Sunday, April 29, 2007

Lang's Discovery Auction Review

I am pleased to present a review of Lang's recent discovery auction, written by J.K. Garrett. It is a beautiful piece and I very much thank Jim for penning this.

Anyone wishing to contribute a report/piece/editorial/commentary/research to this blog can contact me at


Albert Einstein and the Lang's Discovery Auction


J.K. Garrett

Albert Einstein observed that time can be a malleable commodity, stretching and compressing as the speed of an object varies in relationship to the speed of light. His views on time fluctuations at Lang's Discovery Auction are not recorded as he was not widely known to have been a dedicated tackle collector plus the fact that he has long since been deceased. I can report to you that the three hours allotted to review over 1000 heaps, piles, stacks, and boxes of tackle and tackle-related ephemera seemed to pass by in the same equivalent time it would take to barbecue a steak, medium rare. However time is measured, three hours is not long enough to properly examine 1000 plus lots of tackle.

The most beneficial, and at the same time difficult, aspect of the Discovery Auction is that only people attending the auction can view and bid on the items. There is no catalog, with items lovingly photographed, to peruse at leisure days beforehand. There are no pictures on eBay to puzzle over and prioritize and snipe at. There is only a list, available at the door for $3, which provides the skimpiest of lot descriptions. To my certain knowledge, unscrupulous attendees have tried to gain early access to Discovery lots the night before the auction as they were being unloaded from trucks by attempting to bribe, threaten and cajole John or Debbie Ganung. No one to my knowledge has been successful in this or any other attempt to gain unfair advantage. Not with John. Not with Debbie. Not once. Not ever.

When the doors open at eight o’clock a large cavernous room unfolds before you. Rows and columns of seats are located in the front with the auctioneer's podium foremost. In back of the chairs are long tables overflowing with tackle, the floor under the tables is inhabited by cardboard boxes of every size and shape. The lots are numbered sequentially, each lot composed of from one item (like a Kentucky reel) to several tackle boxes containing hundreds of items. You enter the swarming throng of other Discoverees overwhelmed by the universe of unexamined tackle knowing there will not be, cannot possibly be, enough time to give each lot the attention it deserves. What is amazing is how courteous these people are with each other. Many are strangers to each other, some are old friends or enemies, men and women, old and young, large, medium and small, and some who are not sure or care which category they fall in. However, without exception each one is in a great hurry to begin the search for treasure.

To compete effectively, what is needed is a plan and a friend. My plan was to concentrate primarily on reels at the Discovery Auction, though we avidly collect all categories of tackle. My reasons are these: If an item were both rare and valuable, as well as in good shape, it would properly be placed in the catalog auction. Although I dearly love and collect many lures that are imperfect, they are purchased in the hope that some day they can be upgraded. No one I know would be satisfied with a whole collection of place holders. Rare and valuable reels in the Discovery Auction, on the other hand, may only be missing an end cap or have a filed footplate or be missing screws. I know there are purest, conservative collectors who are horrified at the prospect of altering a reel in any way from the condition found. But I tell you truly I can not be made to admire an individual who would deny an otherwise beautiful old reel the proper identical part that is missing or broken to make it whole again.

I pass by boxes with only recently manufactured reels or only common reels, or boxes that have only broken or corroded reels with only the memory of their perfect beginnings. I go from one lot to the next, reaching across tables, squatting on the floor amidst the boxes, pardoning my way through the throng, allowing access to those who ask it or merely need it. Herein lies my advantage, my edge over most of the other people I see: I use both hands to search through the items and softly dictate the details of my discoveries to my faithful friend, my helpmate, my wife. Others must keep a list in one hand, pencil between their teeth, and reserve the other hand for the search. The freedom of movement this gives me helps my speed enormously and the expanded detail I am able to record on deserving lots will pay big dividends.

Let’s be clear. This is my tackle obsession (there is no other fitting word), not any interest in tackle on the part of my wife that has led us to this place. She has volunteered to accompany me to this unexceptional and remote corner of Massachusetts. The long drive, expensive accommodations and purchases, the hours of boredom for her, the sorting and packing, constitute the search for my Holy Grail, not hers. The results of this crusade will leave her unimpressed and exhausted. And yet here she is again, helping me in every way she can think of, just as she has helped me in the past. In this fluorescent-lit unromantic cavernous room, amidst these piles of used and often dirty and oil encrusted reels, dressed more for hard work than appearance, she has never been more beautiful to me. I have never loved her more than in that moment.

