Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday Review: Goodwin Granger: The Rod Man from Denver (2011)

Thursday Review: Goodwin Granger: The Rod Man from Denver (2011) by Michael Sinclair

I think I can be excused for saying that I know a little about what it takes to make a book. I've written a few myself, and published more than a few others. So I think that gives me a good perspective on what it takes to put together a book like Goodwin Granger: The Rod Man from Denver by Michael Sinclair. And I have to begin by saying this is one of the best books of this kind to come to market in the last decade.

In this beautiful volume, Sinclair seeks to place Granger and his fly rods into proper historical context. And he has his work cut out for him. Other than his own research on the subject published as part of a larger work nearly two decades ago, there has been very little reliable information about the firm, especially its early years. As Sinclair begins to construct the story of Granger from before World War I through his first rods on Ninth Street in Denver to the coming of Bill Phillipson, the reader begins to realize there is something great going on here.

One of the things that is most interesting about Granger is the early years. From his Mercantile days when he first experimented with fly rods ca. 1917, to his tournament casting success, to his work with Robert Holding on making the rodmaking machinery, Sinclair captures Goodwin Granger and an era that has long since passed. It might seem weird, but when reading this section, I wanted to put my coat-and-tie back on, Sinclair captures the genteel spirit of the age in such a pitch perfect manner.

While my personal interest is certainly more focused on the Goodwin Granger era (like Fred Divine before him, he died early in 1931), the author certainly keeps the reader's attention through the later years up to and beyond the Wright & McGill days. In particular, the bitter animosity between Granger principals Agnes Marshall and Bill Phillipson was surprising, and somewhat sad, to discover. It did lead Phillipson to found his own, highly successful company, but one wonders what might have been if Marshall did not block the purchase of Granger by Phillipson.

Based on more than two decades of research, The Rod Man from Denver shows it on nearly every page. When Sinclair writes that a particular ad is the first large ad to appear in Field & Stream, you can rest assured that the author has looked at every pertinent issue of the magazine for years on either side of this date so that he can verify this claim.

What emerges from all of this research is the rare book that can please multiple audiences. For historians like myself, the book is chock full of fascinating tidbits and information that make the book a delight. For rod collectors, it has numerous color photography and close-up photos that will help them to identify and appreciate Granger fly rods. And for the generalist, interested in fishing cane and reading good fly fishing literature, the book will come off as fascinating read. Trust me when I say this is not an easy triumvirate to pull off.

About the only criticism I have is that as a historian, I would have liked to have seen the book footnoted. However, I understand that this is not everyone's cup of tea, and Sinclair does make an effort to document materials in the captions and text. Additionally, it does have a nice bibliography and supplemental appendix of legal documents and catalog pages.

The book was published by the author, but saying that The Rod Man from Denver is a self-published book is akin to saying that a Stan Bogdan (rest in peace) reel is home-made. The term doesn't apply. The book was published by the author, but it was done in such a professional manner that even the harshest critic would certainly never have noticed.

It is also available in three different formats: a Softcover Trade Edition, a Hardcover Leather Edition, and the Registered Deluxe Edition (which is the one I used for this review). Let me say something about this. Those who read the Friday Funhouse know that I sometimes link to previous tackle Limited Edition books. I can confidently declare that these books appreciate over time to the point that in ten years time, most of us could not afford to buy one on the used market. So I say with confidence that the Granger Registered Deluxe Edition is as nice of a book of this kind as you will find available for sale today, tomorrow, or in a decade. Get one while you can, as they are not going to be available very long.

Sinclair writes in the preface, "I believe this book to be the most accurate and thorough record of Goodwin Granger and his company to date." That is an understatement, in that not only is this the best work on the subject, it is almost certain that it is the best book that will ever be written on the subject.

The Rod Man from Denver is the definitive account on Granger fly rods. It is 8.5" x 11", 360 pages, and contains 300 full color images. All edition of the Granger Book can be ordered through the author's web site by clicking here.

-- Dr. Todd

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An Interview with Michael Sinclair

An Interview with Michael Sinclair

by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson

When I first started thinking about researching fishing tackle history while I was in graduate school, there were a few people I admired and hoped to emulate. They included Steve Vernon, Mary Kefover Kelly, and Michael Sinclair. The author of a number of important books and articles on rod history, including a biography of Fred Divine and a history of Heddon rods, Sinclair has recently turned his attention to his original passion, Granger fly rods. His new book (look for a review here tomorrow) launched about three months ago, and we were able to corner him for a couple of hours to answer some questions about collecting fly rods, the Sinclair triumvirate of Divine-Heddon-Granger, and the difficulty in researching vintage rodmakers.

TODD E.A. LARSON (TEAL): Let me be the first to congratulate you on this incredible book. I don’t think most people realize how difficult it was to not only write, but to self-publish. How did you find the experience of putting together the Granger book?

MICHAEL SINCLAIR (MS): It’s something I enjoyed doing. It was a book that was done over a long course of time. I spent about a year just assembling everything and putting it into some kind of logical form. It was something I enjoyed doing, and it continually amazes me that even after all the research we keep picking up little bits of information we didn’t know existed.

