The Incredible Displays
There are many, many reasons to attend NFLCC Nationals--the comraderie, the fellowship, the downright fun you see all around you. Trust me, I didn't see very many unhappy faces. But there is also the fishing tackle that literally surrounds you on all sides, setting you adrift in an ocean of delights.
Of all the people I know in the hobby of collecting, there are few I respect more than those who take the time and effort to put together educational displays that benefit all of us. Some of these stalwarts put together a display and show it once or twice in their lives, making their displays like those rare museum exhibits that command headlines in the mainstream media. Others are so adept at these educational displays that they show their works every year, or in the case of someone like Dan Basore, set up a traveling display to educate the masses far and wide.
The NFLCC Nationals has a display competition that is, in reality, not really a competition at all. I dare anyone to explain to me how any of these wonderful displays, lovingly put together over years of collecting and arranged in aesthetically pleasing arrangements for all to enjoy, have lost at anything. I am not sure about much in life, but one thing I am positive about is that all of these displays are winners in every sense of the word.
So for the nominal price of registration, we fortunate members of the NFLCC are privy to walk the halls of fishing history in the form of rows of displays of every conceivable shape and form. These "competition displays"--a term I use to differentiate from the often awe-inspiring displays set up on almost every table--run the gamut from modern (e.g. Bagley) to antique (e.g. Chapman). Every single one I looked at, and I studied them all, had a host of merits and contributed to my knowledge of the history of fishing.
I truly wish I could explore in depth each of the exhibits at the show, but unfortunately I can only survey a sampling of them. Many of them touched on subjects of which I am a veritable neophyte. Take for example the Bagley display. I have fished with Bagleys, have owned a number of them, but have only a superficial knowledge of them. But the following display showed just how much I have to learn about Bagley lures.
As a Minnesota boy who spent his summers in the backwoods of Northern Wisconsin, I have always found Florida lures to be a universe of their own. There are so many permutations and nuances to collecting Florida tackle that I am in awe of those who can keep it all straight. One of the best at this art is Ron Gast, whose Florida display was a thing of absolute beauty. I was particularly taken by the display of Earl Parker Gresh, the master woodsmith and lure maker.
Big-time metal lure collectors are sometimes referred to as collecting "heavy metal." As a collector of old metal baits myself, I am probably best referred to as the "medium metal" guy. In the world of metal there is none heavier than Chapman. The following display of Chapman metal is so good and comprehensive that it is amazing.
Jerry Soete brought an example of just what is so great about NFLCC Nationals. His display of Kentucky-made lures and tackle, with an emphasis on the Falls City Bait Company, was very educational as many people have this tackle in their collections but know next to nothing about them.
Another such example was the display of Gateway fishing tackle. Gateway was a distributor out of St. Louis, Missouri that trafficked in a huge number of tackle through their mail order business. They are probably best known to Creek Chub collectors for their line of Shur Strike baits.
The following are Carl Schaum's displays of Strikemaster and Sure Catch lures and they further illustrate how these displays can educate us on tackle that is not uncommon but that most collectors are ill informed.
Creek Chub Bait Company was well represented at the show, and the following two displays would make even the most grizzled old timer smile.
In any competition, someone must come away as a winner. The show judges had a difficult task, as they had to judge not only the breadth and comprehensiveness of the displays, but also their educational component and aesthetic qualities. When all was said and done, the display of Wisconsin fishing tackle put together by Chris Slusar won best in show.
It is very, very difficult to argue with this decision. Knowing a bit about Wisconsin tackle myself, I feel confident in declaring that this is the single greatest display of Badger State Tackle ever put together under one roof. The comprehensiveness of Slusar's exhibit is what impressed me the most. Whether it was the Wisconsin trade tackle from John Pritzlaff or William Frankfurth, tackle from the big merchants like Carrie Frost and Marathon, or musky lures from Tony Burmek and James A. Lind, very little was missing. I even saw a K-B Box that I hadn't seen before, and that is quite a feat as my family has been collecting K-B for twenty years and my brother knows the former owners of the Superior Door Catch Company. You simply could not spend just five or ten minutes looking over the display--you could look at it for hours. The best part was the overwhelming attention to detail, whether it was the chronologically correct display of Burmek boxes or the photo of former striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, famous for her Wisconsin musky fishing trips. It was an astounding display worthy of the highest praise.
All of these amazing exhibits got me thinking (a dangerous thing, I admit). What I think we ought to do is to reconsider the meaning of the NFLCC Nationals. It is not just the single best place to meet old and make new collecting friends, it isn't only the best place (by far) to buy and sell old fishing tackle, it is something far more grand. NFLCC Nationals is the greatest museum display of the history of fishing and fishing tackle ever brought together under one roof. And the best part is that it changes from year to year, adding to our knowledge by leaps and bounds.
If that isn't a reason to attend NFLCC Nationals, I don't know what is.
Coming Tuesday: How to Add to your Collection on Less than $50 a Day