Wednesday, February 29, 2012

52 Trade Houses Part 48: John Cotter & Co. of Chicago

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Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.

For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!

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Trade House Tackle, Part 48:

John Cotter & Co. of Chicago

My love of wholesale hardware history is deep and abiding. Of all the firms that sold tackle, I would have to say that it is hardware companies I enjoy the most. Which is why I like John Cotter -- the man who found a way to make hardware in America work in an era when most everyone else failed.

He was clearly one of the most important people in the history of 20th century American hardware, and he got his start in a familiar place (to me): Duluth, Minnesota. Kelley-Howe-Thomson, which we profiled about three months ago, was always overshadowed by its larger Duluth cousin Marshall-Wells.

But it was K-H-T where John Cotter cut his teeth. A native of St. Paul, he began working at a local hardware store in grade school and moved up in the 1920s to become a traveling salesman (or "drummer" as they were known) and later department manager for K-H-T. Edward R. Kantowicz's biography of Cotter shows clearly how much this time influenced him; Cotter credited his time in Duluth as teaching him the skills necessary to strike out on his own. In 1942, he left K-H-T for Oakes & Co. in Chicago, a hardware distributor.

In 1947, working with Bill Stout (general manager of American Hardware), he began to plan the launch of a new hardware cooperative. In January 1948, Cotter & Co. opened its doors with 12 hardware dealers in Chicago, Illinois. Each hardware owner paid $1500 to join.

The idea was not new but it was a good one. The firm grew slowly and surely in the 1950s until a golden opportunity arose--the sale of Hibbard, Spencer & Bartlett's expansive True Value network of hardware stores. He ended up purchasing them in 1962 for $2.5 million, and brought on board 400 stores. He abandoned the Cotter & Co. name and took on the moniker True Value Hardware. The rest is history; sales topped a billion dollars in 1979.

But before True Value (which was used on fishing tackle back in the 1930s by Hibbard) became the name of the company, the firm sold tackle under the proprietary name Westpoint for a number of years.

Westpoint (one word) can be found on a variety of fishing tackle, ranging from snelled hook envelopes to sinker tins to line spools and fishing rods. Below are a pair of neat 1950s line spools.

It was also used for a short time by True Value and V&S stores, which were owned by Cotter & Co. Below are a spinner and leader packet bearing the Westpoint name.

When Cotter died in 1989, one out of four hardware companies in America were part of the True Value chain -- 8000 of them taking in over $2 billion in revenue. He left an amazing legacy; author Bill Dieruf, Jr. called Cotter "the only true genius I have ever met" in his book The Successful Management of Independent Business (2009).

In 1997, Cotter & Co. merged with TruServ Corporation and is still in business today with $4.5 billion in sales. It's a testament to one Minnesota boy's vision.

-- Dr. Todd

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Voices from the Past: Will Wildwood on Dr. James Alexander Henshall (1892)

Tomorrow (February 29th) is the 176th birthday of Dr. James Alexander Henshall. 44 leap years have passed since this man was born in Baltimore and changed the world of fishing. He lived one of the most interesting lives and impacted fishing as much as any individual American of his era.

For those interested in learning more about Henshall's life, check out The Autobiography of Dr. James Alexander Henshall, edited by the great Clyde Drury. It is a fantastic read!

In honor of the great Dr. James Alexander Henshall, we post Will Wildwood's 1892 biography of the good doctor. Long may this "American Walton" be remembered for his many contributions to fishing and fishing history!

-- Dr. Todd

Dr. James Alexander Henshall

by Will Wildwood (1892)

DR. JAMES A. HENSHALL, popularly known as the "Apostle of the Black Bass," the acknowledged authority on everything pertaining to this excellent game fish, was born and educated in Baltimore, Maryland. He inherited a strong passion for shooting and fishing, more particularly the gentle art of angling, and from his early years has been a careful student of natural history. It is recorded of him that at the tender age of four years he secretly packed a small basket with luncheon, and with cross-bow and arrows repaired to a neighboring wood in search of game and Indians. When found he was eating his luncheon beside a small camp fire, and in his basket were the trophies of his trip—a ground squirrel, a frog and a small fish. His favorite books at this period were "Robinson Crusoe" and "Peter Parley's Natural History."