TEAL: Why have you been so attracted to rodmakers who sort of fly under the radar, so to speak? Divine, Heddon, and now Granger. Are there commonalities between them, or is your attraction to these kinds of rodmakers just happenstance?

MS: It was a very conscious decision. Take Fred Divine. No one was even spelling the man’s name right when I started getting involved with him. While I won’t say it’s the ultimate sign of disrespect, no one seemed to care enough to get it right. And while I understand that for a while Divine rods fell out of a favor because they were making some cheap stuff, that was a matter of survival for the company. They had to do what they could to sell rods. Once they got on their feet and started making better rods, their reputation seemed pretty well shot.

On the other hand, Granger and Heddon were a little bit ignored because they weren’t located in the fly fishing media centers. They were well known in their own areas but not in the East, where the larger population of fly fishermen lived. Interestingly, Divine was right there, in upstate New York, and there is no reason in the world he did not receive more attention, good or bad. But I think a lot of people missed out on some fine rods from Divine because in his day, and by today’s standards as well, they made some really fine rods.

TEAL: Do you think the slights against Divine had anything to do with his untimely and early death [Fred Divine died in an accident in his shop in 1900]?

MS: Definitely. Fred was an outgoing and affable person, and he was really their main salesman. He enjoyed traveling and going out and meeting the store owners, and getting people to represent his rods in far-flung places like Denver. I remember looking up where he stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, and that was the first time I found his signature, which matched the ones I found on his patent drawings. He traveled a lot, especially to Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, and those were logical places because that’s where the major catalog houses were located. And of course, he went to Los Angeles, too. He had a really good relationship with a defunct company there called McLaughlin Sporting Goods. You see a lot of Divine rods marked McLaughlin. The William Hoegee Company carried Divine rods in their catalog for many years. Divine also had their own catalogs, and those are pretty cool, too. I’m still looking for certain Divine catalogs, especially ones that carry the two-piece rods like the Feather-Wate. I have only seen them in trade catalogs. The latest ad I have found for the Divine Company is 1936. It’s nothing special, it’s not one that shows models, but rather is a generic ad similar to the ones they ran in the 1920s. But it is surprising they advertised that late.

TEAL: They couldn’t have had more than one or two people working for them by then.

MS: I would think not. Probably just George McDuffee by then, maybe one other rodmaker had stuck around. It’s finding the little tidbits like the 1936 ad that I enjoy. In the beginning of the Divine book, I said writing a book like this is like creating a dot-to-dot puzzle. A single dot may not answer all the questions, but it will at least tell you which direction the line should go next.

TEAL: I think at some point, you can spend another ten or twenty years researching and not significantly add to the story. Then you publish the book, and a flood of new information comes in!

MS: That’s always my belief. With the advent of the internet, we have the most powerful research tool invented. So is eBay. eBay is just a tremendous source of information. Part of the fun is seeing what comes creeping out of the woodwork next.

TEAL: Give me an example of using eBay for research.

MS: A good example of this is the oldest Granger I own. No one had ever seen one, we had heard they existed, and suddenly one shows up on eBay. And I was lucky enough to get that rod. And now there is another one there, and it’s in better condition. I can’t wait for the last minute of that auction. It will be like the Wild Wild West out there. Information is power, and as people become more comfortable, they are willing to spend more money.

TEAL: You mentioned you thought of Heddon and Granger in the same terms. Can you elaborate on this?

MS: They were the same basic type of company when it came to rods. Of course, no one can compare to Heddon, because they made hundreds of thousands of rods, reels, and lures, and no other company I know of can claim that. I think that is something Heddon should be proud of, because not only did they make these things, they made them very well. Their slogan “Heddon Made is Well Made” was not just a slogan. I don’t mean perfectly made, but they were extremely well made. Their lures you couldn’t beat for beauty and construction. The reels were as fine as anything you could find, the 3-25 and 3-35 were outrageously nice Blue Grass quality reels. Then you get into their rods. The only complaint I have about Heddon rods are those black ferrules, they are garbage! I am not sure they aren’t made with aluminum. I’ve never fiddled with them [to find out].

Heddon and Granger both offered enough different tapers that you could always find one to suit your tastes. I think that Heddon and Granger were also similar because they were both Middle Class rods. Let me amend that. I’d say Heddon was a Middle Class rod, while Granger was an Upper Middle Class rod. I do believe that Heddon borrowed the ammonia technique from Granger, because Granger started making [fly] rods before Heddon did, and I think Heddon immediately saw the advantages.

TEAL: So you think Grangers are better than Heddons?

MS: I do believe Grangers are better rods. Their consistency is unparalleled. I don’t care who you’re talking about it, with the possible exception of Payne, I don’t think you’ll find anyone who was more consistent in their quality. That was no accident. You can look at the early ads from the 1920s and see Granger hammering away at quality standardization. I think that’s the key to Granger’s great success, in that you can pick up any Granger and it has the same action, whether it is a seven or ten footer. You can pick any of the rods, take an eight footer for example, and cast it, then pick out twelve more and they will feel just the same. You can’t say that about all makers. I think Leonard was particularly noted for being inconsistent, and that’s not a criticism, but it does mean you can’t say that every Model 50DF will feel just the same.

