Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Importance of Advertising

How do you build your collection of antique tackle? Well, there are lots of ways. Join a club like ORCA or the NFLCC. Go to lots of estate and garage sales and hit every flea market. Or, like Fort Wayne collector Steve Vivia, you can buy a roadside billboard sign that says "Will Pay Cash for Old Fishing Tackle." According to an article on the WANE-TV web site entitled What's Up With That?, it has been succesful in helping build his collection.

It certainly is a unique way to advertise for tackle! I recall a few years back some enterprising collector took out a series of newspaper ads looking for a Haskell Minnow. Whether he ever found one or not is unknown, but his ads showed up in a lot of places.

--Dr. Todd

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Review of the June 2007 NFLCC Gazette

The June NFLCC Gazette arrived at the same time as the NFLCC Magazine and shows another step in the evolution of this journal, now in its 31st year. Edited by Jim Fleming out of Nashville, TN, the move to color seems to have become a permanent thing and certainly makes for a more striking magazine. This issue includes a number of interesting articles on a variety of subjects.

The first feature is entitled "The Unmentionable Collectables: A Short History of the Trolling Flasher" by my good friend Kurt Munden. This witty and interesting article surveys the most ignored piece in the tackle box--the flasher. I was happy to contribute the section on Companies to Kurt's excellent survey. A unique and interesting article!

The second feature is a follow-up piece entitled "Grand Rapids Fishing Lures, Part II: Franklin Alger and Frank Nixon Baits" by Terry McBurney, who doubles this month as he also had a fine article in the NFLCC Magazine. In this article, McBurney details Franklin Alger and the mysterious Frank Nixon, whose "persian ivory" baits are some of the prettiest to be found.

Frequent contributor Marc Dixon contributes a nifty piece entitled "A History of the Plano Molding Company: World's Largest Manufacturer of Tackle Boxes." This detailed and fun history covers the origins of this icon of American fishing from its humble beginnings in 1921 to the present.

Eric Borgerding, one of the best researchers and writers operating today, concludes his outstanding survey of Madison, Wisconsin's fishing tackle in "This Place Was Once Called Eden: A Brief History of the Late 19th Century Fishing and Fishing Lures of Madison, Wisconsin, Part II." This article covers one of the rarest metal lures, the Bert Ainsworth spinner, and properly places the tackle in proper perspective. Kudos to Borgerding as this is a terrific article.

Finally, a glowing book review of The History of the FIsh Hook in America, Vol. I by noted hook collector Jeff Kieny rounds out the contributions.

Regular features Can You ID Section, NFLCC Show Calendar, Want Ads, and various updates from NFLCC officers.

This issue is packed with information and the new formatting is starting to grow on me. I still wonder if having the first and last pages in color is the best use of this expensive treat--do we really need the Parliamentarian's Update in color when Borgerding's article was black and white only?

All in all, a great issue!

--Dr. Todd

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gratuitous Fish Pictures

Having gotten a bit of the work cleared off my desk, its time to process some gratuitous fish pictures from my vacation in the north woods.

Daughter and father had a rocking time fishing for a week.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats fishing with your children. My seven-year old daughter loves to fish so much she ran down to the dock the minute we arrived and cast out. This is one of my favorite pictures, as it captures everything that is good about fishing--beauty, calmness, and the hope that a fish will rise.

Here is the daughter (and grandpa) with a four-pound northern she hooked and landed herself; grandpa took the hook out, of course.

A photo to go along with the earlier post on minnow fishing--a nice five inch Creek Chub taken from a bridge on the Middle Eau Claire river. Four dozen of these a day made tremendous walleye bait, and since chub grow over a foot sometimes put up a surprising struggle on ultralight gear!

A northern too big for the camera. Fought like a tiger. We catch-and-release all northerns and bass.

A typical stringer of Wisconsin walleyes, ranging from 17-20 inches. Bag limit is two per person and we released many more than we kept.

A nice 20-incher on its way to the boat showing why it deserves its name.

Fishing buddy Marc Hanger and a typical 20-inch northern Wisconsin smallie (released of course). The bass we caught were all post-spawn.