As I side step down the aisles, paper lots are another category I spend valuable time considering. I covet the knowledge, the information, the data they contain, regardless of the stains or smudges or smears as long as their secrets are intact. My goal is to make it as quickly as possible through the 1000 plus lots so I can have time to refine and prioritize my choices. Deliberations are made in chairs near the front my wife has marked with our names on paper tags. Other people use different strategies, sitting at the back of the room where they can keep an eye on other bidders and flash their bidder’s cards quickly so others will have difficulty knowing who their competition is. I care only about making certain that the auctioneer cannot miss my raised card. I will leave the card up until either I have won, or the price has passed me by. I take two aspirins to quiet the mutterings of dissatisfied muscles and joints unaccustomed to the awkward positions required during my search. The free coffee provided by the Ganungs is restorative and deeply appreciated. Three hours equals one hundred eighty minutes equals ten thousand eight hundred seconds has flown by and I am finally ready, barely, for the auction to begin.

My first win comes early with lot 6. It is a group of seven reels including a Yale German Silver No. 88 King Duz-Wine in the correct box. The footplate has some solder but that can be repaired or the footplate replaced, as I have a beater version at home. There is also a Montague Catalina in the lot in excellent condition. The lot goes for only $95. This is a great start.

Lot 58 has thirty reels, including two nice Meisselbachs and a Hendryx I need. The bidding ends at $115.

Lot 177 has ten reels, including a huge wooden Meisselbach ball bearing reel in excellent condition. The lot goes for $155.

Lot 285, seven reels including an Airex Vic reel in correct box. The reel is hard enough to find in decent shape, the box impossible. $150

Lot 315 is a German Silver version of a Yale fly reel. It is almost identical to reels produced earlier by Rochester/Carlton. $120.

Lot 406 consists of 10 reels, among them a Montague Gulf, 100 yd hard rubber reel I need. The lot is sold for $125.

Lot 414 has a Meisselbach Neptune in the correct box, a print block, and a line spool. It goes for a mere $55.

Lot 481 contains twenty miscellaneous lures and a mix of early paper, including a Meisselbach advertising sheet, a trade card from Hall Line Works and a damaged Jamison trade card. My bid of $150 takes the lot.

Lot 570 contains four reels, two knives as well as a large, spring-loaded metal bobber in the original box with instructions. This lot goes for $100.

Lot 714 contains eleven reels including a raised pillar Kiffe Reel. It is not perfect now but I hope to make it so. The lot goes for $45.

When the Discovery Auction ends, I have won 18 lots containing reels, lures, paper, gaffs, floats and other miscellaneous unidentified items buried in the boxes, perhaps known only to God. The buyer’s fee must still be added to the hammer price but I know I have done well, even so.

There are still two days of the catalog auction to come as well as the individual tables of tackle the attendees have brought for direct sale. I wish I could tell you that these auctions and table purchases were the end of my purchases on this trip. However, even as I sat in our room that night reviewing my purchases, I couldn’t help wondering what the occasional antique shop or flea-market might hold for me as we found our way, leisurely, home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

David Halberstam: Fisherman

David Halberstam: Fisherman

Like many, I was stunned by the news that David Halberstam--one of the greatest journalists of any generation--had passed away tragically in an automobile accident. There are any number of fitting tributes to Halberstam and his great career, but the one I appreciated most was by Jim Caple, an outstanding sports writer for In his fitting threnody entitled
A Tribute to My Hero, Caple rightly declares that "journalism is much the lesser with Halberstam's passing Monday morning in an auto accident."

What is easy to overlook is that Halberstam was a fisherman and a good fishing writer. My favorite fishing article of his was a moving piece entitled "Sea of Dreams" published a decade or so ago in Harper's Magazine. In it, Halberstam describes how important fishing was in his youth, how he gave it up for decades, and how he returned to it with a passion at the age of 60. "I," Halberstam declared, " with the awkwardness of one who has come late to the sport."

As he eloquently declared:

"Fishing runs deep in my blood; it has been a lifelong passion. I have come back to it, finding in it the pleasure that I remember from my childhood, as well as badly needed solace for a man whose life is beset by constant deadlines and equally constant pressures. My wife tells me that almost all of the things that make me happy are associated with being on the water."