TEAL: I always look for the inception spark on why people take on Labors of Love. Clearly, your book on Granger is a work of love. Why Granger instead of, say, Heddon?

MS: Well, it’s a story of how I got involved in bamboo rods in the middle 1980s, I had my grandfather’s fishing hat, vest, and creel on an old hat rack in the corner of my living room. I started thinking, “wouldn’t it be great if I could find one of those old bamboo fishing rods to lean up there with that?” We were living in Denver at the time, so I went out to the old Mile High Flea Market, and started looking around for bamboo fishing rods. For weeks I didn’t see a thing. Than one day, I came across a fellow who had three rods. One was a South Bend, which I knew because it had the sticker on it. I don’t recall the second, but the third one didn’t have a name on it, but it looked old. There was something about the way it was built that just appealed to me. The guy wanted $25 for it and I thought that was an awful lot of money for an old fishing pole. But I bought it anyway, and took it home, leaned it up and it looked good.

One day I picked it up and started to fiddle with it, and began really paying attention to it, and it hit me: this is really interesting! That’s where the illness started. I thought, gee I wonder when this was made…and things got ugly from there. I bundled it up, and took it to the fly shops in Denver, one of the fly shops didn’t know what it was but they did sell me a bag for carrying around this nine-foot two piece. Then I happened to run into [rodmaker] Steve Jenkins. He got to looking at it, and said, gosh this one is old. I can see here it used to have intermediate wraps. I asked him what it should look like, and he said he didn’t know, because he wasn’t sure who made it. I asked him how much he would charge me to make it look right. He said “we charge $300 and one dollar for every intermediate.” And I started counting intermediates, and discovered the price of happiness just went up.

I asked him if he knew anyone who could help, and he gave me Len Codella’s address. So I did a drawing of the rod and sent it to Len, and he wrote back and said, “nice drawing. Your rod was made by Fred Divine about 1925.” I thought to myself, “GREAT! All I need to do is find out about Fred Divine.” There was NOTHING there. Finally I came across Marty Keane’s book, and it was a done deal by that time. I started reading about Divine, and Marty talked about how they liked bright colors, and in the process of reading the book I saw the references to Denver and Granger. I thought, “Hey, I live here!” and immediately started getting a warm fuzzy feeling. And I wanted to find one of those rods, thinking it would be so cool. So that’s how I got hooked on Granger.

As an aside, Marty Keane started talking about the rods with red intermediates, and they really turned me on. I’ve since come to the conclusion that red intermediates and red wraps with black tipping is as classy as it gets.

TEAL: I notice that’s the color scheme you use on your New Divine Rods.

MS: That’s because that’s the color scheme they used on the old Divine rods! People say it’s a beautiful rod, and I always tell them, “I’ll pass on the compliment to Fred when I see him.” Because I didn’t dream it up, that’s the way they were.

TEAL: Back to Granger. So Granger became an early passion of yours?

MS: Absolutely. I started looking for Granger rods. I was using a Macintosh 512K – of course there was no internet. I called Led Codella and he said I needed to get in touch with Phil Snyder, who he said knew a lot about Granger. Soon Phil and I were extremely good pen pals, and I’ve saved all of our letters. Someday I think there may be a book in that…

Like I said in the Granger book, my very first love was the Granger rods and I went off on tangents because I found them interesting, but I never gave up on the Granger story.

TEAL: I find that the best historians are the most stubborn—they don’t give up even when everyone else in their right mind would have thrown in the towel.

MS: Yes. A lot of people tell me they want to write a book. Actually, what they are telling me is they want to have WRITTEN a book. Because they don’t have a clue how it absolutely takes over your life. You wake up in the morning and wonder what Fred Divine had for breakfast. Others might think this is stupid and ask why. I don’t know. Because I want to know more!

TEAL: How has technology changed the way you do your research?

MS: It was really interesting, in the early days we communicated with letters, and photography was very different in those days. It was very difficult to take a good picture of a rod without a really good studio set up. I was really into photography but still could never take really good photos with my 35mm. That’s why I started to do drawings, because I could draw better than I could photograph. There was no question when I decided to do the Granger book that there would be lots of good, close up detailed photographs. The old “picture is worth a thousand words” is probably more like “ten thousand words.”

TEAL: Let’s change course for a minute. I understand you recently built your first cane rod from scratch?

MS: That was about two years ago now. My friends Bob (Nunley) and Harry (Boyd) were about to start up their Ozark Rodmaker’s School and they were looking for a few Guinea Pigs. They said that if I bought the materials, they’d run the class. So me and Sharon [Michael’s wife], who had always wanted to build a rod, took their first class. It was a blast. What I really learned more than anything is that there are more than a million ways to screw up a rod. I knew the general procedure and everything, so there weren’t a lot of surprises, but there were some interesting tips I picked up that helped me in my restoration work.

But building a rod up from bamboo culm to fishing rod is a lot of work! And although none of the work is really hard, it is exceptionally repetitive, especially the planing. I can understand why so many people use the rough bevellers to get down to the sixty degree strips. The level of detail involved is phenomenal. I’m a guy who is only comfortable using hammers and vice grips. I can usually manage a screw driver. So get me in there with something with tolerances of thousands of an inch, and it was frightening.