Here I am showing off my physique and a five-pound largemouth caught on a fly rod wading out from shore. The grimace comes from the fact the largemouth's teeth were shredding my thumb. "City hands," my dad said.

It was a great trip and I miss it already. I am already looking forward to my return in August.

--Dr. Todd

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Passing of Art Kimball

On Saturday, 23 June 2007, the fishing history community lost one of its true pioneers when Art Kimball of Boulder Junction, Wisconsin passed away. There are not as many new collectors who know of the contributions of the Kimball family as there should be; Art and his son Scott Kimball were two of the earliest and most important chroniclers of fishing tackle history in America. Beginning with their landmark book Collecting Old Fishing Tackle: A Guide to Identifying and Collecting Old Fishing Tackle (Boulder Junction: Aardvark Publications, 1980), the Kimballs helped to put the hobby on the road towards documenting the history of American tackle manufacturing. This work was followed by their magnum opus, the great Early Fishing Plugs of the U.S.A.: A Collector's History (Boulder Junction: Aardvark, 1985). This book is still considered by many advanced collectors as the best book written on early fishing tackle in America to date. It went to a second and third printing by the end of the 1980s although, unfortunately, it is difficult to locate at present. Art and Scott (along with younger son Brad Kimball) then went on to make major contributions to the history of fish decoys in America, with a concentration on Wisconsin. Major works that the Kimball family produced in this field include Fish Decoys of the Lac Du Flambeau Ojibway (Boulder Junction, Aardvark Publications, 1988) and a three volume series entitled simply Fish Decoys (Boulder Junction: Aardvark Publications, 1986, 1987, 1988). They also contributed articles to Decoy Magazine as late as 1997.

Art Kimball was originally from Antioch, IL, but after vacationing in Northern Wisconsin after his wedding to Anne fell in love with the Boulder Junction region and built a home on Wildcat Lake, where he lived out most of his remaining days. Leafing through the back of Collecting Old Fishing Tackle one can see family snap shots of the Kimballs enjoying their Wisconsin paradise. Having grown up only about 100 miles north of them, these pictures really hit home. The first book I ever read on fishing tackle (while in junior high school) was by Art & Scott Kimball sometime in 1985 and it left an indelible impact on me. I never met Art Kimball (although my father did several times), but corresponded with him a couple of times. The last time was in the late 1990s or early 2000s when I purchased a new copy of Early Fishing Plugs of the U.S.A.: A Collector's History. Their printer had replicated several chapters twice in the book, which made it somewhat confusing to reference. In a letter I wrote to Art I casually mentioned this fact; imagine my surprise when I received a brand new copy of the book, with corrected pages, in the mail a week later! From what I have heard, this is not an unusual story, but I will leave the personal comments to others more intimate with Art than myself. Testimonials to his character can be found on Joe's Old Lures Message Board.

His contributions to the field were manifest and his loss will be mourned by many who never met him. If you are a new collector and aren't familiar with the Kimball's work, you need to find a copy ASAP as your education is incomplete with a copy of Early Fishing Plugs of the U.S.A.: A Collector's History.

--Dr. Todd

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Review of June 2007 NFLCC Magazine

December and June are my favorite months for fishing history as it means a double dose of magazines--both the NFLCC Magazine and the NFLCC Gazette are shipped together! Today I will review the contents of the June 2007 NFLCC Magazine.

This issue is in my opinion one of the best in years, as it contains three articles which I consider of extraordinary historical value. The first is Michigan writer Terry McBurney's "Lou J. Eppinger." This exceptional biography of Eppinger gives a clear overview of the background and history of one of the most important men in American sporting history, the man who invented (or did he? check the article for the story) the Dardevle casting spoon. This article also covers the lures sold by Eppinger (although it doesn't cover the reels) and is based on solid research. As always, McBurney--a frequent contributor--is extremely readable, informative, and interesting. He is one of the best around today at what he does.

