tackle rig. The whirring of that Penn reel’s handle is an indelible memory.

Later that day, as we listened to Catalina Tuna Club historian Michael Farrior discuss the history of that esteemed organization, he noted that injuries on Catalina were so common in the first part of the 20th century from “knuckle busters” that there was a medical clinic on site to take care of the injured anglers. I looked back as soon as he said this and saw Clay staring at his thumb, which was developing a nice blister from his attempts to stop the rampaging shark. We both smiled.

So my first attempt at pier fishing was a memorable experience. Not surprisingly, Butch Carey won the contest with a 10.5” Spanish mackerel, fitting for someone with a lot of pier fishing experience. But despite the fact that everyone caught fish, it was the one that got away, once again, that formed the best memory. Having cobbled together fishing outfits from the most mismatched vintage tackle you could find, we were still able to catch fish, and have fun doing it.

That sort of the point of all this, isn’t it? And to think, I nearly helped win the 2014 ORCA Antique Tackle Fishing Tournament.

I don’t think for a minute that I am not already developing a plan to help (almost) win the 2015 edition …

— Dr. Todd



What do you get when you turn a Midwestern college professor loose on the Bassmaster Classic & Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana? You get Lost on the Bayou, the interesting and funny memoir of a whirlwind trip to the Delta to witness one of the greatest gatherings of bass fanatics in history. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to see the Bassmaster Classic Expo from the other side – the side of the vendors and celebrity anglers – this book is for you. From anecdotes about some of the great bass anglers of all-time (including Glen Lau and Billy & Bobby Murray) to inside analysis of some of the great anglers on the B.A.S.S. tour today to inside details of some of the major tackle companies, this is much more than a “fish out of water” memoir, it’s a subtle and detailed commentary on the state of bass fishing in America.

Purchasers of this book will also be entitled to a free download for reading on tablets, phones, etc. You will receive instructions on how to claim your COLOR digital copy when your books ships.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dr. Todd Goes Pier Fishing: Part I – The Iron Angler

Dr. Todd Goes Pier Fishing, or How I (Almost) Helped Win The ORCA Antique Tackle Fishing Tournament

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson

©2014 The Fishing for History Blog

Part I: The Iron Angler

I knew the 2014 ORCA nationals, held from September 3rd through the 6th, would be something special from the moment I stepped on the airplane at the Cincinnati airport. Flying today is at best uncomfortable and at worst unbearable, particularly if, like me, you fly what the airlines generously call “economy.” There are many bad things about flying economy – no leg room, cramped seats, horrible television screens that can't be turned off ¬– but the worst is having to walk through first class as you board the plane. This is uncomfortable for everyone, as us economy folk look in envy at all the space in the first class cabin knowing we’ll soon be packed like sardines, while the first class passengers always seem to have a slight look of guilt on their faces as they steadfastly try to avoid eye contact with the hoi polloi as we are ushered to the back of the cattle car.

I am rarely on a plane these days that is not completely sold out, and my flight to San Diego is no exception. Since I booked late I could not get an aisle seat and was not looking forward to spending several hours stuck between a rock and a hard place. I dutifully plopped down in my middle seat next to a nice lady as I await the former NFL linebacker who will, undoubtedly, take the aisle seat next to me (and all of the arm rest). But a funny thing happened. The seat remains empty. Even as the stewards announce final boarding, unbelievably, the seat is unfilled. One of the stewardesses asks if anyone is sitting in the empty aisle seat. “I will be in about six seconds,” I say as I unbuckle, lift the arm rest, and slide over. For the next several hours I have two seats to myself (the lady on the window seat was already asleep and blissfully unaware of this incredible stroke of good fortune). I can only imagine the looks I am getting from my fellow economy passengers. I wouldn’t know. I steadfastly avoid eye contact with anyone for the remainder of the flight, as I stretch out like a Turkish pasha luxuriating on the royal divan.

The San Diego convention was held at the Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island right on the harbor and conveniently located about three minutes from the San Diego airport. My gloriously comfortable flight arrives an astounding 45 minutes early, and I am in the hotel by eleven a.m. Check in is supposed to be at three. Not on my lucky streak it isn't. A very friendly employee gets me a room overlooking the harbor with no wait. Unbelievably, I am unpacked and lounging on the deck while looking over the pool about the same time my flight was supposed to land.

This is going to be a hell of a show.

The view from my balcony. Tough life these San Diegans lead.

Dr. John Elder and Brian Funai are the show hosts and over the next three days everything will run so perfectly that it is almost surreal. This is one of those things that cannot be attributed to luck. There is so much hard work that goes into making sure that everything runs smoothly it is incredible, and all credit goes to John and Brian and the rest of the ORCA volunteers.

The show itself is memorable in every way. In all my years of collecting I have never seen so many rare reels in one place. Ever. Everything else – the weather, the food, the friendship, the speakers – was beyond expectations. It was incredible.