TEAL: How did this experience help you better appreciate Granger?

MS: It definitely made me appreciate their consistency even more. As far as consistency, it was their machinery as much as anything that was responsible for it. I may have shorted that section in the book, actually. I didn’t emphasize enough how incredibly important Mr. Holding’s machinery was. He became completely enamored with the thought of using a natural material, and machining it to such precise measurements. He was one of those fellows who was used to designing machinery for metal work. I think he might have been an angler at the beginning (he was at the end), and his machinery was designed in such a way that it was exceptionally heavy.

He was English, and came from those people who are belt-and-suspenders kinds of guys – look at a Hardy or a Dingley reel. It’s built like a tank! You could probably break one with a hammer, but short of that, no way. He built his machinery the same way. Several different people told me that either Mr. Holding or Mr. Phillipson would set up the beveller, and they did all the precise settings, and that they had a method of locking it down so that even if someone accidentally bumped the machine, it did not shift the adjustment. Therefore, they would take rough bevel strips and run them through the machine one after the other. This is how they made such precise strips.

Holding also designed the glue bath machine, which was a glue bath and rough winder all in one. No one ever mentioned what kind of glue they used, but everyone said it absolutely stunk. That doesn’t sound like an animal glue… The glue was heated, and they would immerse the strips loosely wrapped into the glue, then put them through the big wheel that put the final tension on them. Since the glue was heated, it helped somewhat with the durability of Granger rods. You rarely see a delaminated Granger, and when you do, it’s usually covered in black because it was stored wet.

Mr. Holding was so careful in the design of his machines, and this is surely one of the reasons for the amazing consistency of Granger rods. Mr. Granger personally insisted on these things being done exactly the right way. He seemed to have always been in the shop. He didn’t go out and sell, about all he did was participate in tournaments. This is why he could write, as he did in one of the catalogs, printed in bold print, “It is my job to inspect every rod.” I think Mr. Granger meant that. I don’t think it was advertising hype.

TEAL: That is fascinating stuff. In closing, what is your favorite Granger?

MS: I personally favor the sliding band models, because of their slower action. It’s not enough to mention, but it is there. It flexes a little further down into the mid, and I just personally like that better.

TEAL: Finally, what explains Granger’s enduring success?

MS: The Granger pride of workmanship was one of the major keys to their success.

Many thanks to Michael for taking the time to talk to me, and to talk Granger, Heddon and Divine!

-- Dr. Todd

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Voices from the Past: Jim Gifford on Pork Rind Baits (1987)

A couple of weeks ago Bill Sonnett wrote about pork rind baits from the early 20th century, so I thought I'd run this fascinating article about pork baits written by Missouri writer Jim Gifford and published in the Frederick News for January 7, 1987 to show that they were still popular in the 1980s. It details a history of the revival of the pork rind bait in the 1980s, as well as the origins of the Uncle Josh pork rind company.

Bass Have a Liking for Pork Lures

by Jim Gifford

Bass Buffs have called it a lot of things . . . all of them good. Among the names they've hung on it are jig-and-frog, jig-and-josh and jig-and-pig, the last name being the one that's most often used these days to refer to this particular lead head jig and pork rind combination. Since its revival in 1977, the jig-and-pig probably has accounted for more big bass than any other bait or lure.

Bass in general and big bass in particular seem to have a liking for pork, a fact first discovered so far as we know by a couple of Wisconsin anglers as far back as 1921. The two were Alan Jones and Urba Schreiner and they founded the Uncle Josh Bait Company, now the major producer of pork rind lures including the pork frog.

At first the pork frog was used in combination with spoons and weedless hooks to bring bass out of hard to fish places such as dense weeds and lilly pads. The pork frog as it's known today, has undergone some evolution; the V-shaped tail on today's hog-hide frogs is a relatively recent innovation, for example.

Color was introduced also during the evolution of the pork frog. The early frogs were white; today they come in a number of colors including black, brown, orange, green and white, red and white and orange. And they are made in several sizes ranging from the small spinning rod frog to the Big Daddy, the largest in the line.

FOR THIRTY YEARS OR SO after Jones and Schreiner began selling their hog-hide lures, pork frogs retained their popularity with bass anglers. At one time, at least three other companies (Pedigos, Lutz, and Bill's 13 Pork Baits) competed with Uncle Josh for the pork lure market. Of those early hog-hide sellers, only Uncle Josh is still around.

The trade in pork lures suffered a sharp setback sometime in the Sixties when plastic worms captured the attention of the country's bassin' buffs. And the demand for pork lures remained low until the late Seventies when bass anglers in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas started a hog-hide revival.

Huland Nations of Prairie Grove, Ark., is given credit for starting the resurection of the pork frog. Nations used a pork frog in combination with a lead head jig to win the 1977 Arkansas State Bass Tournament. Word of match the weight of the jig and the size a pick up rather than a strike. If a bass if the jar it's in gets too much heat, the
Nations' secret weapon spread quietly but quickly among tournament bass anglers in the four-state area.