The second article is by another frequent contributor, Jerry R. Martin. "The Weber Lifelike Fly Co." Fly Rod Lures and History, Part I." This well-researched and informative article carries the story of Weber of Stevens Point, Wisconsin from its founding in 1920 forward to 1935, with a second part of the article to cover the rest of the company's history. Lavishly illustrated and well researched, this is an important contribution to fishing history.

The final article was written by myself and entitled "A Kosmic Failure? A.G. Spalding & Bros. and the Fishing Tackle Industry." In this detailed history of Spalding's three major attempts to corner the market on fishing tackle, you will learn the fascinating story of the most important sporting goods house in American history and why it was never able to be the major player in fishing tackle its founder had envisioned. Fully illustrated and with information not previously published on the firm's tackle, this article has already caused some debate on internet chat boards. This is because the Kosmic line that Spalding founded has achieved a legendary status and many, many people are interested in its history.

Regular features in this issue include the Feature Lure #33--The Clark Expert--and my favorite page, the always interesting back page contribution by Gary Smith. Ideal Solution? In 1907 the Jersey Expert became the Ideal Minnow. Or did it? puts this fascinating bait into historical perspective, as Gary's articles always do. Its the reason I always read the Magazine back to front.

The NFLCC Magazine is edited by Dudley Murphy, who is assisted in this difficult work by Assistant Editor Gary Smith and Jeannie Murphy (Production). Together they produce the premier publication in fishing history.

--Dr. Todd

Monday, June 25, 2007

A New Book on Skeleton Fly Reels

Richard Lodge, outstanding editor of The Reel News, has just written a new history and guide to Skeleton Fly Reels. Some of the early comments are extremely favorable. Noted South Bend historian Jim Madden notes that Lodge "did us all a service with his research." Dale Noll declared, "Just got book at the Nationals. Have never collected fly reels, but this book is just super great, not only for fly reels, but for the history of the many different makers that are included. I may just start to look for some of these reels myself." And noted collector Merv Bortner declares:

it is very informative on Skeleton Fly Reels. And the majority of the reels have three or more pictures. The front, back, and bottom views. A big help in identifying the differences between the different companies models. Plus a lot of pictures of the boxes they came in. If you collect these style reels or just come across them in the search for old fishing tackle and would like to know who made the reel you found, this is a must have book.

The book is available from The Whitefish Press.

--Dr. Todd

Monday, June 18, 2007

A New Mitchell Web Site

This is a great new web site featuring Mitchell spinning reels. Wallace Carney is the man behind The Mitchell Spinning Reel, an informative and aesthetically pleasing web site that features this great French classic. While the site is under construction, it promises to be a world-class resource on the history of not just Mitchell but all the reels in the extended family--including the ever-popular Garcia reels.

I will try and get a very knowledgable Mitchell collecting friend to write a more detailed review.

--Dr. Todd

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Can I Round Up?

My streak of seven consecutive years with a 20" smallie is still in doubt. The reason? The smallmouth I got a half hour ago was only 19.5" long. So the question I have is an eternal fisherman's problem:

Is it permissable to round up when measuring fish?

Photos to come (and yes they are with a ruler! And catch and release only).,

--Dr. Todd

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Classic Minnesota Reel

Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes but it was never noted as being a hotbed of reel making. One of the major exceptions is the Johnson Reel Co. of Mankato, Minnesota, makers of a line of inexpensive and popular spin casting reels.

The Johnson Century, pictured above (from Justin Crouse's great web site--more on this later), is an enduring classic. When I took my daughter fishing along the St. Croix river earlier this week, we saw three young kids using vintage ca. 1960 Johnson reels. They looked like they'd seen almost continuous use since they were purchased.

Fortunately, there has been renewed interest in the history of Johnson Reels. The company web site, which appears to be down right now, had a very nice history of the company. In addition, collector Justin Crouse founded the Johnson Reel Collector's Association and is working on a detailed history of the firm. Anyone with information on Johnson reels is requested to contact him directly.

First with Zebco and now with Johnson, the spin casting reel is finally being given its due. How many first fish were caught with one of these little gems? And how long before they become a sought-after collectable?