When about eight years of age Mr. Henshall removed to the city, and his summer vacations were spent mostly in camping along the shores of the Patapsco and Chesapeake, with his rod and gun and usually a few congenial companions, who were the proud owners of a small sloop; or on the mountain streams of Maryland, fishing for trout. On Saturday holidays in the spring and summer he often went out with the market fishermen and never tired of witnessing the hauling of the immense seines and learning the names of the numerous fishes. From this ample and somewhat remarkable experience it is not surprising that at the age of fifteen he was a good angler and fly fisher, a fair shot, and could handle an oar or single paddle as well as those many years his senior.

Once, when but fourteen years of age, he swam with a companion on a wager from Baileys to a fish-house across the Bay Patapsco, known as the Spring Garden, a distance at that time of about two miles. He knew by sight and name every game and food fish in Baltimore waters, and could identify nearly every duck and shore bird. When nineteen years of age he and a companion, with fly rod and rifle, traversed the Alleghanies and Blue Ridge from Maryland to East Tennessee, tieing their own flies and moulding their own bullets, and eventually making their own rods. They spent the entire summer and fall in the mountains and in the valley, sleeping in the cabins of the mountaineers most of the time, and living- on the fat of the land, or in other words on brook trout, squirrels and wild turkeys.

His devotion to angling grew stronger as he attained the age of manhood, and he has given to the public innumerable descriptive articles on fishing and out-door sports, while his "Book of the Black Bass," as well as "Camping and Cruising in Florida," may be regarded as among the best books of their kind. Dr. Henshall is an enthusiastic yachtsman, a practical ornithologist and botanist, a keen lover of all manner of out-door sports, and his writings are alike practical and entertaining.

During the epidemic of yellow fever in Norfolk, Va., some thirty years ago, he rendered efficient service and became impressed with the heroic character of the work required of physicians, and resolved to adopt the medical profession. Upon his removal to Cincinnati he began the study of medicine, and eventually graduated with honor. Dr. Henshall began practicing his profession during the war, in Kentucky, and passed through the exciting and trying experiences of that period, in a manner which won for him a host of friends, and was the means of bringing him an extensive practice. At the close of the war, his health being impaired from overwork, he removed to New York City engaging in a lucrative practice with his former preceptor, but was forced to seek a more genial climate, which he found in Wisconsin, where he completely recovered his health. He eventually returned to Kentucky, where he remained for several years, and about four years ago went abroad with his friend Judge Nicholas Longworth, of Cincinnati; going first to the West Indies, thence across to Spain, and cruised about the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Egypt and Turkey, and traveled extensively through Europe. On his return he located in Cincinnati, where he has been honored by being chosen Secretary of the Society of Natural History, President of the American Fisheries Society, and of the Ohio Fish and Game Commission, and Secretary of the famous Cuvier Club. During the past year he has done valuable work as special agent of the United States Fish Commission, and is now devoting his attention to the preparation of the Angling Exhibit for the World's Columbian Exhibition.

It will be seen from the foregoing that Dr. Henshall is a very busy man, whose services are always in demand where practical work is required in the line of ichthyology, scientific research, or technical matters relating to shooting, fishing and natural history.

He has spent four winters in Florida, has done excellent work in the line of ichthyology and he recently made a collection of fishes of the State of Ohio and of the Ohio river and its tributaries. Dr. Henshall is a very congenial, companionable and entertaining gentleman, and has a host of friends and admirers all through the United States, among whom the universal sentiment may be briefly summed up in the wish that he may live long and prosper.

Monday, February 27, 2012

News of the Week: 27 February 2012

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!

A great video of the Saltwater Lure Collector's Club…a neat article about collector Rick Keating…Heddon launches a new Chugger…man catches two fish and a rod on the same hook…top 5 fishing techniques and how they developed…Russia's ice fishing craze…a bit of Ashaway history…writer's museum has famous scribe's fishing rod…a tale of two spools…do birds show where the fish are?…Americanizing a fisherman…when Hoover fished the Rogue…it must be THE NEWS OF THE WEEK!

The Big Lead: The Big Lead: A great video on the Saltwater Lure Collector's Club.

A nice article on tackle collector Rick Keating.

Heddon launches a new Heddon Chugger.

Bemidji (MN) man lands rod, walleye and eelpout…all at once.

A strange article on the evolution of the Top 5 fishing techniques.

Why ice fishing is Russia's latest winter craze.

A little history of Ashaway Line & Twine.

Writer's museum in Scotland contains Robert Louis Stevenson's fishing rod.

A tale of two spools.

Pueblo is the new hot winter fly fishing destination.

Birds indicate where fish are at.