Less than a year later, a pair of Oklahoma bass anglers using a jig and pork frog combination set a record for the heaviest pair of 10 bass limits ever registered in the state. From a 20-yard stretch of flooded channel in the Pine Creek Reservoir, the two Oklahoma anglers landed 20 bass that weighed 129 lbs 10 ozs. Those fish ranged in weight from 5 lbs. 2 ozs. to 8 lbs. 14 ozs.

ITS ASSOCIATION WITH THE JIG gave a boost to the revival of the pork frog. The development of weed guards and rubber skirts added to the action and utility of the jig and made it the lure of choice for deep water cover with a pork lure. The jig-and-pig combination also gave cast-and-crank bassln' buffs a good crawdad imitation.

As a bass lure, the combination has three important virtues. It catches most fish it attracts. It is effective on sluggish bass, enticing them to hit when nothing else will, or so it seems. A large pan of the credit for the effectiveness of the combination is due to the life-like action of the jig's rubber skirt.

The usual explanation given as to why a jig-and-pig catches most of the fish it attracts is that the pork lure has an agreeable taste and feel and bass will hold on to it longer. Unlike plastic lures, the ones made of hog-hide do not become stiff in cold water.

During the early stages of the pork frog revival, it was believed that the effectiveness of the jig-and-pig was limited to cold weather. But with experience jig-and-pig was limited to cold weather. But with experience jig-and-pig users soon discovered that the combination was good almost any time of the year. Only in July and August is the plastic worm likely to give a better showing and then only in the daytime.

HOG-HIDE FROGS ARE naturally slow sinkers; the larger the chunk of pork, the slower it sinks. The buoyancy of the pork lure makes the jig-and-pig combination a good choice for getting to bass suspended in submerged tree tops 15 to 20 feet down . . . it can be retrieved so that it swims right to them.

Experienced jig-and-pig tossers match the weight of the jig and the size of the pig to the occasion. For example, when they're working on bass in shallow water, they'll use a 1/8oz. jig with a #101 pork frog, For bass in deeper water, they go with a 3/16 to 3/8 02. jig and a #11 pork frog, unless it's a hawg-size bass in which case they use a #1or a #10 pork frog.

There are about as many ways to fish a jig-and-pig as there are bass anglers. It's good for fishing brush piles, submerged creek channels and cut banks. And it's just as effective for taking river smallmouths. More often than not, a bass will take a jig-and-pig on the fall so it's important to keep a close watch on your line.

Strikes are not spectacular; fact is you hear jig-and-pig tossers refer to it as a pick up rather than a strike. If a bass doesn't take the jig-and-pig on the fall, the lure can be lifted up a short distance and dropped back. The same tactic is used in crawling a jig-and-pig through submerged tree top or brush pile: every time the lure comes over a limb,it's allowed to fall; if nothing takes, the retrieve is continued.

A jig-and-pig can be crawled along a rocky river bottom in a similar manner, falling 2nd rising as it moves from rock to rock. Wherever there's bass cover, a jig-and-pig can be worked to advantage.

Occasionally you will hear a com- plaint about hog-hide frogs, but there's really not much to criticize. In warm weather, a pork frog tends to dry out quickly when left out of the water. And if the jar it's in gets too much heat, the pork lure will become tough. But given the way bass react to a jig-and-pig, that's a small price to pay.

-- Dr. Todd

UPDATE: Mike Pollock shared this great photo of various Pork Rind materials on Joe's Board:

Monday, March 28, 2011

News of the Week: 28 March 2011

Don't have time to read 50+ fishing and tackle collecting blogs and web sites? Well, let us do it for you! Follow all of the latest news, articles, and stories on our Whitefishpress Twitter account! Hint: You don't need to be a member...just bookmark the Twitter Feed Page or click on latest links to the right!

New bill limits salmon fishing in the Columbia…Redditch history on display…Bass Pro buys into B.A.S.S. big time…a bass boat for warriors…Rockford tackle garage sale is a hit…Kelly Slater, surfing star, is the son of a tackle shop owner…fly fishing purchases are way up…salmon fishing catches break record in Scotland…baseball great retires and gets fly rod…hackle shortage for fly tiers caused by lady's fashions…measuring the impact of the earthquake on the Japanese tackle industry…it must be THE NEWS OF THE WEEK!

The Big Lead: New bill would limit salmon gillnetters on the Columbia River.

Redditch church exhibit touches on the region's tackle heritage.

Bass Pro Shops extends sponsorship of B.A.S.S.

A Bass Boat built for warriors.

Rockford tackle garage sale draws 1000 people.

Surfing icon Kelly Slater is the son of a fishing tackle shop owner.

Ted Williams reports that fly fishing purchases are on the rise.

In Scotland, salmon rod fishing catches reach a record high.

Why catching cobras can leave you breathless.

Royals legend Mike Sweeney retires, gets fly rod as gift.

Why the impact of sportsmen should never be overlooked.

We don't have a winner yet in Field & Stream's "Name the 5 Hottest Flies."

Want to know why these is a hackle shortage? Blame Lady Gaga and women's fashions.

Finishing With a Flourish: Wired2Fish gives us an update on the Japanese tackle industry after the devastating earthquake.

