Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Review of the March 2007 NFLCC Gazette

Since this blog is read by ORCA members who are not members of the NFLCC as well as a number of people interested in fishing history who do not belong to any organization, I thought I would begin reviewing the major journals so people will have an idea of what is currently being published.

The NFLCC Gazette Vol. 31, No. 111 (March 2007)

The first thing one notices about the new changes to the Gazette is that the actual words "NFLCC Gazette" do not appear on the cover. The second thing one notices is that the cover is now in color, part of a full 16 pages of color in it. The color section used to be in the center of the magazine and was normally reserved for articles where the pictures would warrant having color printing; moving the color section to the front, however, means the Editor's Corner, President's Page, and Secretary/Treasurer's Report is now printed in color, which seems a bit of an overkill to me. Just my opinion.

The first major article is a nifty four-page article "Grand Rapids Fishing Lures, Part I: Pierce, Hill and Hibbard Spoon Baits" by Michigan writer Terry McBurney, whose work has graced the pages of the Gazette on a number of occasions. This well-researched and written article, as all of Terry's work is, centers on the Pierce, Hill and Hibbard spinners of Michigan. These lures are important nineteenth century developments in fishing lure history, and show the genius of tackle making reached far inland from the stronghold of New York City. The subject had been broached before in Bob Groter's article "Early Fishing Lures of Western Michigan" (NFLCC Magazine, June 1995) and in Arlan Carter's seminal work Nineteenth Century Fishing Lures, but Terry's research clearly shows that there is much more to be learned on the subject. It is well illustrated with seven clear B&W photos.

The second feature article is Eric Borgerding's "This Place Was Once Called Eden: A Brief History of the Late 19th Century Fishing and Fishing Lures of Madison, Wisconsin." McBurney's article is what we call revisionary scholarship; this is taking previous research and adding significantly to the story. Borgerding's work is what historian's call original scholarship, a pioneering work that covers material not widely available in print before (Bob Slade does mention Madison fishing a bit in his work on Wisconsin fishing tackle). This nine page article details a number of tackle manufacturers never before covered in depth, including Fritz Huels and Sumner & Morris. The photos are detailed and useful for identifying variations in the styles of these overlooked spinners. It is one of the most important articles published in the Gazette in the past three years.

In addition to these two excellent feature articles, there are also some shorter articles as well. One of these is by Ray Thomas of White House, TN entitled "Gene Bullard: Father of Modern Rod Making." It is a neat little two-page article covering a brief history of this important rod maker. An important one-page feature by Dan Ross of Cincinnati entitled "Be Prepared" outlines how all of us can help ensure the survival of our sport and hobby by working with local Boy Scout troops to promote a fishing tackle collector's badge. Jim Freeman of Leeds, AL wrote a one-page article on the Leonard Self Wind-Up Plug. Finally, the Rev. Reed Stockman, a regular contributor, penned a one-pager "The Mysterious Little Craw Lure" that covers this intriguing Tango-style bait (although the article was printed with a very bizarre drop cap first letter). There is also a two-page section on Ken Haggard creels that is unattributed (perhaps penned by Jim Fleming, the Gazette's editor). It shows models of these gorgeous creels in full color.

Finally, professional bass fisherman and collector Bernie Schultz contributed a nice biography of NFLCC member Henry Hoellman, the man who served as the basis for the character Henry Blake in the hit book, movie, and TV series M*A*S*H*. First posted on the internet on Joe's Chat Board, it is a moving testimonial to a collector who touched many people's lives.

Coming in at 40 pages this issue offered some interesting information and I would consider it a step forward in the effort to revise and update the Gazette.

--Dr. Todd

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fishing Tackle for Soldiers: A Historical Perspective

An interesting movement is afoot to provide soldiers overseas with fishing tackle. You can view the details of this project here:

It is interesting to note that there is a long tradition of this. Classic Angling, a fine British publication that covers fishing history in great detail, recently profiled efforts of British citizens to provide fishing tackle to World War I soldiers fighting in France. This idea passed over the Atlantic, and in World War II, a similar movement developed to provide American soldiers with fishing tackle.