A notice from Feb. 22, 1937 shows that 1000 people showed up to see a professional angler cast a fly rod

The Americanization of a fisherman.

The top 5 inventions that revolutionized the sport.

Finishing with a Flourish: When Herbert Hoover fished the Rogue River in 1928

-- Dr. Todd

Sunday, February 26, 2012

1000 Words

1000 Words

In this week's 1000 Words we feature the great actor Ed Harris, four-time Academy Award nominee. This publicity still comes from the rather obscure 1984 American Playhouse film called A Flash of Green, about a reporter getting involved in corrupt Florida politics.

-- Dr. Todd

Lost on the Bayou: Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part VI)

Lost on the Bayou:

Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part VI)

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson



It’s six in the morning on Sunday and I’m facing a thousand mile drive by myself. The third day of the Bassmaster Classic and its Expo are still several hours from getting under way, and already I’m experiencing the same morning fog that delayed the start of the Classic by two hours on the first day.

I’m also feeling sad that I won’t be at the Expo on Sunday, which I’m told is the busiest of the three days. Because of my teaching schedule, my first Classic experience has been shorted by a full day.

I’m sure that both Glen Lau and Ken Duke will have their hands full on this final day. I’m sorry I won’t be there to help them. I begin the very long day's journey into night.

The thing about spending fourteen hours in a car by yourself is that you have plenty of time to reflect on the immediate past. Like most professors, I like to sum up experiences into convenient, easily digestible bullet points.

So what did I learn from my first Bassmaster Classic and Expo? Seven things, as it turns out.

-- That the Classic Expo cannot be experienced in just a few hours. There is just so much to see and do that it would take an entire weekend to take it all in.

-- That a good proportion of dedicated bass fans have an appreciation for the sport’s history. Not only was I gratified to see the reception Glen Lau received, but I was also interested to discover how many people came up to me and complimented one of our bass history books, or suggested a subject for a future volume.

-- That there is an incredible amount of high-quality fishing tackle available on the market, and this tackle is by-and-large of an uniformly high quality.

-- That bass fishing may be big business, but it succeeds (or fails) based on the people behind the companies and organizations that comprise professional bass angling. With folks like Ken Duke at BASS and Kenji Iida at Shimano, you can rest easy knowing that some very smart people are stewards of our bass fishing future.

-- That more time spent fishing is always preferable to less time spent fishing. We’ll call this the VanDam rule, as it applies to pro anglers as well as weekend fishermen.

-- That being from Ohio and wearing a red sweater vest in Louisiana surrounded by rabid LSU Tiger fans will open you up to many, many humorous (and often profane) comments.

-- And finally, that professional bass fishing is alive and well. I was pleased to discover that most of the people I talked to at the Expo were upbeat about the future of most aspects of bass fishing.

In a way, New Orleans seemed a perfectly symbolic place for the 2011 Classic. After a rough patch, it’s future looks just as bright.

* * * * *

Coming home from experiences like the Bassmaster Classic is always a bit of a downer, especially since I am unable to attend the final weigh-in, which I very much looked forward to.

My lasting image of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic will be Glen Lau at his booth.

Throughout the day, I’m given updates from friends of mine about the competition. My dinner stop coincides with the final weigh in, where I’m sent some real-time text messaging as the news breaks that not only has Kevin VanDam won, but that he’s won by a record margin.

Fifteen fish for 69 pounds 11 ounces. In three days.


He finishes ahead of runner-up Aaron Martens, who does bounce back with over double the weight he had on Saturday but who still finishes over ten pounds back. Martens is threatening to become Professional Bass Fishing’s Raymond Poulidor. Poulidor was the French cyclist who finished runner-up in the Tour de France so often his nickname was The Eternal Second.

If I were Martens, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I heard Ken Duke predict that Aaron would win the Bassmaster Classic before too long, and besides, Poulidor not only became the most popular man in his sport, he became the most popular athlete of his generation in any sport in France.

I know who I’m putting money on at the 2012 Classic.

* * * * *

The return trip is uneventful. No landmark rollovers on the odometer, no pink Cadillacs, just a seemingly endless number of miles between you and where you want to be.

All I want at this point is to get home safely to my wife and daughter.

I reach Cincinnati on Sunday evening an hour after sunset. The weather forecasts another winter storm, and I still have lectures to prepare for and papers to grade for Monday classes. I pause for a moment, and realize that tomorrow, there will only be three certainties.

I won’t be the only one wearing a sweater vest any more.

