Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thursday Review: The Smithwick Collector Web Site

Thursday Review: The Smithwick Collector

A useful and fascinating web site by Alan D. Peters chronicles the history of the famed Jack K. Smithwick & Son bait company of Shreveport, Louisiana. The goal of this site, in Peters' own words, is twofold: "First, it allows me to showcase my Smithwick Collection. Second and perhaps most important, it allows me to provide a web based resource for individuals who want more information about the history and evolution of lures made by Jack K. Smithwick of Shreveport, Louisiana."

This web site is unbelievably ambitious and quite comprehensive. It has sections on advertising, displays, individual lures, articles from magazines and newspapers, contact for other collectors, etc. Just about everything you can imagine for the Smithwick collector, from a prototype to color charts.

I am truly impressed with this web site as it is obviously a labor of love. It has clearly taken thousands of hours of works to accumulate, research, scan, code, and make available this information for the collecting world. I truly appreciate the time and effort Alan has put into this project, and hope anyone with any information on this firm will share it with him.

A personal Smithwick story: One of the joys of summer in Northern Wisconsin was going to the local tackle shops with my dad two or three times per week to pick up bait and scope out the new tackle. There were two tackle shops in the unincorporated town of Gordon, WI which was less than 10 miles from our cabin. Another 15 miles down Highway 53 was Minong, WI--home at the time to Link Bros., a famed boat seller who now is even more famous for selling Jack Link's Beef Jerky treats.

Anyway, in the town Minong were three additional tackle shops. One, which I forget the name of, also had a malt shop. We rarely went into this one, as my dad knew that going in would mean buying malts for all six kids. But one fine summer day when I was eight or nine, he took the whole clan in for malts. While we were delighting in our delicious frozen treats, my dad retreated to the back of the store where the fishing lures were all placed on a large wire rack. I never once saw a box for a lure in the entire time I went to this bait shop. Finishing my malt, I went back to join him.

Now, my dad never met a tackle shop he didn't like, and always left with at least three or four lures. Mostly they were whatever was catching fish; Mepps spinners, Rapalas, Bill Normans, Rebels, Skinner spoon hooks, etc. My dad unexpectedly said, "why don't you pick out a couple to fish with?"

My eyes lit up. Not too often was I given the choice of picking lures, as like most kids I was always attracted by the shiny, complicated, and aesthetic and not by whether a lure caught fish or not. We must have 75 lures I picked out as a kid remaining and few of them show any signs of catching fish.

I reached up on the rack and grabbed a lure that had caught my eye. "Smithwick," my dad said, "Southern bass lure." I nodded, picking the lure up next to it. "Devil's Horse, same maker, same story."

I thought a second. "I want these two," I said suddenly. My dad's eyebrow shot up, never a good sign. I decided to cut him off at the pass. "I'm sure they'll catch fish. Just look at 'em!"

My dad threw them in the pile silently. By silently I mean by swearing inaudibly under his breath. He clearly did not agree with my choices. When we got home I could not wait to tie on the Smithwicks--but which one? The Rattlin' Rogue, a Finnish minnow clone, or the Devil's Horse, a topwater bait? I chose the Devil's Horse. Three hours later I was still casting it with nary a sign of luck. My dad came down to the lake and saw what I was doing, shaking his head silently. I got the message. The Smithwicks went onto the boathouse wall, where they remained untouched throughout my childhood years.

Fast forward to Illinois in 1998. I was bass fishing with a friend of mine from Florida on one of the local reservoirs. I was fishing a Jointed Jitterbug when I got a hit and the fish hung up on a stump and broke me off. I went to my tackle box to grab another J-Bug when my buddy said, "tie this on." He handed me a Devil's Horse. I tied it on, and guess what? I couldn't keep fish OFF the Smithwick. It absolutely killed. I have had very few days where a fish hit on almost every cast, and this was one of them. Slowly I fell in love with the Devil's Horse.

So twenty years after I became prejudiced against Smithwick, that bias was completely blown away by over twenty 1 to 2 1/2 pound Illinois bass.

Here's to Smithwick, and to Alan Peters' great site!

-- Dr. Todd

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