The movement to send fishing tackle to overseas soldiers and sailors was spearheaded by Michael Lerner of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), who declared on 05 September 1943:

"Millions of our boys are stationed in places where recreational opportunities are limited. And yet, fishing is available in almost every region to which our boys have been sent. When out boys find themselves on the world's finest fishing ranges--oceans, lakes, rivers--so keen is their desire to fishing during the periods of leave from billets, bombs, and barrages they are trying to make fishing hooks out of discarded wire, scraps of metal, and even safety pins in order to get a crack at local fishing."

Lerner ordained a movement to send fishing kits to soldiers. These kits cost $2 to assemble, package and ship, with donations taken at the IGFA headquarters, and the cause was popularized by the Isaac Walton League, American Museum of Natural History, and Tom Moore McBride (fishing writer for the Washington Post) and Lincoln Werder (fishing writer for The New York Times), among others. There was some debate over whether this was a good idea or a bad one, but in the end the fishing kits were provided in limited numbers. More importantly, the movement spurred the government to commission more "fishing survival kits" to be given to select soldiers and sailors, some of which have survived down to the present.

It is an old idea but a good one and one that I support wholeheartedly. I get a large number of ROTC soldiers in my classes, and currently have a dozen or more former students fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them, and for others like them, I am putting together a box of several thousand extra hooks I have accumulated and sending it on to the distribution site. You can never have enough fish hooks! And I think one of the better memories a soldier could have would be catching a fish out of the Tigres or Euphrates rivers.

--Dr. Todd

Thursday, March 29, 2007

More Thoughts...

My previous post got some very interesting reactions. Almost all of them dealt with the article I reposted on racism and collecting from 1996; it wasn't really my intent to spark a debate on this issue or to reopen old wounds. I only used it to illustrate the point that there have been hundreds of posts of lasting importance (and I feel this was an important post, and a number of emailers and callers declared they remembered it from 11 years ago and felt it was important too) that are simply gone forever. I remember a post from Heddon guru Bill Sonnett that was better than anything I have ever read on Heddon underwater minnows. It was up for less than 48 hours. This is just one of many examples, unfortunately. There was once a very comprehensive site on Heddon Sonics; gone. A great Clark Water Scout site; gone. A comprehensive history of Shakespeare; gone. This should trouble all of us.

Jeff S. posted on Reel Talk that there are a number of services that archive web sites on a daily or weekly basis. This is what is needed for our hobby, to insure that the information freely given over the internet does not just disappear. I am happy at least a few people are reading my blog and discussing the issue!

I just finished my forthcoming NFLCC Magazine article on A.G. Spalding fishing tackle. It was a very difficult and rewarding work and I think it will set the record straight on some misconceptions on both Spalding and Kosmic fishing tackle.

--Dr. Todd

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Russian Spinning Reels: The Problem with the Web

One of my favorite places on the internet is Reel Talk, the chat board of the Old Reel Collector's Association (ORCA). Some of the best and most knowledgable discussion on the web can be found among this friendly group of people, and this is in no way a criticism of the organization and the web site. I would like to illustrate the problem of the internet as a way of creating lasting resource for collectors.

One of the most interesting threads in recent memory on Reel Talk deals with Russian spinning reels. This thread is available to view at:

You may have noticed the problem with this thread. Although it is fairly recent, and is still being added to, the photos from the first two pages have gone MIA. This is because the outside source where they were uploaded has changed; now, the utility of this thread as a resource for fishing history and for collecting is badly diminished. Unless you printed and saved this thread (which I think I may have done but need to check), much of this info is now gone.