For the first time in a week, I won’t be the worst angler in the room.

And I’ll be following the 2012 Bassmaster Classic very carefully, as it is a ton of fun.

One day soon, I'll return to the Bassmaster Classic, and if you want the experience of your life, you’ll come join me. I’ll be easy to spot.

I’ll be the one doing a rousing rendition of the Safety Dance as I celebrate Aaron Marten’s Bassmaster Classic victory.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Deconstructing Old Ads: A Mutual Admiration Society Spawns An Unusual Ad (1929)

A Mutual Admiration Society Spawns An Unusual Ad

The March 1929 issue of Field & Stream contains the following full page from the publishers celebrating their long relationship with the The Enterprise Manufacturing Company, better known as the Pflueger's. It also congratulates E. A Pflueger on his upcoming "Golden Jubilee" celebrating his 50th year in the tackle business. Not only does it take note of the fact that Pflueger advertised in the first ever issue of Field & Stream in 1895 but also reproduces that first 1895 ad which was for the Pflueger Glass "Luminous Bait."

It is stated that this will mark the 66th consecutive issue of Field & Stream containing a full page ad for Pflueger. This in itself is unusual. Magazines even up through the 1960s followed a seasonal schedule as to whether hunting, fishing, boating etc. would be featured and the bulk of the advertising that appeared usually complimented the season. When I received Outdoor Life and Sports Afield in the 1950s one could count on the April edition concentrating on Trout, the May edition on Bass with Pike and the other fish going on through the summer. By August upland hunting appeared, followed by waterfowl and deer hunting up though Christmas. Only a small fraction of hunting or fishing related advertising appeared "out of season". I've often wondered if fishing related advertising was given a price break if it appear in the fall or winter as ads for small, startup companies with limited budgets often appeared in "off season" issues.

After Field & Stream and the Pfluegers each heap praise on the other, attention is directed to a full page Pflueger advertisement that appears opposite this page. It is the introductory advertisement for one of Pflueger's most famous and enduring products. What is it? Tune in next week for the answer...........

-- Bill Sonnett

Lost on the Bayou: Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part V)

Lost on the Bayou:

Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part V)

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson



It’s Saturday morning and I’m running late, so I cancel breakfast plans in order to make it over to the Expo in time for its opening to the public. I’m told that if I thought Friday’s attendance was big, Saturday will blow me away.

I vow that this day, I’m going to spend more time exploring the Expo, and more time talking to people on the floor.

The crowds this day are indeed larger, and more boisterous, than the Friday crowd. This time I remember the computer cord and for the remainder of the day, Bigmouth and its sequel Bigmouth Forever play on the flat screen monitor.

It’s exhilarating to see how many people stop to watch, some of them intimately familiar with the movies, others experiencing them for the first time. Many of the people who stop and watch are families.

One of the great things about the Bassmaster Classic Expo is how family friendly it is. Many booths have activities suitable for children like casting ponds, and of course, getting kids involved in fishing should absolutely be the top priority of the tackle industry today. The Saturday crowd, not surprisingly, skews much younger than the Friday one.

They’re also more forward, at least when it comes to my red sweater vest. I realize too late that it makes me look like Jim Tressel, who was head football coach at Ohio State at the time. And I can tell you first hand, Jim Tressel is just not very popular in the state of Louisiana.

In a weekend full of surprises, one of the most amazing discoveries for me was to learn how popular some of the older bass fishing stars remain. A good example is the venerable Bill Dance. A television icon, Dance’s popularity appears undiminished, and as he got set up to sign autographs in one of the big boat maker booths, crowds descended upon him like a biblical plague of locusts.

In one instance, I was walking on the other end of the Expo when I literally got run down by a gaggle of ten year old boys. While his friends sprinted off into the distance, one of them stopped to apologize, managing to breathlessly blurt out “Sorry mister! But I heard that BILL DANCE is over there!” He then sprinted across the Expo floor to catch up to his friends.

The Expo crowd was very diverse, and included many women and children—another good sign the sport is healthy.

Such is the draw of men like Ray Scott, Forrest Wood, Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, and the founding generation of professional bass fishing. I was delighted to discover that at least for some, knowing the history of professional bass fishing helped them to better appreciate the present generation of pros.

I think any sport that cherishes its own history will remain healthy and viable.

