The Arbogast Sputterfuss--A Beautiful Bait --- I Can't Use!
From the first time I saw a frog-colored Sputterfuss in Frank's tackle box about 1956, I was taken by its unique beauty. Frank was in his 70s at the time, a life-long fisherman who enjoyed sharing with an enthusiastic young boy his observations on the many bass lures in his tackle box. I only remember four lures-- a white Heddon #150, a Bleeder Bait in the box, a yellow L&S Bassmaster, and a frog colored Arbogast Sputterfuss. He told me about various fish that each lure had accounted for and that the L&S was one of the few lures that had taken any of the notoriously elusive bass in the local limestone quarries and then only after dark. About the only thing he said about the Sputterfuss was that it was suppose to be a good surface bait. That didn't seem like much of an endorsement.
The following full page color ad is from the back cover of the May 1947 issue of Outdoors magazine. Looking at those beautiful color illustrations, I am still captivated by this lure's look.
The men in the photograph are Fred Arbogast on the left and Hank Werner on the right. Hank was a salesman for Fred's company and a well known fisherman of the day. In his 1952 book Black Bass Fishing, Robert Page Lincoln wrote of his experiences fishing with Hank Werner and called him, “America's premier hazard or obstruction fisherman.” In other writings Robert Page Lincoln stated that he did not think too much of the Sputterfuss because of the need to reel at top speed to keep the 5/8 oz metal bait on the surface. Even Hank Werner stated that one needed to start reeling before the bait hit the surface. On the other hand, Lincoln recalled that he had repeatedly seen Werner catch fish reeling a Sputterfuss at such a high speed one would think no Bass could catch it. I have experimented with the 5/8 oz Sputterfuss on several occasions using vintage tackle. With the 4 to 1 retrieve ratio of most vintage reels one needs to crank at a breakneck speed in order to keep this bait on the surface. This quickly wears me out and takes most of the fun out of fishing. Hank Werner must have had a strong wrist!
Though advertising in 1947 presented the “Sputterfuss Hawaiian” as new, it has long been known that there is an earlier version. In 1993, long-time lure collector Gabby Talkington received a letter (which he has generously shared with us) from legendary metal collector, researcher, and early NFLCC President Jim Frazier concerning the earliest history of the Sputterfuss. According to the letter the first version came out in 1946 but the body shape was changed for 1947 due to the earlier body hanging upon weeds. This early version of the Sputterfuss is a scarce lure. The only advertising I have seen for it is contained in the 1946 box papers seen below. Reading the admonitions about being for “experts only” and the requirements for tackle in order to keep the bait on the surface, gives some clue as to just how difficult fishing with this bait can be.
Knowing all this, I am still taken by the beauty of a clean bright Sputterfuss. I've never met anyone who liked to fish with this lure or who had great stories about the many bass they had taken with it. Maybe this is why most of the Sputterfuss's one sees are relatively clean. They did catch a lot of fishermen.
-- Wild Bill Sonnett