-- Dr. Todd

Sunday, March 27, 2011

1000 Words: Philip R. Goodwin (1906)

1000 Words

This week in 1000 Words we celebrate one of my favorite artists, Phillip R. Goodwin (1881-1935). Goodwin was one of the most prolific outdoor artists, with his painting gracing the cover of dozens of magazines. A child prodigy (he famously sold his first illustration to Collier's Magazine at age 11), his first important commission was illustrating Jack London's Call of the Wild in 1903.

The painting above is a very early work of his, painted in 1906 and called "A Distant Acquaintance." It first appeared in Outer's Magazine in 1906.

His originals have gone stratospheric in the past decade; in 2003, one of his paintings sold at auction for $143,750, and his prints regularly sell for over $1000.00. Even magazines that are graced by his work on the cover often bring good money.

Here is another example of his work from the National Museum of Wildlife Art, entitled "The Surprise."

Sadly, Goodwin ran into bad luck in the Depression and died at the height of his talent at the age of 54 on December 14, 1935.

-- Dr. Todd

PS: One of the best anecdotes I've read of late comes from Meadowlark Gallery's web page and concerns a Philip R. Goodwin original offered at a garage sale in Lacrosse, Wisconsin for $5. They write: "A man came by and offered the lady having the garage sale $3.00 for it. She did not accept the offer and decided to investigate her garage sale item. She sent photographs of it to a major western and sporting auction. The work was authenticated as an original oil painting by Goodwin. The painting sold at auction in 2001 for the amount of $ 33,000.00 which included the buyers premium. This is a good lesson for those individuals that insist on bartering before every purchase." An amazing story. For $2 someone talked themselves out of an original Goodwin painting...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Deconstructing Old Ads: Moonlight Trout Bob (1911)

The Moonlight Trout Bob

From the pages of the July 1911 issue of Sporting Goods Dealer comes this beautiful ad from the Moonlight Bait Company featuring their offerings for 1911.

Most noticeable in the ad is the new “Trout Bob.” Almost any lure collecting reference book will mention that this is a fairly scarce bait. In more than thirty years of searching in the field,I have been lucky enough to find one . Reading the ad, it is obvious that the Moonlight Bait Company expected more success from this bait than it eventually achieved. In retrospect, I think it is somewhat easy to guess why it did not have huge sales.

Today we would put it on a spinning rod and possibly catch Smallmouth Bass on it, if they were biting on top. In 1911 there were only three choices on how one would use a bait this small: a cane pole, a baitcasting outfit, or a flyrod. By 1911, the period when folks were using cane poles for surface lures was waining. The lure was too small to be effectively cast on a baitcasting outfit and as the name indicates, Moonlight was trying to sell this thing to trout fishermen, who then as today, preferred the flyrod. The “Trout Bob" is a fairly heavy chunk to be slinging around on the end of a flyrod. I can only imagine the “wake up call” received when the fisherman was smacked in the back of the head with this bait, as any flyrod bait will do on occasion. I have never read an actual account of anyone catching a fish on a Trout Bob, but it does have great appeal for lure collectors today.

-- Bill Sonnett

Fishing For History Turns 4!

Four years ago today the Fishing for History Blog started as a solitary voice in the wilderness. Now, as we close in on a million visits and many more than that page views, it has certainly grown into something I could never have anticipated. I could not have done it without help from contributors like Bill Sonnett, Dick Streater, and numerous others who have sent in material. Trust me, there are times when it is a huge p.i.t.a. But overall, it is a phenomenal experience and I truly enjoy getting to know people through it.

When it comes down to it, what I am appreciative of is people like you who come and read what we have to say every day. So thank you for indulging me and everyone else who contributes to the blog.

My goal for 2011 is to try out some new things, and to try and find at least one more weekly writer...hint hint.

So happy birthday to the Fishing for History Blog! Four years is a LONG time but it's been a lot of fun and I look forward to running the blog well into the future.

-- Dr. Todd

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Funhouse

The Video of the Week:: One man is tying a rat while reciting Robert Service poems. Seriously.

12 Things I Would Buy If Only I Could Afford Them

This is a rare Flotn-Cas-Tro Lite reel from California.

The Leaping Lena is a strange and interesting lure.

I like this Ernie Newman airplane ice fishing jig.

Wow, this Bud Stewart lure is amazing.

A Payne 204 is an outstanding fly rod.

This Clark half-leather top creel is really spectacular.

Clamp reels are always popular.

This beautiful Heddon Vamp in Goldfish is awesome!

An H.A. Whittemore Pflueger trade minnow is a great find.

It's never too early for Merry Christmas, Bingo style.

This Allcock Titbit is a superb British lure.

Not only is the Alcedo Micron tearing up eBay, but it's also Field & Stream's featured vintage tackle of the week.

As always, have a good and safe weekend, and be good to each other, and yourself.

-- Dr. Todd

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Review: Kathy Scott's Brook Trout Forest

Reading Kathy Scott makes me want to go fishing.