Much of this great article centers on stories of fishing near Winsted, Connecticut--home of T.S. Skilton & Sons, a famed tackle manufacturer. The melancholy tone of the story can be understood when one considers the context of Halberstam's life; his brother, with whom he shared a close relationship, was murdered and thus much of the narrative surrounds the two brothers fishing and haunting "Rank's, Winsted's one tackle store. Mr. Rank...ran the only truly enchanted store in town. It was filled with the most beautiful bamboo rods imaginable and the lightest of reels." Halberstam continued:

"We were the ultimate careful shoppers, two boys showing up at least once a week, geared to make the most minute purchases as slowly as possible. Each of us would be armed with perhaps a dollar; more often than not, we ended up buying nothing grander than a packet of hooks with catgut leaders. But we always took out time, carefully studying all the items that were far beyond our means....Mr. Rank also sold the countless wonder plugs, or lures, that we saw pictured in the great fishing magazines of the time, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life. In both these monthlies were advertisements for these very same lures, complete with photos showing fishermen displaying strings of awesome bass, each one, it seemed, weighing more than ten pounds. I still remember plugs like the Heddon River Runt, whih lurched as it moved through the water; the Hawaiian Wiggler, a pickerel plug with interchangeable skirts; and the Jitterbug, on which I actually caught some bass."

Halberstam would return to writing about fishing again on's Page 2, in which he described a fly fishing trip to Patagonia in the context of the Super Bowl.

Halberstam was, of course, most noted for his Pulitzer Prize winning journalism that covered everything from Civil Rights and Vietnam to Ted Williams and Michael Jordan. But of everything I have read of his--and I have read a lot--the most personal piece was his ode to a lost brother and an increasingly distant youth spent fishing.

May he rest in peace, reunited again with his brother, a fishing rod, and the eternal hope that a fish will rise.

--Dr. Todd

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lang's Auction Report Part 2

Lang's Auction Spring 2007 has come to a close, and it was one for the books! Some unbelievable reels sold over the weekend, including three Philbrook & Paine reels that brought $12,000, $19,000, and $26,000 respectively. There were other shockingly high prices paid, in particular $9,000 for a marked Abercrombie & Fitch Talbot Ben-Hur fly reel. Some incredibly rare Kentucky reels sold, including Meek, Milam, Deally, Gale, and others. Several dozen fishing reels reached the four figure and up mark.

Perhaps the neatest lure to sell was a baby Haskell minnow, which came in at $18,500. An early Abbey & Imbrie "Octopus" wood slide-top box topped out at $4500; one must surmise that the bidder had the Samuel Friend lure for this box! Somewhat on the high end of the spectrum was a Hungry Jack in the box, which came in at $2000--I have seen them recently in the box for $1250-$1500. But not all lures sold on the high end; some lures were downright bargains. Some of the Chapman lures came in at a downright reasonable price, and even the exceptionally rare 1882 catalog was not oversold at $1900. An Eagle Claw fish trap sold for $450 when they have brought twice that much in the past. A PFlueger Kent Frog went for only $275.

I am awaiting a report on the Discovery Auction, and hope to have some first-hand accounts available later this week.

Congratulations to the Ganungs and to Lang's for another spectacular auction!

--Dr. Todd

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lang's Spring 2007 Auction, Part I

One of the most anticipated events of the year is Lang's Auction, held this week both live and over eBay. The first part of the auction results are in and there were some unbelievable items sold. Perhaps the finest Heddon collection to ever come to auction brought some stunning prices, including $3000 for a Leaping Bass HEddon store display, $3750 for another Leaping Bass display, $2400 for a 6-Pack Heddon Torpedo, and $11,250 for a Heddon Night Radiant with a charmer paint pattern. The Heddon reel collection was awesome, with several selling over $1000. If you don't think Heddon is king of the collecting world, keep in mind that well over EIGHTY Heddon lures reached over $1000, with many reaching the mid four figures (two Spin Divers went for $8000 each). Simply amazing stuff.

Fly rods always sell well, and a Carmichael 8.5 footer reached $3400, a 7" Leonard Hunt $3300, A nice collection of flies by Duncan sold in the range of $100-$400 per lot, as did lots from other prominent fly tiers.

A huge collction of items owned by Zane Grey brought crazy prices. Zane Grey's passport sold for $2000, 35 press photos of Grey with fish brought an astounding $5500, and lots of Grey's personal books brought upwards of $8000. Of particular interest to Grey aficianados were the manuscripts of fishing, one of which was a 90-page diary that sold for $8000.

Will update the Lang's auction again tomorrow, and will have some personal reports from people who were there next week.

Congratulation to the Ganungs for what is surely an unprecedented auction!

--Dr. Todd

Lang's Auction

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Saving Posted Information...

As many of you know, I am an advocate of saving as much information on fishing and outdoor history that is posted on-line as possible. Well, I have heard from a lot of you out there that this is also important to you.

If you have not read Steve Kuchman's post on Joe's Board, I suggest you do so.

Kuchman's Post

Any information posted on this board I will archive, and when I get some time, will post to the Fishing History blog to be saved and utilized.