--Dr. Todd

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Perfect $10 Fishing Outfit Ca. 1915

Larry St. John was an early (and often forgotten) fishing writer who served as the outdoor editor of The Chicago Tribune for a number of years in the early decades of the twentieth century. He is probably best remembered for authoring the books Practical Fly Fishing and Practical Bait Casting.

His weekly Woods and Waters column was a virtual "who's who" of midwestern fishing, and he often took queries from the public in his column. The following missive from May 1915 is typical of his knowledgable style.

Q: What is the best bait casting outfit I can buy for $10?

Answer: We submit the following: One number two and a half Heddon five foot rod, $2.50; one eighty yard Shakespeare "Precision" reel, $2.50; fifty yards "Chicago Expert" number five silk line, 60 cents; Decker plug (surface), 50 cents; Woodpecker (luminous), 60 cents; Coaxer, 50 cents; Dowagiac rainbow, 60 cents; South Bend combination, green back, 60 cents; fluted wobbler, 65 cents; two dozen assorted hooks, 10 cents; double pork and frog hook, 10 cents; Slim Eli spinner, number three and a half, 15 cents; Little Wonder spinner, tandem, 20 cents; red fly, 20 cents; two snap swivels, 10 cents; dispey sinkers, 10 cents.

The beauty of this outfit is that it was both affordable and useful. Does anyone think they could put together this outfit today for under $500? It would make for a fascinating display...

--Dr. Todd

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Low Water and Global Warming?

The water here in northern Wisconsin is the lowest it has been in almost a quarter of a century. Lest we panic the world, as argued by my friend "Bad" Bob Miller, erstwhile Vanderbilt University and Tennessee State geologist and the author of a forthcoming book on stream dynamics for fishermen, these things are cyclical. My father has pictures from the 1920s and 1930s of some of the big lakes in the northern Sand Country so low in water that you could almost jump across them between points. Remember, these are points currently still under about 6 feet of water (meaning 10 feet of water during high water). The pictures show jack pines nearly 20 feet high, meaning they had been at low water for many years before this. Global warming? Not in this case.

This is not to say that global warming does not exist, just that it is not responsible for the low water here in God's country. And low water means good fishing--three northerns over 8 pounds and a dozen nice fat walleyes.

--Dr. Todd

Saturday, June 9, 2007

An Awfully Good Day Fishing...

My father, who is so old he remembers the Great Depression like it was yesterday , was sharing some words of wisdom with my seven-year old daughter. The subject: bait. We were minnow fishing for walleyes when my daughter asked how much minnows cost. Having just paid $6.00 a dozen for suckers, half of which were belly up already, he just rolled his eyes, in particular since he had purchased them from a "minnow counter," that lowest form of tackle shop employee who doles out minnows one at a time. Then he said, "tomorrow I'll show you how much minnows cost."

So today rolls around and we drive off to a little creek 15 miles from the cabin, two small ultralight poles, two buckets, and a small can of worms in tow. We pull off next to a bridge, my daughter baits up with a small piece of nightcrawler, and casts off the bridge. 10 seconds later an 8-inch creek chub is flopping about in the water. I go down to the creek, fill it up with water, and put the creek chub in it. We repeat the above experience until we have two buckets full of the best and liveliest creek chubs you'll ever find. Total cost? $0.00. Memories? Lasting a lifetime.

I imagine that the pioneers from the golden age of fishing would roll their eyes at the thought of $.50 a minnow when the ponds and creeks are full of minnows available to anyone with an ultralight rod and reel and a size 14 hook.

My daughter sure had fun...

--Dr. Todd

Friday, June 8, 2007

Blogging from the North Woods...

As I am on vacation right now in the northwoods of Wisconsin, keeping this blog updated is difficult (at best). I will certainly try my best to make sure that I get something up every other day but I make no promises...

For your perusal today is a state record musky from Virginia. Even in the heart of musky country--Hayward, Wisconsin where I currently am staying--a 45 pound 8 ounce muskellunge is a monster.