But this is not a story of the show itself. If it was I'd have to write tens of thousands of words about the late dinners with left coast denizens Terry Ow, Joe Connors, Dennis Buranek, and Steve Ellis; I'd spend days describing the lunches with Bob Douglas, Larry Lauve, Bud Chaddock, and others; I am not sure I could even begin to capture how much fun room trading was in Dave Gaustad’s room (where I bought two beautiful tiny brass reels for my little reel collection), or the meet-and-greets where Clay Hood, Randy Anderson, Willis Logan, and so many others dazzled us with rare and unique reels. As for the speakers? Alan Barracco, Nello Armstrong, and Colby Sorrels gave a brilliant talk on San Diego’s own Langley Corporation; Dan Brock dazzled with his display of mostly unseen West coast reels; Dennis Buranek gave a brilliant talk on Thompson fly reels; and as if that was not enough, Catalina Tuna Club historian, outstanding writer, and all around good guy Michael Farrior detailed the history of this legendary organization. Amazing.

But this is not a story about those memorable experiences. No, this is a story about fishing; pier fishing to be exact. This is an aspect of the sport of which I have almost no experience. Growing up in the Northland we have what you might call dock fishing, but this compares to pier fishing in the same way that sledding in your back yard compares to skiing in the alps.

Why I am pier fishing is an interesting question. Every year ORCA holds a vintage tackle fishing contest. The San Diego nationals posed a couple of problems when it came to this staple of the convention. First, there is no freshwater fishing within reasonable distance of downtown San Diego suitable for such a contest. Second, since it was on the West coast, lots of members would not be able to fly out with the requisite fishing tackle necessary for the salt.

Lots of wildlife, including Pelicans and (in the water) a cormorant that continued stealing bait from a pair of fisherman.

Enter Brian Funai. Brian is a native of Hawaii and well versed in all kinds of saltwater fishing. He helped put together the fishing kit (including apparently buying a bag of frozen seafood so we would have squid to fish with) so we would have the necessary terminal tackle for the contest. So at least half the battle was solved by Brian’s preparation.

But where to fish? The only suitable place to hold the contest was the Shelter Island fishing pier (the only one on the island by the way) and so dutifully on Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. I arrived to see what this pier fishing was all about.

Alas, only a couple of ORCAns brought their own gear; the Langley crew (not a surprise there, these guys are prepared for anything). What about the rest of us unfortunate souls? Well, the intrepid Dr. Elder brought us out a bundle of rods and a bag of reels from his room. Added to Funai’s tackle bag and Nello Amrstrong’s tackle box we could now go fishing. But not like any fishing I'd ever experienced before, however.

There is a famous television show called The Iron Chef. The premise of this show is to present contestants with a small set of bizarre ingredients (such as squid and spinach) and then force them to try and make an edible four course meal out of it. What was happening on that pier in San Diego turned out to be the pilot for a new show: The Iron Angler. Only instead of food, we were presented with completely mismatched rods, reels, and lines and were then expected to catch fish with it. To top it off, recall this mishmash was composed of tackle mostly ninety or more years old.

Butch Carey (wearing the "are you kidding me" look on his face) and Brian Funai (seated) go through Brian’s fishing kit. Paul Berinson, with his back to us, is ready to hit the salt.

Let's discuss the rods first. All but two were vintage boat rods. For those who don't know, a vintage boat rod is a pool cue with as few as two guides designed to literally drag a fish out of the water. It bends about as easily as a baseball bat. They are about as useful for pier fishing as a microwave on Mt. Everest. There were only two non-boat rods in the mix; one was a really willowy bamboo spinning rod of about seven feet, and the other a really neat surf rod hand made by E.M. Holm of Los Angeles. It was a surprisingly collectable rod stuck amidst the other falderal John had brought us.

This E.M. Holm “Grain Split Tonkin” hand-finished rod made in Los Angeles in the 1930s.

If the rods were a bizarre mixture, so were the reels. There was a Penn trade reel marked Deep Sea Angler from around 1936, a Fox Gun Company surf reel, a Pflueger Interocean, and a couple of other similarly antiquated reels. Most still had the original line put on in the 1920s or 1930s. There was also an old DAM Quick spinning reel with some ancient monofilament on it as stiff as frozen piano wire and just as brittle.

Fortunately for us we had Butch Carey, a Floridian and self-described “Pier Rat” in his younger days. Butch knows his way around pier fishing and together we cobbled together a pool cue boat rod and a 250-yard surf reel filled with some ancient linen line to make a serviceable fishing instrument. I tied about six feet of monofilament from Nello Armstrong’s tackle box with a blood knot to the 18-thread line, put on a #8 Gamakatsu hook to the mono leader, and a single split shot. Baited with a piece of squid, Butch was able to lower the line over the side of the pier and into the water. Over time he perfected a method of setting the hook with his hand; he would have made a fine aboriginal fisherman, as it turns out.

The ORCA gang matching up boat rods and ancient reels. To say we got strange looks from the regulars would be an understatement.

We were just a few in a long line of pier anglers.

The 2014 ORCA Vintage Tackle Contest was on!

Tomorrow: We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Pier …

— Dr. Todd