I know that is an inarticulate way to begin a review of Scott's latest love letter Brook Trout Forest, but it's true. Like many readers, after three books I feel like I've come to know her through her writings. We've walked along side her through the teeth of a blistering Maine winter, wept over her elegy to a dying dog, and followed her as she explored the rodmaker's craft. This time, we are privileged to experience the kaleidoscopic forest of the book's title, which serves as both a very accurate description of the Maine woods that she frequents and as a metaphorical term for the way in which she views the world. And reading it made me want to grab a 3 weight bamboo rod and start walking until I hit the kind of cool, clear stream that begins and ends Brook Trout Forest.

It's a bit difficult to describe what her latest book is about. If Moose on the Water introduced us to her world, Headwaters Fall as Snow showed us the effervescent life found inside the frozen north woods, and Changing Planes chronicled her quest for contentment, Brook Trout Forest is anchored in the here and now. Of course, you are never far from nature when you read Kathy Scott, but more than her earlier works this book allows us to see a side of her that has not been seen. For example, it is as much a story of her teaching career and how it intersects her fly fishing (in more ways than you may think) as it is about the fly angling world in which she and her husband David van Burgel, a rodmaker of genuine talent, are well known and in demand.

Perhaps because it was written in an older literary form – the book takes the form of a journal, a favorite literary style of the author’s -- it also comes off as a mature work. I don’t mean this in an “adult have-no-fun” way, as there are still the delightful excursions of exuberance, such as when Scott describes a play her students wrote based on one of her books, or when she takes flight for the first time in a de Haviland Otter float plane. But there is a graceful maturity to the prose that is refreshing to see in an author of significant talent. Scott is clearly working hard to become a better writer, and it shows.

There are many examples I could cite but the one that sticks out is a particularly moving series of anecdotes about an elderly man named Wesley Sanborn who over the course of time donates his fly tackle in bits and pieces to Kathy’s student fly fishing club. It is a wonderfully crafted description marked with the poignant contrast of a dying man's tackle finding new life in the hands of novice anglers. The theme of life, death, and renewal is a familiar one in Scott's writings, but is never more carefully crafted than in this section of her new book.

If Changing Planes was about finding your groove in life, Brook Trout Forest is a reminder that life without challenges leads to stagnation. So we discover, to our delight, Scott taking on novel (and sometimes frightening) trials, from teaching middle school kids to fly fish to building (and fishing) a big water fly rod to putting her trust in a guide on a fast moving Canadian river. “My heart said that if I was going to take some risks,” she writes of that experience, “there was no better place to do it.”

In a lot of ways, that one sentence best sums up Brook Trout Forest. In a way, it is a risky book, in that I suspect it was not easy to write. The subject matter goes far afield, from Chicago to Labrador, but fittingly is bookended by the clear water streams of the Maine woods she knows so well. Full circle. Contented sigh.

Kathy Scott is rapidly becoming one of the most distinctive voices in the cluttered concert of outdoor writing, and Brook Trout Forest is a delightful read sure to charm all of the author’s many fans and admirers. If there is any justice in the world, after a few months, her readership will have grown by leaps and bounds.

Brook Trout Forest makes me want to go fishing. Right now. And that may be the best thing I can say about any book, fishing or otherwise.

Brook Trout Forest, as with all her books, is beautifully illustrated by Kim Mellema and is available in hardcover ($24.95) from the Alder Creek Press. Their home page is

-- Dr. Todd

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fly Tying Kits: A Retrospective

Recently for the weekly
Field & Stream vintage tackle contest, a gentleman submitted a neat 1960s Fly Tying Kit. These all-in-one kits were offered by many companies, so I thought I would give a little retrospective history of these kits. They were originally offered in the 1920s and by the 1950s were common, with a dozen or more companies offering their particular models.

Many of these kits were used by Boy Scout troops. In fact, they became so popular that the Boy Scouts themselves began to sell an official fly tying kit. This one dates from the 1950s.

Not surprisingly, Worth of Steven's Point, Wisconsin offered a large kit -- they were manufacturers of much of the tackle hardware used in the industry.

H.J. Noll was a world-class supplier of fly tying materials out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from the 1920s onward. It offered numerous kits over the years, including these two.

Perhaps the most commonly found fly tying kit are those of Tack-L-Tyers of Evanston, Illinois. From the 1930s onward, this was among the best selling kits for the next four decades. This particular model, with the pictorial box, was used for 20 or more years.

Hank Roberts was a fly tier who started a company in Boulder, Colorado. By the 1950s, he was known for his modestly priced tied flies; he offered fly tying kits as well. Eventually Arbogast purchased Hank Roberts.

The Wapsi Fly Company was founded in Mountain Home, Arkansas, by Lacey Gee in 1945. Named after the Wapsipinicon River near his home in Iowa, and it grew into the largest wholesaler of fly-tying materials in the world. They offered innumerable kits such as this.

Ned Grey founded Sierra Tackle in Montrose, California after World War II. It grew into a large distributor of fly tying materials. The Ned Grey kits were popular in the 1960s.

Kits are still being sold today, such as this Raymond Rumpf fly tying kit.

This Regal kits (I believe) was manufactured overseas.

Even big trade houses, like Abercrombie & Fitch and L.L. Bean, offered fly tying kits.

One of the largest kit sellers was Herter's of Waseca, Minnesota. It was from Herter's that I got all my fly tying materials as a kid, and as I've written about before, ended up with so much of their excess stock after they went out of business I still have massive cases of it in my basement.

