Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday Review: Victor R. Johnson, Jr.'s America's Fishing Waders

A Review of Victor R. Johnson, Jr.'s America's Fishing Waders

America's Fishing Waders: The Evolution of Modern Fishing Waders, 1838-Present by Victor R. Johnson, Jr. is the fourth in a series of fly fishing histories authored (or co-authored) by Johnson. Previous works include histories of fly lines, fiberglass fly rods, and the Fenwick Corporation.

Like his earlier works, Johnson sets out to tell a story virtually ignored by the fishing community. Few people have given much thought to waders, but when one stops to think about it, they are an integral part of the fly fisherman's kit. Few dedicated fly anglers don't own at least one pair of waders and a pair of hip boots, but almost no one has written about their history. Johnson is digging in virtually virgin territory here.

The title of the book might be slightly misleading; basically, this book is a history of the Hodgman Rubber Company, without question the most famous wader brand in history. The foreword was written by Ron Foster, former owner of Hodgman, and most of the historical information comes in the form of a linear history of this firm.

This should not in any way be taken as serious criticism. Founded in 1838 and likely making waders as early as the 1850s, Hodgman serves as fertile territory to tell the changing history of waders. From the dawn of the rubber revolution, through the halcyon years of fly angling, to the post-World War II era all the way up to the present, Johnson hits on many of the technological changes in waders and hip boots. Even the neoprene and breathable wader revolutions of the 1990s are covered.

The majority of information is Hodgman (and by proxy Converse, as the two companies were intertwined for much of their history), but Johnson makes an attempt to cover other firms in his research. Red Ball, Servus, LaCrosse, and Marathon all get brief histories. A few notable makers, such as Hood's Ike Walton line of waders, popular in the late 1940s, and W.B. Jarvis of Michigan, makers of rubber fishing gear ca. 1900, are missing from the discussion. Additionally, some interesting debates in the pages of sporting journals ca. 1900 over the safety of waders is not covered. In a week or two I'll reprint one of these entertaining articles in the Voices from the Past column.

With over 150 images (black-and-white) and lively text, the book certainly is informative. At 131 pages, it is also a fairly quick read. The majority of information covers the later (post-1960) improvements in material and construction of waders, which of course is both a subject and a time period rarely written about from a historical standpoint when it comes to fishing history.

If you've read any of Johnson's previous work, you'll know what to expect from this book: solid research, interesting material, pleasant format, reasonable price. While it is not a definitive history of the wader in America, it is the only history we have, and for this reason (and others) should belong in any worthwhile fly fishing library.

The book is available directly from the author by Clicking Here.

-- Dr. Todd

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dr. Todd's Mailbag: 29 April 2009

Dr. Todd's Mailbag

It's time for another installment of the Mail Bag! We get tons of mail here at Fishing for History and we try to answer some of the more interesting questions and queries every six weeks or so.

Dr. Todd,

Your blog is amazing! 

I just read your discussion of the Skinner Spoon, and I'm wondering if I may have stumbled upon an early store display or folk-art endeavor characterizing the famed Gardiner Mills invention (see photos below). The giant lure measures more than 20 inches long and its patina suggests 1930s, give or take. The treble hook is dressed in turkey feathers, and while the blade lacks the Skinner fluting detail, the white paint does seem to approximate the characteristic fluting shape. At the yard sale where I purchased the item, the former owner said it was hanging outside a bait shop in Michigan when he found it years ago.

Could this be a Skinner Spoon novelty? Your impressions would be deeply appreciated.

Bill N.

Well, I have to say that is one of the biggest spinners I have ever seen. It looks like the blade is almost 12" from top to bottom, which is far too large for actual fishing. So I definitely think it is a dealer display item. G.M. Skinner did indeed sell an enameled blade with a similar paint pattern on the front of the blade. However, the striping on the back of the blade is not indicative of Skinner. The spinner is not a fluted, and it would seem logical that any oversized spinner would be an actual copy of a Skinner fluted spinner.