My point in bringing this up is that the internet is fantastic as a historical resource, but like all mediums it has its problems as well. It is by nature ephemeral, and anyone who remembers the beginning of the internet and fishing tackle collecting recalls it was like the Wild, Wild West. Remember Kevin's board? Angler's On-Line? Hope you liked a dose of racism with your tackle. At one point, there was so much anti-Japanese rhetoric about collecting that I wrote my first extent posting on tackle collecting, dated 23 November 1996, on the Angler's On-Line Chat Board. I'll repost it here as it was up and gone in a few days, never to be seen again until now:


On History, Racism, and the Nature of Lure Collecting

Todd E. Arai Larson

I have watched with considerable dismay the acerbic anti-Japanese messages posted to this board over the past months. As a trained historian, avid lure collector and Japanese-American, I have made the conscious decision not to post or say anything. My belief is that if you ignore such Troglodytes they will slink back under their rocks (and usually do). But there have been so many misconceptions posted that I feel the need to address several issues.

There has been some significant discussion and many accusations that the Japanese are somehow "stealing our national heritage" by buying up American fishing tackle. This is a specious argument at best, at worst a xenophobic contention that is tainted by historical racism. Surely those collectors of ABU or DAM-Quick reels do not believe they are pilfering Swedish or German national heritage, and I seriously doubt very many people in these countries would make such a bald-faced accusation. People around the world collect these items because they are wonderful works of arts and damn fine pieces of fishing equipment. According to some of these postings, such collectors would be "un-American" for desiring tackle not made in the U.S.A. Gee, I guess we'll all have to ditch those Hardy reels now.

What is really at work behind most of these claims for "keeping it in the U.S.A." is a kind of anti-Japanese bigotry that has been evident in this country for many years. The Japanese and Japanese-Americans have been one of the groups most targeted by racism in American history, ranging from Nativist agitation in the nineteenth century, to the 1924 National Origins Act of Congress banning all immigration from East Asia, to the brutal internment of Japanese-Americans, some of as little as one-eighth or one-sixteenth Japanese, during the second world war. This kind of anti-Japanese hysteria has survived in many forms; it is evident in the plot lines of recent Tom Clancy novels and big-budget Hollywood movies, easily seen in the racist denunciations of right-wing paramilitary groups, and can even be found on the Angler's Antique Fishing Tackle Chat Board.

It is for this reason that we do not see anti-Dutch postings whenever one of our friends from Holland posts his wants on the board, despite the fact that it is the Dutch and not the Japanese who own the most real estate in America. One posting even suggested that we had "just been at war with the Japanese" and shouldn't trade with them. The last time I checked we were "just at war" with the Italians and Germans too, yet you never see vitriolic diatribes aimed at Ferraris or Mercedes-Benzes. As much as some people might want you believe, the Japanese are no more our enemy than the Canadians, the British, or the Spanish (all of whom, by the way, we've also warred with in the distant past).

Now if someone decides to buy the Smithsonian and move it to Paris, you have a right to claim your national heritage is in danger, but as far as fishing tackle is concerned, the more people who collect - regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin - the better off we all are in the long run. As one wise posting noted, such interest will only increase the value of our existing collections. Beyond this, however, people living in America have an incredible edge over collectors overseas: we can still pick up tackle at garage sales, auctions, and from your neighbor's Uncle Joe. The only collector who harbors resentment against anyone who pays a fair price and finds fulfillment in the hobby is not a collector at all; they are instead narrow-minded and greedy hoarders that the rest of us can do without. Such people do not deserve our anger or scorn but our pity and sorrow that the narrow confines of their lives lead them on an enduring path of bitterness, frustration and hatred.

The nature of the World Wide Web opens communications up on a global scale, and the postings on this board are read in many countries. Such blatantly racist postings reflect poorly on the United States, but we can all hope that foreign readers (and domestic ones) realize what a tiny minority these people really are. Just as, in my case, for every one person who ever called me a "dirty Jap" there are 1000 people who showed me kindness and hospitality, we can hope that our Japanese and other foreign readers realize that the vast majority of the people in this hobby judge others on their status as a collector of fishing tackle and not on their national origin. Of course, the ability to come up with "Reels As Large as My Head" or "Tough Heddons in Frog Spot" will not hurt your standing on this chat board, either.