I head back to the booth for a couple of hours to give Glen a hand. Ken Duke pops in, does his magic, and a huge crowd appears. I watch carefully. When he leaves, I do my best Ken Duke impression, and am surprised to see a crowd form, smaller of course than Ken’s but a crowd nonetheless. Glen looks at me with a smile. “Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”

I’d certainly be happy being a poor man’s Ken Duke in the bass fishing world.

I discover, however, that even being a pale imitation of Ken Duke is tiring, and I tell Glen I need to go get a drink. Along the way to the refreshment stand, I see a booth that I had missed the day before. It’s for Lew’s, and I’m more than a bit shocked to discover that they are introducing a new line of Lew’s Speed Spool baitcasting reels.

For those who don’t know, the Lew’s Speed Spool is one of the most important fishing reels in bass angling history. When it came out in the mid-1970s, it was the first narrow spool, low profile casting reel, and it was a mainstay on the pro bass fishing circuit for many years, having been manufactured by Shimano and Ryobi, among others.

The Speed Spool is back, and that’s good for bass fishermen everywhere.

I get a chance to speak to Lew’s president, who proudly walks me through the four reels that comprise the new line of Speed Spools. It was exciting to see a legendary name like this reintroduced to a new generation of anglers.

It’s another sign that things are looking up.

* * * * *

When it comes down to it, I am a historian of fishing. If pressed, I would refine that to read that I primarily research and write on the history of fishing tackle, with a particular emphasis on fishing rods and reels.

As a result, after I found out I would be attending the Bassmaster Classic, one of the first things I did was contact Dave Pfeiffer, president of Shimano North America, and ask him if Kenji Iida, the lead developer of Shimano’s iconic Stella fishing reel team, would be there. When I was told he would only be in attendance on Saturday, I made sure to ask if I could interview him about the state of modern fishing reel development.

I got a call Saturday afternoon from Kenji telling me he had some free time, and inquiring whether I could head over to the Shimano booth.

What started as a quick chat turned into an intensive two hour discussion, as things turned out.

At first glance, Kenji Iida seems very young to have achieved a position as illustrious as lead reel designer for one of the most prestigious tackle makers in the world. Five minutes after meeting him, I realize that no matter what field he had entered, he would almost certainly have been a prodigy. I’ve met quite a few tackle makers and designers, but few have left as lasting an impression as Kenji did.

We take a seat at one of the few empty Shimano tables, where I explain to him that I was working on a story about the current state of fishing reel manufacturing, and that I’d love to talk to him about how a reel goes from the drawing board to the angler’s hands. His eyes lit up. “It’s not often I get someone interested in the details of reel making,” he replied. “Wait here.”

He returns soon carrying a laptop, and proceeds to show me how Shimano makes a fishing reel. As it turns out, few tackle companies put as much time and effort into research and development as Shimano, likely a by-product of the fact that the company started (and remains) a premier bicycle manufacturer. The secret to their success was clearly attention to detail. Detail that the average angler cannot even imagine.

It was one of the most impressive presentations I’ve ever seen in the tackle industry, and I walked away marveling at how much time, money and work goes into making a fishing reel. Most of us never realize just how much capital goes into research and design for the rods, reels and lures we take for granted. Most people complain that the price of tackle is too high; after talking to Kenji I’m stunned they can sell it for as little as they do.

Bass fishing is indeed Big Business, and to run a Big Business you need to spend a lot of money on research and development.

Shimano is proof of this.

Kenji Iida, the man in charge of the Shimano Stella team, poses with his reel.

* * * * *

On my way back to Glen’s booth I stop by the Dick’s Sporting Goods display, which has a festival like atmosphere. Bass pro Bernie Schultz is giving a demonstration in the massive fish tank they hauled in, and Billy and Bobby Murray are signing autographs. I pop in to say hello and quickly do a double take. As many people know, the Murray brothers are twins. They wear different color shirts so people can better distinguish them.

Only on this day, Billy and Bobby Murray have switched shirts from the previous day. It took a moment for me to realize this. When I do, I laugh out loud.

Billy and Bobby Murray…or is it Bobby and Billy Murray?

As I navigate the big crowds, I become more and more aware of just how much fun people are having. I’ve been to other big sporting expos, including ones run by the Super Bowl and the Final Four, and I’ve been to the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, U.S. Open Golf, and Davis Cup Tennis finals.

But I’ve never experienced the level of enjoyment being so clearly displayed by families on the Expo floor.

We are constantly being hammered by the news media about what is wrong with the world, so much so that we rarely take stock in what is going right. As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, there is little doubt that professional bass angling has many challenges facing it. But I defy anyone to attend the Bassmaster Classic Expo and feel anything but encouraged. Not only were there a number of new vendors, but companies that hadn’t exhibited in years were there in full force.

