Tuesday, September 25, 2007

History of T.J. Waters Fishing Tackle

Recently on Joe's Board, a mystery lure was posted in a box marked "Jumbo Fishing Tackle" and "T.J. Waters, Auburn, New York." I thought that a few readers might be interested in the history behind this interesting central New York tackle firm.

T.J. Waters "Jumbo Tackle" Spinner, courtesy Chris Labuz

Thomas J. Waters was an icon of the sporting goods community in Auburn, New York--a city probably more famous for being the home of the Shoe Form Company, makers of Bill DeWitt fishing tackle. In the early 1930s (his obituary stated 1935 but this is incorrect), Waters founded the T.J. Waters Sporting Goods Store on 50 Francis Street in Auburn, and quickly became the center of fishing activity in the region. For the following two decades, the pages of the Auburn Citizen Advertiser were replete with notices on the firm; the 03 April 1933 edition noted "At the T.J. Waters Sport Shop, 'Ed' Morse, Thomas Doyle, and Maynard Williams weigned in six lake trout averaging two and one-half pounds. The same shop reported two fine brown trout weighed in by Raymond Kahl..."

The first advertisement I can find for the firm is a classified ad in the Citizen Advertiser declaring "Guns, ammunition, fishing tackle, live bait: lowest prices. T.J. Waters, 50 Francis Street" and dated 06 October 1933. Classified ads over the next couple of years were all variations on this theme; for example, some noted Waters' shop was open evenings, that the shop offered free fishing calendars, and that it was an authorized dealer for Elto and Evinrude Motors and Thompson Boats.

Typical T.J. Waters ad, from the 15 February 1935 Auburn Citizen Advertiser

By 1937, the firm was advertising a 46 Francis Street address, implying that the shop had expanded (multiple street addresses, for example 46-50 Francis Street, denoted large buildings).

Each successive year found the Waters store more prominently featured in the local paper. By 1938, the paper was full of notices like the following one from 30 April 1938:

Beauty from North Brook

Frank J. Bauer of 230 North Hoopes Avenue, a member of the Cayuga County Sportsmen's Association, had a three pound, three ounce brown trout, which he caught in North Brook, on exhibition today at the T.J. Waters Sporting Goods store, Frances Street. The fish is the largest of its kind to be shown at the Waters store thus far this season.

Thomas Waters was also a member of the Cayuga County Sportsmen's Association.

By 1938, Waters was advertising in many local newspapers; typical of these ads is this one from the Moravia Republican-Register dated 10 March 1939:

Beginning as early as 1933, Thomas Waters also worked as a manufacturer of fishing tackle. In the back of the T.J. Waters Sporting Goods Store, Thomas manufactured lures under the name "Jumbo Fishing Tackle," and was successful enough to register a trademark in this name with the Patent Office. The trademark was a diamond with the words "Jumbo Fishing Tackle" stacked in the middle, and "trade" and "mark" on each side.

Like the spinner owned by Chris Labuz, pictured above, this tackle came in attractive orange boxes with black borders, clearly marked "Manufactured by T.J. Waters, Auburn NY" on top and "Jumbo Baits are manufactured in The Finger Lakes Region of Central New York." The Waters Spinner has been seen with both single and double hooks, and although other lures have been found in this box, it is unlikely that any lures other than the Waters Spinner belong in these boxes.

Waters is also known to have tied flies, and it is likely these flies and other spinners (likely with unmarked blades) were sold on T.J. Waters cards.

World War II brought an abrupt end to fishing tackle manufacturing in America, and thus the war years were tough on Waters, as they were on most Americans. But with the cessation of hostilities in August 1945, things slowly got back to normal. Even the restocking of popular tackle was a cause for minor celebrations, as evidenced by this 21 December 1945 advertisement:

There is no evidence that Waters continued his tackle manufacturing after World War II.

While Waters had always operated a fully stocked sporting goods store, it was in the immediate post-WWII era that he fully expanded into baseball, football, toys, etc. that could be found at most other sporting goods dealers. Fishing was not ignored, but the advertisements no longer featured tackle as prominently as in the pre-WWII years. A good example of the expanded line carried by Waters is the following ad from The Skaneateles NY Press dated 19 December 1947:

Then, abruptly, in 1956 T.J. Waters sold his shop and retired. The rationale for this decision is lost, but it probably had little to do with health reasons, as Waters would live another two decades. More likely he had earned enough money to retire, and decided to spend the remainder of his life pursuing his passion of outdoor pursuits. Having retired to West Genesee Road in Aurelius, Thomas J. Waters died on February 4, 1975.

The name T.J. Waters Sporting Goods Store disappears following the retirement of the founder, and whether the store closed or was renamed is as yet unknown.

Waters left behind nifty fishing tackle that is hard to find, and if you are lucky enough to own a piece of Waters tackle, you truly own a slice of Central New York fishing history.

-- Dr. Todd

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