It's a great gift for kids of any age, and I hope some of you will consider tracking one day and gifting it to a child in your life!

-- Dr. Todd

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Voices from the Past: The History of the Bomber Bait Company (1947)

I ran across this fascinating article published in the Pampa News dated 04 April 1947, and it gave some interesting early history on one of my favorite lures--the Bomber. It was able to date the origination of the Bomber, a plug invented by Texan Ralph Wham, to the fall of 1944. It also notes that by Spring 1947 they were already making 1000 bombers a day -- a significant output for a lure that had yet to see national advertising! And one also has to love the title of the article--a Texas title if there ever was one!

Texans Responsible for Most Fishing Plugs -- Good and Bad

by Jack Rutledge

Get your fishing box. Pick out your favorite plug, the one you've had the most luck with, and take a good look at it. It probably was made in Texas.

A fast growing Texas industry has followed in the wake of increased interest in fishing--the manufacture of plugs, lures, flies and various types of artificial lures.

A gentleman in San Antonio makes such attractive flies that some women fishermen wear them as ornaments on their dresses. Over in Uvalde, Art Sansom and Hub Eoff have developed an artificial lure they call the "wonder bug," made of cellophane, colored nail polish and odd lengths of wire. In Sherman, a man makes what he calls the "whopper stopper."

But the largest such factory we've seen is the Bomber Bait Company in Gainesville, owned and operated by Ike Walker, John W. Parker, and C.S. Tuberville.

They have applied for a patent for both design and name--"The Bomber"--but in the meantime produce over 1000 bombers a day and are 400 dozen behind in orders.

The original design was whittled out by Ralph Wham three and a half years ago. It has been changed and improved upon (Parker, one of the owners, is a science teacher in high school) but it's still a lot like Wham's old bomber.

It was designed to get depth, and to wiggle under water while being retrieved. Fishermen will realize the value of both.

Parker says the bomber will go down as much as six(teen) feet, "down where the fish are," and while being reeled in, will remain about ten feet under water and "wiggle like hell."

They make it in one basic design, but in three sizes and 17 colors. Each individual lure requires about 24 hand operations before it's ready for sale, and has about eight different bits of wood and metal attached.

New machinery has been invented in Gainesville to speed up the process of manufacture. But it's still mostly hand work, like the eyes, which are of two colors--yellow with a black iris. They're made or painted on with a common nail. A worked dips the head into the yellow ink, applies to the lure, then dips the other end into black ink and dabs it in the center of the yellow.

The body of the bomber is made of cedar. It's a special type and Parker won't tell where he gets it. The paint used has been tested and won't crack. It has triple hooks.

This may sound like an advertising plug, but it's not. It's just a report on a plug that, Parker says, will catch fish when others won't because it goes down deep, it wiggles, and it floats.

He admits the most of the ideas fishermen have about pet plugs are just plain superstition, but that when it comes to the bomber, it delivers.

There must be some truth to his claim, because sales of the unadvertised, unpromoted artificial bait have extended into Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, New Mexico, Arizona, and, of course, all over Texas.

-- Dr. Todd

Monday, March 21, 2011

News of the Week: 21 March 2011

Don't have time to read 50+ fishing and tackle collecting blogs and web sites? Well, let us do it for you! Follow all of the latest news, articles, and stories on our Whitefishpress Twitter account! Hint: You don't need to be a member...just bookmark the Twitter Feed Page or click on latest links to the right!

Remembering the Tackle Box…stupid poacher gaffs salmon in broad daylight…trout stocking is an exciting time…new toys…salmon catch and release info…hide your bunnies and fishing tackle…separate fishing rules for Michigan tribes…a fat Carolina cat…Berkley Bedell opines on politics…Terry McBurney's latest tackle find (on video)…donate your used equipment to the North Carolina Museum…Pakistani writer is angry his country is becoming a nation of anglers…Aussie is pretty fly for a barra guy…Scotland's Deveron Fishing Festival…Ireland's best kept angling secret…rod legend Ray Fincke has passed away at 74…it must be THE NEWS OF THE WEEK!

The Big Lead: Remembering the Tackle Box .

Poacher caught on camera trying to gaff a salmon in broad daylight.

Why trout stocking is an exciting time.

New fishing toys for guys and gals.

Salmon catch-and-release guide offers timely tips .

Lew's and Marshall offer new Crappie tackle.

Hide your bunnies! Hide your tackle! Wait…what?

Michigan tribes have separate fishing rules .

This is one Fat Carolina Cat.

Tackle industry legend Berkley Bedell gives his opinion on what is wrong with the nation today.

Terry McBurney shares his latest tackle find:

The North Carolina Aquarium wants your used tackle.

In Pakistan, one man bemoans the fact that they are becoming a nation of anglers .
Aussie is pretty fly for a barra guy .

Scotland's Deveron Fishing Festival hopes to bring in anglers to this Scottish hidden gem.

The Irish Times reveals the emerald isle's best kept fishing secret.

Finishing with a Flourish: Legendary rod man Ray Fincke has passed away at 74.

-- Dr. Todd