It's sometimes hard to realize that the advent of multi-treble wooden minnows for sport fishing was a very controversial development. Here, in a March 1909 issue of Field & Stream, West Coast angler and lure maker Henry Clay Royer--developer of the South Coast Minnow--rails against the use of "Dowagiac" type baits and extols the virtues of single-hook minnows like his own lure.
LIVE VS. ARTIFICIAL BAIT In reading Field And Stream for April, I was amused at some of the expressions of your correspondents. I have had twenty years' experience studying fish in the lakes and rivers of the East and Middle West, with another twenty years on the Pacific Coast, and am acquainted with the game fish from San Diego to Behring Sea. My fishing has been done with a nine-ounce rod and a fifteen-thread line, and it has never made any difference to me about the size of the fish. The same rod, reel and line handles them all. Of course this is a heavier outfit than is needed for fresh-water pickerel, mascalonge and bass.
To me the rod and line a man uses is not of so much importance as the bait. My way of expressing my opinion of sportsmen's methods sometimes gets me into controversies, but I feel I have right on my side, and usually hold my own. It is my opinion that he is not a true sportsman who uses more than one hook attached to his bait or line. Still, if it is a commercial proposition with him, of course, "pot" them by all means.
R. H. Davis in the April Field And Stream gives a long dissertation on rod and reel fishing, and it seems to me that his whole argument comes to a focus on the Dowagiac Expert No. 200. It seems to me that Mr. Davis, as a sportsman, should advocate fair play in catching fish. Let us go over the matter a little and see about it. Mr. Davis advocates a bait which carries two gangs of hooks, making six hooks. Why six hooks? For the same reason the pot hunter does things? He also quotes, as he says "from a personal letter received last month from one of the greatest bait-casters, as well as the most analytical of men in matters of this sort," and he can't refrain from printing his concluding observations. Now this, to me, unknown gentleman gets right down to "the modern wooden minnow with its lifelike ornamentation," and says that it casts beautifully. So would a piece of lead made right. For the life of me I cannot comprehend the "lifelike"—with from two to five gangs of hooks, six to fifteen separate points, hung at the end and along both sides, or on the belly of the bait. He also says, "The hooks always hang in the right position to catch and hold the fish." If the fish strikes it, he fs murdered! This gentleman and expert bait-caster caught from forty to sixty bass, averaging nearly three pounds each, in six hours, for several days in succession, and—"of course we used the wooden minnow." For the love of humanity, sportsmanship and fair play, let us see about this.
Does anyone believe for a minute that "we" put these several hundred bass back into the water unharmed? Not much! If the fish strikes so as to take the whole minnow, he has from two to four gangs of hooks, with from six to twelve points, sticking, tearing and murdering at every effort to free himself; and perhaps several gangs slashing on the outside, making his face look as if he had been through a twenty-round fight. This is surely a murderous game, and I don't believe a true sportsman would use such methods. There is no skill needed in reeling in a fish that you know has from six to fifteen hooks imbedded in his mouth and face, so that you must consume a half-hour getting the fish cut and pulled loose from the bait! There is neither skill nor sport in such work.
I have used wooden minnows for years, but with only one hook. If you must catch fish and let them go, see that their injury is the least possible. There is but one bait of this kind—the "South Coast" minnow. This bait will catch nearly all the fish by the side of any other bait, minus the murderous effect of gang hooks. I find my experience in using the wooden minnow differs from Mr. Stimson's; he says, "I do not believe surface bait is efficacious in water over six feet deep." But I catch fish with the "South Coast" minnow over water 100 feet deep.
Let us not be pot hunters, but true rod and reel sportsmen. At the same time, let our work be tempered with mercy.
Los Angeles, Cal. Henry Clay Royer.
For your edification, here is a picture of a Royer ad from 1910 and a photo of the Pflueger lure (with only one hook) that is built in the style Royer suggests is more humane in the above letter.
-- Dr. Todd