Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dr. Todd's Mailbag: 14 May 2008

Dr. Todd's Mailbag

Here at Fishing for History we get all kinds of questions, some of them simple and others incredibly complex. We'll start publishing them once a month--the good, the bad, the asinine alike. Here's a great lead off question (and yes, all of these are real).

Dear sir,

We are heading out with the kids to do some river fishing this week and my daughter stumped me with the question, "why do they call it 'tackle'?" I can't find the answer, and ran across your site, do you know the origin of the term "tackle" as it refers to fishing gear? Any input would be fascinating to our fishing quest this week! Thank you.

Katy B.

Dear Katy,

A terrific question! And one that not many people have stopped to think about.

Fishing Tackle derives from Middle German word "takel" which referred to the rigging of the ship. It was first brought into English sometime in the middle ages (around 1200) and is still with us in the term "Block and Tackle" which is a reference to the mechanical workings on the rigging on a ship (the "block" in this term comes from "Bloc," the French term for a stump, related in this case to a ship's mast). "Tackle" soon came to encompass the entire set of gear that went with sailing, which included fishing gear (lines, hooks, nets, etc.). As the sport of fishing developed in the 15th and 16th centuries, the term was then brought into use to refer to "a fisherman's kit" or what we call today fishing tackle. Interestingly, "Fishing Tackle" and "Fishing Kit" were basically interchangeable terms up until the 1920s, when the later term disappeared from common use. We are left with fishing tackle in all its wonderful forms.

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Dr. Todd,

I heard there was a book on G.M. Skinner coming out. Do you know anything about it? What do you think is the rarest Skinner bait?

Jim F.

Dear Jim.

I had not heard that there was a Skinner book coming out imminently, but I did know that Steve Hays in New York had been working on one for many years. If it is ready then we will all be in celebration mode, as it would promise to be a huge contribution.

As for the rarest Skinner bait, many would probably answer the classic Turkey Foot and Turkey Wing. But there are at least two Skinner baits I know of that are far, far rarer than these two highly sought after metal baits.

The first is the hinged clevis blade patented by Skinner in 1891. This bait is ultra rare simply because it didn't work very well; I took one of mine out to the lake to see how it worked and it fouled on about every third cast. So it didn't sell well and wasn't offered very long, and I would surmise for every 30 Turkey Foot and Turkey Wing blades, one of these comes to market. It is marked "Pat. U.S. & Canada, 1891" on the blade. (I'll add a picture later when I get to my other computer).

But I don't think that is the rarest Skinner. The rarest Skinner I know of is the first known G.M. Skinner trade spinner--made well before the patent expired in 1891 (the same date old G.M. tried to corner the fluted spinner market a second time with the above patented blade). This is the only trade spinner I've found marked with the Skinner patent date and someone else's markings. Pictured in the 1882 American Angler and the 1883 Abbey & Imbrie catalog, this awesomely rare bait is marked "Abbey & Imbrie, New York" on the left side and the standard Skinner patent on the right. It's pictured in front of an 1882 ad below.

I know some might think the Skinner fish-shaped spoon is rarer, or even the early Gananonque marked Skinner, but I've seen dealer cards of the fish-shaped bait and a couple of dozen Ganananque blades, and only have seen TWO of these A&I Skinners ever (I bought them both--lucky me). They are really, really rare, and my vote for the rarest of all Skinner blades, and one of the rarest New York metals around.

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Dear Doc,

Do you consider vintage fishing tackle a hobby or an investment?

Marc L. in Minnesota

Neither. I consider it an invobby. Or a hobvestment. Seriously, why does it have to be one or the other? Of course, I fall more along the lines of a hobby, but then I didn't lay out $100,000 for the Haskell at Lang's either. I can afford to consider it a hobby because I can't afford baits that would make it an investment. The truth of the matter is that anything you put money into is an investment--some better than others. How you anticipate what will be done with that money is where you fall on this question; if you anticipate a high rate of return, you look at primarily as an investment. If you look at it and don't really worry when or if you'll get your money back, its a hobby.

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Prof. Larson,

Can you explain to me The Mayflower Compact? I can't find it in my notes.

Charles B.


Well, the Mayflower Compact was the first democratic document in American history, signed...HEY! No class room questions please.

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Would would win in a fight, Hiram Leonard or Jim Heddon?



Wow. A serious inquiry like this requires a serious answer. Let's look at the Tale of the Tape. Hiram Leonard was a backwoods guide and hunter from Maine noted for his superhuman strength, epic endurance and for shooting Bull Moose from close range with a freaking pistol that he designed himself. Jim Heddon was a beekeeper. You make the call, but keep in mind Vegas has already closed the books on this one.

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By the way, you think I am making that last question up but I can assure you it is so surreal I couldn't even if I wanted to. All of these are questions I've fielded over the past six months (some have been edited down).

So...having exhausted the mailbag, please send your queries to me on any subject (preferably fishing related) and maybe you'll be featured in a future mailbag column. Email me at

-- Dr. Todd

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Do you have historical information about Abby & Imbrie? I am distantly related but would like to tie them directly to the family if possible.

Gary Imbrie