--Dr. Todd

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A Little History of Glass Minnow Tubes

An interesting article in The Allentown Morning Call details the history of the glass minnow tube. A Blast from Angling's Past by Christian Berg not only details the background on the glass minnow tube, it also profiles modern glassblower Tom Doner, who is making a modern minnow tube called The Pennsylvania Minnow Tube. Noted spring hook collector Bill Blauser, co-author of the outstanding Spring-Loaded Fish Hooks, Traps and Lures along with Tim Mierzwa, is interviewed extensively in the article.

The only drawback is there is no image of The Pennsylvania Minnow Tube.

--Dr. Todd

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Celebrity Fishing Tackle

An auction on eBay got me thinking about celebrity fishing tackle and why people are willing to pay enormous amounts of cash for it. One of the former roadies for the legendary Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd has put up a lot of rock memorabilia from the band's deceased guitarist Ronnie Van Zant, who died tragically in a plane crash on 20 October 1977. One of the items that Van Zant apparently gave this roadie was a bass fishing rig (an Ambassadeur 5500C reel with 6' Eagle Claw Worm Rod) which he has now put up in an eBay auction.

It is difficult to understand the appeal of such items from a fishing history point of view. From the stand point of a rock & roll collectable, this item might have an appeal from those interested in accumulating Lynyrd Skynyrd items. But is this a fishing tackle collectable? Van Zant was not an important figure in any sense in the history of fishing, but he was a great musician and important in the history of pop culture. I will be interested to see where this auction ends. Will this be purchased by a tackle collector (its listed in that category) or by a Skynyrd fan? Or someone who is both?

Celebrity fishing tackle has taken on great interest of late. Zane Grey items at the recent Lang's auction is evidence of people willing to pay a mint for celebrity owned fishing items. The difference, of course, is that Grey was actually important in the fishing world and the author of numerous articles and books on the subject. Hollywood legend Cary Grant's tackle box was purchased a couple of decades ago and I suspect if it went to market today it would bring a feeding frenzy despite the fact Grant was a marginal figure in fishing history. And yet a reel owned by U.S. President Grover Cleveland, a man very integral to the growth of fishing in America, went for less than half of what I considered its true value a couple of years ago at auction.

A custom-built Doug Irwin guitar owned by Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia sold recently for six figures. Interestingly, when Jerry requested that extra weight be added to the guitar, according to the article in USA Today, "When Ram Rod [the roadie] was asked to add weight to the instrument, he tucked his son's fishing lures inside its open cavity, and they can still be heard sliding around." Maybe it sold to a celebrity fishing tackle collector...

What would a fishing reel owned by Britney Spears bring? Brad Pitt's tackle box? In our celebrity-driven culture I shudder to think.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone on their thoughts on this subject.

--Dr. Todd

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Van Zant reel ended at $660.00. Whether it went to a rock-n-roll guy or a tackle collector is unknown.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Hooking Kids on Fishing

Ran across an interesting article on a gentleman who restores old fishing tackle for use by kids. I know there are some of you out there who work with the boy scouts and other organizations, and I firmly believe we need to be far more active in promoting the sport to today's youth.

Read the article about Bill Howard entitled Reeling 'Em In: Impromptu Phianthropist Hopes Free Fishing Poles Gets Kids Out of the House by Ryan Sabalow of the Redding Record-Searchlight in Redding, Pennsylvania. Then think of all the unmarked metal spinners and spoons, salvageable fishing reels, and piles of old rods you have lying around. What better use could they have than to be restored and used again as a child's first fishing rod and reel?

We are in danger of creating a future where the only fish that are being caught will be in video games.

--Dr. Todd

Friday, June 1, 2007

ORCA Nationals, Dowagiac, Michigan Report

Dowagiac, Michigan is of course a famous town in the history of fishing, having been home to Heddon for a number of years. What many people don't know about Dowagiac, however, is that it is the most hidden town in America. Or at least that was how I felt as I roamed the backroads of rural Michigan striving against all odds to find this sleepy little burg.