What I think you have, instead, is an unbelievably cool either small maker or folk art dealer display spinner. I've never seen anything like it. VERY COOL!


Good Afternoon,

I have been hunting for the name of a reel I have and some one pointed me in your direction. I have posted as many pics of the reel as I have on here and if you need more please feel free to email me. Thank you so much in advance for the help.

Zak H.

Hi Zak,

Your reel is a Montague surf reel. It first shows in the 1904 Montague catalog as the 6000 series and was sold for almost two decades afterward, in various forms. Yours is the earliest style I know of. Keep in mind your reel is missing a ratcheted screw on handle, later versions came without the ratcheted screw. This model was sold by a large numbers of resellers.


Dr. Todd,

I wanted to send you a quick thank you. I read your blog every week and being a Texas lure collector it is appreciated to see some of our home grown stuff make the headlines.

Also, although many of the items featured and on your “things I would buy if I could afford them” list are items I will probably never see or collect, it is still knowledge that I can use. Friday I was at an estate sale here in Houston roaming around in the garage where I found a tackle box. The excitement built as I reached down and opened the box, to find nothing but misc stuff and no treasures. As I looked around I saw hanging in the corner a boat cushion, and I remembered an old blog from your post about collectable boat cushions. Well $5.00 later I left very pleased and knew I needed to let you know that your efforts are appreciated. I would have never even thought about buying an old dusty boat cushion had it not been for your article. It cleaned up nice and although I am not sure how old collectable or valuable it is, it will now hang in our newly restored and redecorated (thanks to Hurricane Ike) beach house in Galveston.

Mike K.

Ah, Texans. Such nice people. Very happy to help; and you definitely got a steal for $5. For the record, no article(s) have received more hits than the two on Vintage Boat Cushions. I've been working on some history and expanding the section in the near future.

For the record, you can read Part I of the Vintage Boat Cushions HERE and Part II HERE.


This last query concerns the Handle Rod made in Muskegon, Michigan that I wrote about earlier in a post about the Cincinnati tackle show.


I have bought and sold over 20 of those in the last 8 years so I don't think they are uncommon. An interesting fact about them is that the government made them discontinue the production of them after it came to light the process of making/using Beryllium copper caused cancer! The one in your picture is an earlier labeled one .The later ones came with embossed/raised letters in the reel seat. The last models were a cheaper made ones with open wire type line guides.

John W.

Well, Steve Lumpkin also pointed out to me that he had one of these new in the box, so apparently they are not all THAT rare. They are, however, quite neat.

UPDATE: A note from Bill Sonnett: it was made in Michigan, it was manufactured in Pennsylvania. I have only seen a couple that were marked as being from PA. I always envied my buddy as a kid who had one as it was great for long canoe trips. Put it in the Duluth pack while going over the log portages, take it out at the far end and take a few cast into waters that seldom saw a cast. Most of the time that meant instant fish on the line.


That's it for this episode, so keep the questions coming!

-- Dr. Todd

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Breaking News: Mary Kefover Kelly Passes Away

It is with great sorrow that I must report the passing of Mary Kefover Kelly last Friday, 24 April 2009. Dr. John Elder, her close friend, emailed me last night while I was at the university, and I just got off the phone with Mary's daughter. Mary was one of the leading fishing historians of the 20th century. I had the great pleasure of working with Mary on editing and updating some of her best material into the book The Origins of American Angling: Essays on the History of Fishing and Tackle, which was launched just over a year ago.

I found Mary to be lively, intelligent, and extremely witty in all of my interactions with her. She was also extraordinarily helpful, sharing a lot of information with me on a variety of subjects. Her early work on Kosmic, Leonard, Conroy, and Chubb is still some of the most important work of its kind to date, and set the standard for many other writers to follow.

Her loss is a tremendous blow to the fishing history community, as her likes will never be seen again. As a female outdoor writer, she penned articles for all the leading magazines of the day--from Outdoor Life to Fishing World to The Pennsylvania Angler--at a time when there were precious few women writers in their pages. She wrote often for the American Fly Fisher, the publishing arm of the American Museum of Fly Fishing, where some of her best work was first published. She was a meticulous researcher of which it was said that she was the first person to ever read The Spirit of the Times from cover to cover.

