We've had occasion to feature one of my favorite outdoor writers, Carroll Blaine Cook (a.k.a. Dixie Carroll) numerous times on the blog. Today, we take a piece from his syndicated columns that made it into his book Fishing, Tackle and Kits (1919). It features an entertaining and interesting short history of the casting spoon, and is well worth knowing.
HAIL TO THE SPOON
Way back when you and I and most of the gang were kicking around in knee panties and just breaking out of the kilts, our dads who answered to the rollicking call of the lakes and streams were teasing the game fins into striking with the spoon. And many a big fish has answered to the tantalizing flash of the spoon as it glided, darted or revolved on its way through the water.
Most of the spoons of the early days were of the wobbling, darting class; this was just a bit before the advent of the more modern idea of spooning, the revolving type which is so popular today and justly so because these twirling beauties certainly attract fish. However, the old-time darters were standbys in their day, and many game-fish have made their last strike at them. The Old Lobb, shaped a trifle longer than the bowl of an ordinary teaspoon; the Onondaga, a slim-shaped spoon that darted and revolved at will or as the speed of its movement was increased in the water; and the Oneida, a fat-shaped spoon that had an erratic dart which followed no set route or schedule — all were pets and fish-getters.
Many of the old-timers still swear by these old patterns, but a glance in their tackle-box will generally show up a couple of the modern beauties either fluted, hammered, or plain. The old wobbling, darting spoons have a place in any tackle-box and are great little flashers of light as they dart from side to side. This makes them very attractive to the curious fish, especially the pike, pickerel and musky, as they lie in wait for the passing small fish upon which they gorge their tummies. The larger fish are particularly subject to the fascinating glide of the spoon and strike it with a wallop that often bends it double.
One of the earliest spoons of the darting type was the Buel spoon, following closely the shape of the bowl of the teaspoon, in fact it is claimed that young Buel, while washing his dishes at camp one day, accidentally let a silver teaspoon drop into the water, and as it glided down towards the bottom an overzealous lake trout, that could not resist the scintillating flashes of light reflected from the spoon, made a dart as it and cracked his teeth in the effort. Being of an inventive turn of mind, the youngster filed the handle off the spoon, drilled a hole in one end, to which he attached his line, and in the other end he drilled another hole and eyed in a long-shanked hook. This simple arrangement caught many fish, and for years was the model from which other spoons of the early days were patterned.
A little later, out in the West, an old-time fisherman of Delevan lake, puttering around his cabin, doped up the Delevan spoon by hammering a halfdollar piece into a concave shape with a sort of nicked tail at one end and an eyed ring on the other side. This old sport of the southern Wisconsin lake region eyed on two long-shanked hooks and, as minnows and shiners were the accepted bait for bass at that time, he hooked a minnow on each of the hooks. Trolling out into the lake to go to his usual fishing-grounds, he was kept busy hauling in the bass and putting on new bait. The fishing with the new spoon was so good that he did not find it necessary to keep on going until he hit his old spots, and when he flashed his string on the unsuspecting public and then flashed the new lure on the fishing fans he had to cut out fishing himself and hammer out these new spoons for the boys of other days. This was the beginning of the famous old Delevan spoon that has a wonderful string of fish to its credit.
A few years later, over on the fine old St. Lawrence river, G. M. Skinner put a real up-kick into the spoon game when he decided that the spoon which revolved regularly in one direction was what the big fins were really looking for. And to give the spoon this steady revolving movement, G. M. slipped a few flutes on an oval-shaped brass spoon and on the first tryout he hooked up with a walloping big musky that snapped his teeth shut with such force on the strike that Skinner knew he had made a ten-strike with the new lure and that he had something that would make the real old grand-daddy of the tribe sit up on his tail and take notice. The flutes not only added to the movement of the spoon, but also broke up the flash of light from its surface so that it shot through the water in a dozen different shafts, penetrating the watery recesses in a coaxing way that could not be resisted.
Up to this time most of the spoons were of large size, when along comes John Hildebrandt, one of the best-known old-time fly-casters of Indiana, with an idea that something ought to be done for the flyfisherman, to add a bit of attractiveness to the fly which a lot of bass were passing up, probably because they were nearsighted and could not see it. Anyway, " Big John," as he was lovingly termed by his angling pals, came through with an idea that helped make the spoon the attractive bait it is. He reduced the size of the spoon greatly, in fact his first spoon was made from a hammered dime and a bent hairpin. One trial with this little spoon and Big John found that the whirling spoon gave an added bit of motion to the fly and also the flash of light seemed to be just what the big fellows were waiting for. The boys of the present day can thank John Hildebrandt for pulling down the size of the spoon which added it to the casting end of the game, where it is just as effective as it ever has been in the trolling end.
It took the late W. T. J. Lowe of Buffalo to fancy up the spoon in gold and silver, and the famous Star and Buffalo spoons finished in these metals in beaded or plain styles have made a place in spoon line that is second to none. While on a trip for musky a few years ago I had a very accommodating guide whom I wished to remember for his many kindnesses during the trip, so I sent him a couple of the Lowe Star spoons as a little friendly token. Two seasons later, while in the same locality, I met this old guide of former years and was surprised to find him wearing one of the Lowe spoons as a watch charm. He just couldn't toss that gold and silver beauty into the water for ordinary fishing, it looked so darned fine, he said, that he was going to make a musky hop clean out of the water to take it off his watch chain if it came to a showdown.
An interesting bit of information regarding the early use of the spoon hook and artificial bait to coax the finny tribe out of the deep was brought to my attention some time ago by Harry R. Phillips, a well-known and popular angler. It is in regard to a quotation from a book, "A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean for Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere," written by Capt. James Cook and Capt. James King about the voyages of Captain Cook from 1776 to 1780. The quotation is in regard to the fishing game in the Sandwich islands, and from the dope, those old-timers must have been some fishermen with their hand-made tackle. So that everyone gets a fair chance at the credit for introducing the spoon hook in the sport 'of fishing, I quote the paragraph from this old book published in 1796:
"Their fishing hooks are of various sizes and figures; but those which are principally made use of are about two or three inches in length and are formed in the shape of a small fish, serving as a bait, with a bunch of feathers fastened to the head or tail. They make these hooks of bone, mother of pearl or wood, pointed and barbed with little bones or tortoise shell. Those with which they fish for sharks are very large, being generally of the length of six or eight inches. Considering the materials of which these hooks are composed, their neatness and strength are amazing; and indeed, upon trial we found them superior to our own."
Like all fishermen, it is a ten-to-one shot that the boys of the crew bought up the entire supply of this new-style bait before they left the islands.
The spoon is a very effective bait and can be used with no other adornment than that which the maker has endowed it, or it will be found an added attractiveness when used with any of the natural foods of the game fishes, or the artificial substitutes. The glittering, flashing whirl of the modern spoon in front of a minnow, frog, pork rind or chunk is something that awakens the curiosity or anger of most any of the game boys.
-- Dr. Todd