Having driven to Michigan from Cincinnati (with a long bypass to pick up Richard Lodge's new book from the bindery), I reached the tourist town of Elkart, Indiana--apparently less than 20 miles from Dowagiac, arriving at noon. This gave me a solid two hours to make the first presentation by Andy Foster on Kentucky reels. I was confident. Perhaps too confident.

What I discovered on my unscheduled detour is that Yahoo Maps sucks, at least when it comes to rural Michigan. The turn-by-turn directions gave the names of streets that had no names only numbers. I stopped and asked for directions. Got lost. Stopped again. Got lost a second time. Stopped a third time. Got REALLY lost this time. By now it was 1:55 and, having been on the road since 4:55 a.m., I was inventing curse words that would probably get me arrested in at least seventeen states.

Finally, I stopped at a bar and was prepared to offer anyone there $20 if they would drive to Dowagiac and let me follow, but the bartender said all I had to do was follow the main road out front of his bar straight into downtown Dowagiac. I made it to the Amerihost at 2:10 p.m., already late for Andy's presentation but ready to salvage the afternoon. That's when I was informed that the ORCA convention was NOT being held at the Amerihost hotel, but at the Dowagiac Conservation Club several miles away. I solemnly prepared myself to be lost once again.

Fortunately, the women staffing the Amerihost desk (who was the same woman, by the way, who informed me that they had no record of my reservation) gave me decent directions and I spun into the Dowagiac Conversation Club at 2:30. Andy still had fifteen minutes left on his presentation, which was extraordinarily interesting.

My main reason for coming was to watch Bill Muth's amazing talk on Horton-Bristol history. I was not disappointed--Bill covered the evolution of the non-Meek Horton reels from 1931 until the shuttering of the firm in 1951. While much of this fare was cheap bargain bin fodder, a few of their reels were quite inventive.

After the informative talk, Bill answered questions and showed off his amazing collection. He was swarmed by admirers and questions, as shown by the following photo:

After the talks were over, it was time to greet many old friends and meet some familiar names and faces. I got to talk to Jim Schottenham for some time, and chatted a bit with Bill Sonnett and Warren Platt. Lorraine "Ell" Lawrence made me feel much better when she noted that she also got lost driving in from South Bend.

From the Dowagiac Conservation Club I made my way back to the Amerihost, where room trading began. About two dozens rooms were open, and there were some amazing reels and other items for sale. Not everything was reels, as seen by this neat case of "go-withs" seen in one room:

I finally tracked down Richard Lodge, ORCA's esteemed Reel News editor, and was able to show him the very first copy of his new book Skeletons: A Collector's Guide to Raised Pillar Fly Reels.

Room trading seemed to be a hit; I ended up adding a really tough Montague trade reel marked Thos. E. Wilson with a double-handled tournament crank. I also saw many reels that made me wish I had deep pockets. As my pockets were, per usual, quite shallow, I was content to ogle and fondle these gems and wish them a happy home in some ORCA members' collection. This photo shows Dave Erickson about to close a deal for a nice reel:

Room trading was a lot of fun and I got to spend more time conversing with many ORCAns, including John Ganung and Jim Madden, two of the nicest guys you will ever find. I ended the day in Bill Sonnett's room swapping war stories from the good old days when every rafter was full of Heddon 150s and every tackle box held a Meek & Milam. I miss those days...

I then hopped into my car and drove the 280 miles home to Cincinnati down I-31 to Indianapolis, the worst highway ever. The highlight of the trip was listening to the Cavaliers-Pistons NBA game and hearing Lebron James do his Michael Jordan impression and score 29 of his teams final 30 points.

So what did I learn from my Dowagiac sojourn? First, there are a hell of a lot of places up there named Pokagon. Pokagon Highway, Pokagon Street, Pokagon Avenue, etc. Second, that one should never, ever venture into the backwoods of rural Michigan without a GPS device. Third, that despite 20 years of intensive research on fishing history, only by driving the area can you get a sense of how close South Bend, Kalamazoo, and Dowagiac actually are. Fourth, that ORCA Nationals has to be experienced to understand how cool it is. I enjoyed my short stay and will definitely make a longer trip next year.

--Dr. Todd