I will very much miss her. May she rest in peace...

-- Dr. Todd

Voices from the Past: World's Smallest Fly Rod? (1930)

Today we feature an article from a 1930 Sporting Goods Dealer outlining what has to be the smallest functioning fly rod in existence. Anyone know any Spokane, Washington rodmakers who might have made this???

Tiny Fly Rod Is Only 15 Inches High

What is believed to be the tiniest dry fly rod ever built, total weight 1/16 of an ounce, was presented to Dr. W.L. Von Nashmen, a Spokane (Wash.) sportsman, as a recent Izaak Walton League meeting in that city. Dr. Von Nahmen had been complaining that he could not purchase a rod light enough to suit his fancy.

The rod, with its case (shown beside a pencil for comparison), when "strung up," has a length of 15 inches. A single action reel is a part of this unique fishing outfit, the reel having both a drag and click and capacity of 25 yards of line. A No. 24 fly and its leader are shown in their receptacle in the case. The rod windings were put on with the aid of a magnifying glass and tungsten steel guides were used. The rod was presented to Dr. Von Nahmen by Wynn Coultas, also of Spokane.

-- Dr. Todd

Monday, April 27, 2009

News of the Week: 27 April 2009

Thousands flock to Korean ice fishing derby...Stan Bogdan and his reels...freshwater records have staying power...a new Coney Island flea market could be filled with angling treasures...don't neglect knots...Ryan Newman is a racing angler...50 years of the Beetle Spin...inside a rusty tackle box...Lake Delton begins to rebuild from the minnow on up...the Game Warden museum...a tackle shop you can call must be THE NEWS OF THE WEEK!

The Big Lead: Thousands flock to this Korean Ice Fishing Festival.

A nifty article on Stan Bogdan reels.

A new Coney Island Flea Market--opening 15 May 2009--may just be the place to find old fishing tackle...

Why freshwater fishing records have real staying power.

Neglecting knots can lead to disaster.

Wolf lake muskies are really mean.

NASCAR's Ryan Newman is a winner on the track and on the lake.

One angler's best catch is his license plate.

The best bait in your tackle box is confidence.

This tackle box is filled with too many baits.

Advice from fishing legend Minner Fish.

If you're out fishing in the Gulf of Mayheeco, watch out for sharks.

The Yuba Salmon season has been closed.

Celebrating 50 years of the Beetle Spin.

A look inside a rusty old tackle box.

From the DUH Files: The European Commission FINALLY admits its fishing policy is a massive failure.

Remember the tragedy at Lake Delton? Well, the rebirth of a lake begins with the stocking of the lowly minnow.

Al Espinoza call rodbuilding a "lost art."

A profile of master rod maker Wes Cooper.

Women who learn the art of fly angling.

One of North Dakota's real gems is the Game Warden museum.

Finishing with a Flourish: Why Beanie's at Maui's Landing is one of the great little bait shops around.

-- Dr. Todd

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Streater's Thought of the Week

Every weekend Dick Streater gives us his thought of the week, culled from his voluminous files on fishing and tackle history.

Streater's Thought of the Week: An early level-wind mechanism for reels was introduced by the Wisconsin firm of Wheeler & McGregor ca. 1900.

-- Dr. Todd

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Deconstructing Old Ads with Bill Sonnett

We are starting a new weekly feature on the blog--vintage tackle ads, as annotated and described by noted tackle guru and angler Bill Sonnett. This should be fun, as you'll be blown away by some of Bill's ads from his files! Look it for Saturdays...

Deconstructing Old Ads

with Bill Sonnett

The Creek Chub Duck Decoy (1904)

In August of 1904 this advertisement appeared in National Sportsman magazine. H.S. Dill patented this folding duck decoy in 1903 when he was 30 years old and 13 years before he became one of the founders of the Creek Chub Bait Co in 1916. Since the "discovery" of this advertisement about 15 years ago, several of these decoys have been located.

