Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Voices from the Past: William Jamison (1909)

The following letter, published by Field & Stream in July 1909, was written by at the time a relatively unknown figure named William Jamison of Chicago, Illinois. Jamison had only recently started advertising his lures, including the Coaxer, and took the opportunity to pen this letter in response to an on-going debate about whether lure fishing was ethical or not. The letter is important for two major reasons, neither having to do with the express purpose of the letter. First, Jamison used the opportunity to outline the history of the Coaxer bait. Second, he casually offered to take on any comers in a fishing contest, a challenge taken up by Anson B. Decker of Lake Hoptacong, New York and which resulted in the first match fishing contest on record. It's a neat piece of fishing history.

Surface Fishing for Bass

by William Jamison

Surface fishing for bass has been a fad with me for about fourteen years, if I remember rightly. I originally used an oblong piece of pork, about 1 1/4 inches long by 1 inch wide and slightly less in thickness; through the front end was run some red yarn, and the bait hung on a weedless hook. It occurred to me that felt wings would make the bait ride the water better and steady it in the air. I tried this improvement and found it successful. The felt wings found immediate favor with our local fishermen. But while the pork chunk is a fine bait, it was found that a good many fish struck short and were not hooked, and there was the additional objection that the pork was greasy and disagreeable to handle, and rusted everything in the tackle-box.

I looked about for something to take its place, and, not finding it, proceeded to make a bait of my own, adding a hook in the rear to get the short-strikers, and further elaborating the bait by the addition of red feathers. I found I had a lure that would go through any kind of weeds without a guard on the hook, was more attractive and a better killer than the old pork chunk, and clean to handle; and it saved the necessity of cutting new chunks of pork every time one went fishing. It was a considerable job to cut a lot of them just the right shape, and if not cut right they would not throw spray, but plow along clumsily and frequently turn over. This artificial and improved pork chunk is what is now known as the Coaxer surface bait. It does not belie its name, for no more attractive bait was ever tied to a line. While not so sure a killer as one trimmed with a dozen hooks, it will get more fish in a day's fishing than any other known bait, either natural or artificial, because you can fish in the weeds where the fish are feeding. It seldom catches an under-sized bass, perch or other small fish. The single hook makes it the most humane bait on the market—a point now being more and more appreciated by sportsmen. The new "X" style has a detachable double hook on the bottom, to adapt it to the ideas of those who consider a multiplicity of hooks essential. The main reason for its killing qualities is the extremely short portion of the lure not protected. The bait proper is less than two inches long, the feathers making up the balance, and a fair-sized bass can scarcely strike the bait without getting the hook.

I claim for the "X" style Coaxer surface bait that it is the best all-around effective and satisfactory bait in the world, and I stand ready to enter a contest covering three days' fishing from the same boat, each contestant to fish the ground half the time, and no man or kind of bait barred. I am willing to go to any lake within 300 miles of Chicago which is unknown to both parties. As bait casting is the most popular style of fishing for pleasure, the general utility of the baits should be shown, the contest being decided by points of merit and demerit. For instance, points should be allowed for a clean catch of bass of legal size, and there should be demerit marks for catching undersized bass, perch, bluegills, etc. Strikes should be allowed 1 point as against 3 points for a bass caught. A "gaffed" fish — hooked accidentally outside the mouth—should earn a deundersized fish injured badly it should offset the taking of The contest should be pulled off prior to July 15, 1909, I to confine myself to the "X" Coaxer, barring no man or bait, or variety of baits. Fishing to be in a lake that has a fair amount of reeds and lilies.

I am sending you a photograph of the largest "pickerel ever caught with hook and line—or any other way—in the State of Indiana ; also that of its captor, H. Cory of Syracuse, Ind. The fish was forty-six inches long, weighed twenty-five pounds, and was taken, after a long fight, on a Coaxer underwater bait. It was a beautiful specimen of its kind, and showed no mark of the battle except where the hook caught in the lip. The fish is now in the hands of a Chicago taxidermist, and will be placed on exhibition as an example of the fish that can be taken on artificial baits.

Chicago, Ill. W. J. Jamison.

-- Dr. Todd

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