The following passage, penned by John A. Haddock of Watertown, N.Y. and printed in his book A Souvenir: The Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River in 1895, gives some great background history to one of the 1000 Islands most famous residents--Gardner Mills Skinner. But to me, of greatest interest is the author's account that he "saw the elder Walton, long since dead, at work upon spoons that could not now be given away." This Walton, he notes earlier in the book, was Azariah Walton of the firm of Cornwall & Walton. I have not seen a marked Walton spoon, but if one turns up, it could very well be one of the earliest lures in American history.
The Technique of Fishing
The improvements in fishing tackle have been immense during the past forty years. In 1849, the writer saw the elder Walton, long since dead, at work upon spoons that could not now be given away — yet of those rude attempts he could dispose readily of as many as he could put together. Chapman, at Theresa and Rochester, has made many beautiful and successful fishing appliances. But the most successful man in the business for the past ten years has been Mr. G. M. Skinner, of Clayton, whose goods are now known all over the United States and Canada. He began to study the art piscatorial upon the Great River itself, having been long a resident of Gananoque, Ontario, in his early youth. He finally located at Clayton, a place possessing some advantages not apparent to the superficial observer, among them being a prominent angling resort and the principal gateway for tourists coming to the river over the only avenue on the American side, viz.: the N. Y. C. System, comprising the R., W. & O.and U. & B. R. R. R. It is the distributing point for those desiring to reach, by water, the numerous islands and parks in its immediate vicinity, and, also, the fashionable resort, twelve miles down the river, of Alexandria Bay.
In this romantic and favored vicinity he served his apprenticeship in fishing and experimenting with all sorts, sizes and shapes of artificial baits obtainable. He was not content, but strove to construct a spoon for his own use, which should have decided advantages over any used. As a result of such effort, two corrugated or fluted spoons were made; one being given to a fishing companion, the other he retained for his own use. In numerous practical trials, these two spoons gave satisfactory evidence of having uncommon merit, notably in the capture, by his wife and self, of a muscalonge, measuring four feet eleven inches in length and weighing forty pounds.
Mr. Skinner himself says: "I have been frequently asked, what I considered a spoon to represent, as revolving while fishing, and why are fish attracted by them to such an extent that they will seize them, even when unprovided with any other attraction save the glint of the cold metal. In reply, I offer those of an inquisitive turn my humble opinion that the motion or action of a revolving lure, unquestionably simulates or means, life—prey, to fish, and as a natural sequence, life means food — sustenance."
Mr. Skinner also relates the following: "A party from Clayton went to Hay Bay, Bay of Quinte, to fish for muscalonge. The water in Hay Bay is not very deep where the fish are caught and the weeds come very near the surface. To prevent the trolling-spoon fouling, a gang of naked hooks is attached to the line some distance ahead of the spoon, which breaks off or pulls up the weeds and allows the spoon to go free. Messrs. D. Pratt and Edwin Seymour, of Syracuse, were fishing in one boat. Mr. Seymour, in letting out line, felt a tug when the line was out but a few yards. Turning he saw the water break where the naked hook was and commenced to haul in, finding he had caught a muscalonge upon the naked or weed-guard hook.
"One of the party trolling with two hand lines caught a large pike under somewhat unusual circumstances. The voracious fish had captured one troll and made a race for and secured the other, having both of them securely hooked in his mouth when hauled in.
"A most unusual occurrence I would like to place on record. In August, 1883, Miss Annie Lee, at that time eleven years of age, while trolling near Clayton for bass, with a No. 3 gold fluted spoon, which size is fitted with a No. 2 hook, struck and successfully brought to boat a muscalonge weighing thirty-six pounds, measuring four feet six inches in length. In the effort to secure this large fish the guide's gaff was broken, showing the enormous strength of the fish, yet it was finally secured, brought in and exhibited with those slight hooks still fast in its capacious mouth — an evidence not only of good tackle, but of skillful handling."
-- Dr. Todd