-- Dr. Todd

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Funhouse

The Friday Funhouse

The Video of the Week

A feature on Clay Dyer -- perhaps the most inspirational guy ever!

Things I Would Buy If Only I Could Afford Them

Holy Mother of Penn Reels, Batman!

This B.F. Meek #44 is a super fine fly reel.

This Meek reel has me waxing poetic:

Meek Tournament reel
So sleek in my hands; alas,
An instant backlash.

Edward vom Hofe salmon reels are something to write home about.

This Talbot Niangua is a truly pretty baitcaster.

Our friends over at the Rapala Board are auctioning off a rare Rapala shad rap signed by Jan Eggers. The proceeds go to charity.

This Follett sidemount is truly an awesome reel!

This neat Florida pier bait has the FATC folks going loco.

This is a nifty hand-made fly display. A lot of work went into this...

An ABU 2100 Record Sport is a great Swedish casting reel.

This vintage Nat Uslan fly rod is a great five strip bamboo rod.

Love this folk art minnow bucket.

A Horton Meek No. 3 in German Silver is about the nicest reel around.

A Heddon 210 in Luminous is always a nice find.

An aluminum Leonard-Mills trout reel? Just flat out awesome.

This Billinghurst fly reel is an absolute knock out. Folks, these don't come down the pike very often at all.

-- Dr. Todd

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday Review: Phil White's Shimano Bantams: The First 15 Years

A Review of Phil White's Shimano Bantams: The First 15 Years

Who will preserve our current fishing tackle history? There are many technological innovations going on around us, but we are all so preoccupied with trying to unravel the threads of fishing history from the 19th and first half of the 20th century that we often lose sight of this fact.

Phil White's Shimano Bantams: The First 15 Years is just the kind of work that is badly needed and that reminds us that even fishing history from the 1970s and 1980s is important to preserve. It also, as Phil will attest, can be difficult to research. In essence, this is a book about the history of the casting reel revolution inaugurated by Lew Childre of Alabama and the Shimano Corporation of Japan, which first manufactured the Lew's Speed Spool but soon after replaced it with the Shimano Bantam.

The reel, as White notes, was a revolution. Introduced in 1978, the Bantam was a low profile, lightweight bait caster that helped change the face of bass fishing forever. The shape of the reel allowed the user to "palm" it and helped inaugurate the days of "grip-and-rip" fishing that pro anglers became famous for.

White's book is a reference work designed to help the reader identify and evaluate the myriad of models of the Bantam from 1978 through the early 1990s. The book conveniently divides the reels into three generations, each detailing a "family" of Bantam reels. The first generation gave way in 1984 to the Bantam Mag Plus generation in 1984, which itself was replaced by the Curado family in 1991. Reels from all three eras are still being used on American waters every day.

This is a really well researched and written book that is the definitive history and guide to Shimano Bantams. It contains color photos of virtually every model of Bantam, catalog data culled from a complete set of Shimano catalogs, and a value guide built on years of following these reels at shows and on eBay. It even has a nifty fourth section on miscellaneous Shimano and Bantam information.

I would be stunned if the average collector could not find something of value in this book. With "classic" tackle drying up in the field, fishing lures and reels from the 1970s and 1980s will soon be all that's available to buy. A whole generation of collectors will emerge who will seek out the tackle they fished with in their youth, and a huge number of them will be seeking out Bantam reels. This book can help you tell a rare Bantam from a common one, so the next time your at a garage sale you won't pass up a $150 Shimano in lieu of a $10 Heddon spinning reel. I predict this book will be a standard reference work 20 years from now.

I got my first Shimano Bantam in 1980 and a new Bantam Mag Plus in around 1985. I still own them both. They were (and are) outstanding casting reels and brought me many hours of pleasure. It was a delight to read about their history, and anyone interested in reels, fishing history, and in particular the history of modern bass fishing will need this book.

Shimano Bantams: The First 15 Years is 198 pages, printed in full color and spiral bound, and costs $35.00 plus shipping. It is available directly from the author by Clicking Here.