By the way, anyone wishing to contribute a guest posting on my blog is welcome to do so! Just email me...

--Dr. Todd

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Review of March 2007 Reel News

A Review of The Reel News, Vol. XVII, No. 2.

This is to make up for lost ground--a review of the latest issue of The Reel News, edited by Richard Lodge. For those who don't know, The Reel News is the bi-monthly publication of The Old Reel Collector's Association, and one the most worthwhile publications around. At 60 pages, this has to be the largest issue of The Reel News published to date.

Major feature articles include a detailed overview of The Vim Company entitled "Vim: America's First Discount Sporting Chain," by yours truly. This 8-page article covers, for the first time in print, the history of this large-volume discount sporting goods chain and includes 17 images. Jim Madden's always excellent "South Bend Bits" column details imports. This five page article covers a number of later South Bend reels including the ever popular Norseman (check eBay as they show up regularly) as well as a number of spinning reels including the Sea-Matic. Stu Lawson opines on "When Is A Reel Not A Reel," an entertaining three page article on cable and kite reels, as well as an addendum on the elusive Model 1500 Medalist with no left-hand guide. Bob Miller's welcome contribution to this issue is the Third Part in his series on Pflueger Spinning Reels; since we've had to wait three years since the last installment, he had an audience waiting with baited breath. We were not disappointed; This four-page article is generously illustrated and covers some of the more obscure Pflueger spinners, including the 600, 800, and 900 Series spinning reels. Ben Wright's contribution dealt with "Bache Brown, Part II" and coming on top of the recent Bob Halver-written Airex article in the December 2006 NFLCC Magazine (and Phil White's earlier work on Brown), means more of the story of Bache Brown has now been told. Jim Schottenham's always keen eye kept us updated on recent reel auctions, highlighted by a trio of Kentucky reels that did not get a bid at $12,500.

Shorter articles include a Roger Schulz review of Bob Miller's recent "History of the Pflueger Supreme, 1916-1982" (summary: "A key reference book for the experienced Pflueger collector), Col. Milton's Airex 324 exploded diagram, and a show report from Pigeon Forge.

Two very welcome contributions came from SpencerDe VIto, who wrote a nifty story entitled "An Old Lake Trout Reel (And How to Use It)," and an equally nice memoir of Schultz Sporting Goods entitled "Worms" by Ed Slane. Ed Slane is another in the long line of ORCA members recruited by the late Harvey Garrison, so it was a double pleasure to read this contribution.

The Reel News keeps getting better, and this is another in a line of top notch issues.

--Dr. Todd

If you are not a member of ORCA, you should be:

ORCA On-Line

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Legendary Bill Plummer Passes Away

Bill Plummer Passes Away

On March 30, 2007, Bill Plummer--creator of The Super Frog and one of the best bass fishermen who ever lived--died at the age of 85 in Marlborough, MA, where he resided the last years of his life.

Alex Langer, creator of the Flying Lure Fishing system, wrote of Plummer back in 1995 in his book Flying Lure Fishing:

Bill Plummer—One of the Quiet Founders of Modern Fishing

Bill Plummer has probably caught more bass than anyone in history. That is not hyperbole; I believe it is a statement of pure fact. He has caught thousands of bass each year, including an inordinate number of monsters from northern lakes. From ice-out to ice-in, Bill fishes five to seven days per week and has done so for over thirty years. At 2,000 bass per year, which is one of the estimates, that’s over 60,000 bass! He started fishing for bass before modern bass fishing was invented. And he certainly helped popularize it. He has been written up by every major magazine in the industry and is the inventor of the first soft top-water artificial frog, the Bill Plummer Frog.

Bill fishes the simple way—from a wooden boat that he has designed, with oars, no electric motor, no sonar, no bells and whistles, just a small gas motor on the back. He has learned the habits of bass by trial and error and deduction, not by book learning. There were no books to learn from when he first started. He is a solitary hunter, who learns and learns and learns. Bill exemplifies the ideals that we should have as fishermen:

a respect for the fish. . . and a constantly open mind that learns yet is not prone to gimmickry or rigid theories. I have learned a lot from Bill and am proud to call him my friend. Strive always to learn and be flexible. Strive to be analytical like Buck Perry, and adaptable like Bill Plummer."

Plummer leaves behind a wife of sixty years (Norma) and a daughter and two grandchildren. In 2006, he was inducted as a legendary angler by the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, WI.

A version of his Super Frog is still being manufactured by Harrison Hoge industries, marketed as the Superior Frog.