Todd E. Arai Larson
Department of History/National Center for Supercomputing Applications
University of Illinois

P.S. For those of you who do like to post racist messages under anonymous postings, we here at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA - the creators of Mosaic, Netscape and Telnet) could very easily trace and publish your e-mail and snail mail addresses on this Chat Board. I am sure there are a few people who might like to respond to you personally.


Thankfully, today much of the collecting world is dominated by moderated chat boards like Joe's Board, Clark's Antique Fishing Rod Board, and Reel Talk. But problems still exist--who is working to save the integrity of this information that has been freely shared with others? What mechanism do we have to save web pages dealing with our outdoor heritage?

Two other examples: the Canadian Antique Fishing Tackle Collectors web site had all of the past issues of the newsletter on PDF available for download. It is now gone. Harvey Garrison's awesome Shakespeare Web Site disappeared with his untimely passing and may never be resurrected.

I believe this is reaching a crisis point with fishing history and collecting and the internet.

--Dr. Todd


Reel Talk:

Joe's Board:

Clark's Forum:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cornelia "Fly Rod" Crosby

Recently a senior course I am teaching on the history of outdoor America read "Fly Rod Crosby: The Woman Who Marketed Maine" by Hunter and Shettlesworth (Tilbury House, 2000). This is a fascinating book that delves into the marketing of fishing and hunting, but more importantly deals with the impact of women on the outdoors. Cornelia "Fly Rod" Crosby was one of America's most prominent outdoor writers for the period 1890-1920, and her contributions helped place Maine as one of the leading proponents of the outdoors. Fly Rod was a fantastic fly fisher and had her rods custom built by noted Maine fly rod maker Charlie Wheeler.

Fly Rod was a popular subject for sporting wags. Here is an example from the 25 May 1893 New York Times, where an article entitled "Women in Journalism" declared:

"Good old Isaak Walton would have turned over in his grave and groaned had he not long ago moldered into dust when the announcement was made that a paper would be read on the subject of 'Woman as an Authority on Trouting.' The paper, read by a local newspaper woman, was written by Miss Cornelia T. Crosby of Maine, better known to her devotees as 'Fly Rod.' She is expert and ardent sportswoman, who is said to have the remarkable record of fifty-two trout in fifty-four minutes. She is quite as clever with the pen as with the rod, and her articles are widely read. Physically she is unusually well equipped for wading in a trout stream, being, it is said, fully 6 feet in height."

I'm sure Isaak Walton wouldn't have been shocked, having been preceded by Dame Juliana Berners as a fishing author.

I ran across this interesting article about Maine fly tyer Selene Dumaine.

It is wonderful that someone is continuing in the tradition of Sara Jane McBride, Carrie Stevens and other pioneering female anglers.

Here is a link to the biography of Fly Rod Crosby


Dr. Todd

Monday, March 26, 2007

A New Blog

My name is Dr. Todd E.A. Larson and I am a college history professor fascinated with the history of fishing. I have started this new blog for anyone who has an interest in fishing history, including the history of baits (lures, spinners, flies), rods and reels, techniques (saltwater, fly fishing) specialization (bass fishing, musky fishing, etc.), and people (Zane Grey, Hemingway, etc.).

I have written a host of articles and books on the subject of outdoor America, including a forthcoming work on the history of the fish hook in America. I plan to use this blog to distribute vignettes, articles, links, and original content to people who, like me, have a passion for the outdoors.

I also plan to use this as a forum to stimulate discussion on various aspects of fishing and environmental history.

So keep tuned in! I plan to work on this blog and hopefully update it on a regular basis.

--Teal (Dr. Todd)