-- Dr. Todd

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Three Awesome 1956 ABU Garcia/Mitchell Films!

Today we have a real treat, courtesy of fishing historian Wallace Carney. Wallace has come across some rare and really important historic fishing and tackle related films from the 1950s, and he's graciously allowed us to post them here on the blog as part of a joint effort between The Mitchell Museum, Wayne Real's ABU site, and our very own Fishing for History Blog.

The first one is a 1956 ABU Garcia film featuring Johnny Dieckman, a world champion fly caster. This is a really, really neat one and we should all thank Wallace for sharing this with us.

I can't believe how elegant a caster Dieckman was.

The second film is also of Dieckman demonstrating ABU Ambassadeur fishing tackle in a baitcasting demonstration. Pretty awesome photography of some classic gear!

The final of the three films is a great featurette on the Mitchell spinning reel, showing Dieckman in action once again with these wonderful angling tools. I just love how the reel comes together again at the beginning of the film!

Wallace has spent hundreds of hours converting these to digital format so he can share them with us. He has a comprehensive web site at The Mitchell Museum which is also linked to the right on my blog; he has also just started a forum on Mitchell history called Mitchell Mates which can be accessed by Clicking Here. I strongly suggest you bookmark them as these three films are just the tip of the iceberg!

-- Dr. Todd

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Voices from the Past: O.A. Turner's Lure (1909)

Bill Sonnett sent me this clipping from a 1909 Field & Stream magazine. It is one of the strangest and most complicated write-ups for a fishing lure I've ever seen, and what a fishing lure it is! The O.A. Turner casting minnow. A rare and very desireable bait. I particularly like the idea of "special order colors" it references. There goes my idea of color collecting these guys...

-- Dr. Todd

Monday, April 20, 2009

News of the Week: 20 April 2009

Mike Lesko, lure maker...collegiate anglers marked by lack of greed...Ireland's fisheries in trouble...trout season opens...Bill Burton is a hall-of-famer...A Gold Rusher sold tackle to '49ers...herring are bouncing are hooked on fishing...anglers rescue teen from drowning...a bucket list I'd be happy to help fill...blowin' up worms...Charlie Brewer...the joys of the tax breaks saved Plano...the Sutton Spoon...Aussie thieves net $400,000 in must be THE NEWS OF THE WEEK!

The Big Lead: Lure making comes naturally to Mike Lesko.

What drives collegiate anglers? It ain't money.

The Irish are puzzled at a fourth fish kill at Ireland's most popular fishing spot.

Speaking of Ireland, The Irish Times reports that eels are under threat.

In Connecticut, as trout season opens, anglers take to the rivers.

Legendary outdoor writer Bill Burton is a hall-of-famer.

REWIND: A Gold Rusher is remembered for, among other things, selling fishing tackle to gold miners in 1846.

The Cape Cod Times reports the herring are making a slow recovery.

Why Kids are hooked on fishing.

Anglers rescue teens from drowning...fishermen! Is there anything they CAN'T do?

Jane Simkins has a bucket list: anyone want to help her with #8?

Why new license rules hurt small bait shops.

Blowin' up worms makes this bait angler happy.

Rick Clunn says follow your gut.

Three idiots get caught with an illegal sturgeon in their trunk.

Specialty fly fishing shops seem to feeling the economic pinch.

Why Charlie Brewer is the father of finesse fishing.

The Rat-L-Trap still has its fans.

The Moffit system of fly fishing has a few adherents.

A Virginia angler catches VA record blueline tilefish.

How Jerry Weller might have saved Plano Tackle boxes.

One man waxes nostalgic for fishing tackle of yore.

In Britain, Cornish fishermen angle for French fish.

Little boy is better angler than you; catches record white crappie.

A cowboy nets a record musky.

The Lure of the Sutton Spoon.

Finishing with a Flourish: Australia fishing store thieves net $400,000 in stolen reels in the past six months. That's a lot of Everols and Alveys!

-- Dr. Todd