Plummer was a legend who was years ahead of his time. He claimed to have never kept a bass for the last four decades of his life. His legacy is with anyone who has ever chunked a rubber bait into thick weeds and came out with a bass that could not have been caught any other way. Apparently, there is a book about to be published about Plummer and his lure. If so, it would make a great contribution to our lore.

--Dr. Todd

Bill Plummer Elected to NFFHOF

Alex Langer's Flying Lure Fishing, Chapter Four

Plummer's Superior Frog

Freshwater Hall of Fame Legendary Anglers

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Back from Vacation...and A New Book on Fred Arbogast!

I have returned from vacation to discover many orders for my new book, The History of the Fish Hook in America, Vol. I, and have been exceedingly happy with the results to date.

I also nearly got arrested for trying to fish at Walt Disney World in Orlando. I am in the process of writing up my experiences in a story I call "There's No Fishing in the Magic Kingdom." Look for it next week!

Finally, while I was gone, a new book has been published on Fred Arbogast. "The Fred Arbogast Story" was written by Scott Heston, author of a 2005 work "Ohio Made Fishing Lures and Tackle." I will try and get a copy in the coming weeks and post a review. For those interested, the book can be found at:

Glad to be back and will work hard to update the blog on a daily basis.

--Dr. Todd

Thursday, April 5, 2007

I Am on Vacation!

Fishing History will not be updated until April 14th as I am leaving for a conference and vacation in Florida. With snow and 28 degree weather in Cincinnati, this could not come at a better time.

Thanks to everyone who ordered my book, I hope to reprint seom unsolicited reviews of it upon my return.

Have a safe and happy Easter holiday.

--Dr. Todd

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

My New Book is Here!

FINALLY! My new book has arrived. You would think the ten years of research would have been the most difficult thing, but nothing could have prepared me for the headache of getting this book back from the bindery. I finished the manuscript layout for this on January 30th. Usually, it usually takes only three weeks for the book to be professionally bound (The Whitefish Press uses one of the four professional binderies in America that manufacture all mainstream books). But due to a bizarre confluence of events (they lost the cover TWICE, for example), the book only arrived yesterday. But I must say, it looks terrific. 352 pages of hard core fishing history. Anyone interested can get more information at:

The Fish Hook in America, Vol. I

I very much appreciate all the kind words about the blog, and all the support people have rendered me for our little publishing endeavour The Whitefish Press. It has been a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I love books and know that nothing takes the place of a good professionally bound book, even though the internet and things like this blog are fun and useful. I'll still take a book any day of the week.


--Dr. Todd

Monday, April 2, 2007

Closet Collectors vs. Club Membership

A new thread over on Joe's Special Topics Board brings up an intriguiing question: how many collectors are member of clubs, and vice versa, how many closet collectors are there?

An interesting question. Here is my response:

"I do think for every member in a club there are ten members who are not. Part of it is that a lot of closet collectors don't want to acknowledge they are "serious" about collecting by joining a club. They are probably every bit as dedicated as many members, but don't see themselves as such. To a lot of non-members, clubs like the NFLCC are for people whose entire existence revolves around collecting tackle. The truth, of course, is that the NFLCC has many, many different kinds of members (some who haven't purchased a lure in 10 years). But not knowing this, I think it can be intimidating to join a club like the NFLCC for non-members.

I think Lang's has 3X as many people on their mailing list as the NFLCC has members. Now, if 15,000 people participate (or have participated) in the most elite auction of tackle in the world, but only 1/3 (or less) are NFLCC members, it tells us that there are lots and lots of closet collectors, some with DEEEEEEPPP pockets."

Additonally, I think some collectors reach a point where they just lose interest in a club because their collecting interests are so specialized. They keep up with club goings-on and have friends copy them articles they find of use, but don't reup membership as it is a low priority for them,

--Dr. Todd

Sunday, April 1, 2007

One Web Site Resurrected (Partially)

Brian Funai--surfcaster, Pflueger collector, Hawaiian fishing writer, all around Renaissance man--has taken his valuable time to discover a fascinating web site entitled The Internet Archives. This site has an engine called The Wayback Machine:

Utilizing this engine, you can find some (not all) web sites that were archived via spidering programs (bots), and lo and behold, one of the great web sites on the internet to have disappeared, Harvey Garrison's Shakespeare site, was discovered to be archived. The problem is over half the photos do not show up in the archived version of the web site. Why this is, I don't have any idea, but at least a framework--in particular the sections on Shakespeare reel and lure numbering--can now be saved. This information will be passed on to Harvey's daughter who will decide where this will end up.

Three cheers for Brian Funai! Although only a partial success, any information saved is a victory.

--Dr. Todd