And everywhere, people were smiling and laughing.

With this in mind, over the course of the weekend I spoke to over twenty random expo attendees to gauge their opinions on the current state of bass fishing. Although certainly a very unscientific poll, the vast majority were both upbeat about the future of professional bass fishing, and about their own personal bass fishing prospects for the coming year.

In truth, many of the people in attendance were die hard bass anglers and pro bassing fans. However, I would argue that this made them the perfect gauge of the state of bass fishing, in the same way surveying NFL fans would give you a pretty good idea of the condition of professional football today.

Often, the most dedicated fans are the harshest critics.

From what I was told on the Expo floor, I think the future of professional bass angling is bright.

* * * * *

In front of Glen Lau’s booth, Tom Jindra is teaching a young fishing pro how to flip cast with a new Temple Fork rod. One of the nicest things about the Expo is how much of the tackle is available for people to demo. I walk over and watch, and before long, Tom hands me the rod and I give it a shot. It weakly plops on the carpet about 20 feet away.

Tom Jindra (left) teaching a flip cast.

Because I run a fishing publishing company, I’m usually surrounded by very talented anglers. I’ve grown accustomed to being the least accomplished caster in the room.

This is the first time, however, that I’ve been the worst angler in a room filled with 25,000 people.

For the 50th time someone points to the massive largemouth bass mount in Glen’s booth and asks “Is that the Japanese bass?” I explain to them that the Kurita bass is in the Yamaha booth, and that this one is “only” eighteen pounds, caught by a gentleman that Glen was guiding in Florida.

It’s a huge fish. One of the things I’ve discovered about really big bass is how enormous their mouths are. Glen once took an underwater photo of a bass about eight pounds eating a ten-inch bluegill. Its mouth was open so wide there’s at least an inch to spare all around the sunfish. There’s a reason why they’re called Largemouth Bass. Bucketmouth, indeed.

Glen hands a friend a new lure he’s been working on. It’s over twelve inches long. While some people would immediately declare it to be too big, you and I know better.

Since I must make the thousand mile drive back to Ohio on Sunday morning, I am forced to break down the materials and get them back to the hotel to load in the Saturn. This is because the New Orleans Port Authority will not allow me to drive my SUV into the loading zone (break down does not happen until Sunday afternoon, and apparently it is quite a zoo). With all the police working the front of the Expo, I can’t double park the car there, either.

So I’m left to find a taxi. Thanks to the great people at Temple Fork, who loaned me an industrial sized dolly, I was able to easily transport the materials out front of the Expo, where I called for a cab. The cabbie pulls up, looks at my boxes, and says, “I’m not taking that.” I look at him dumbfounded. “I’m only three blocks away.” He thinks about it for a second. “Fifty bucks.”

Sometimes it’s worth letting your moral outrage take over. This was not one of those moments. I quickly decide this is the price of short distance transport in New Orleans, especially as darkness falls.

Out on the water, I learn Martens has fallen almost nine pounds back of the new leader, Kevin VanDam, who is now well ahead of Brent Chapman.

Spending twice as much time actually fishing instead of traveling is clearly paying big dividends for VanDam. This is the subject of a late dinner conversation I’m having with some fishing writers; I check my iPod and read on the Bassmaster Classic Blog that VanDam said “I knew it would be foggy one morning this week, so I ruled out Venice.”

Ken Duke’s prediction is two-thirds of the way to becoming right. I hold out hope that Martens will bounce back on the final day.


-- Dr. Todd

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lost on the Bayou: Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part IV)

Lost on the Bayou:

Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part IV)

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson



The first person I meet coming out the door the next morning is decked out head-to-toe in bassin' logo apparel. A friendly sort, he asks me where I am off to this fine morning. I tell him the Expo. The smile disappears from his face.

"Jewelry or bass?" he asks suspiciously.

I assure him that despite the (new) sweater vest, I am indeed off to the Bassmaster Classic Expo. A broad grin reappears.

I think to myself that many great nineteenth century tackle makers like W.D. Chapman were also jewelers. That thought soothes the sting out of being mistaken for a Silpada salesman not in the least.

I think the kids on the internet who troll the comment sections of popular web sites would write BOOM! ROASTED! here.

It’s certainly an inauspicious beginning to the day. Not long after, I hear that there is a fog delay at the start of the Classic. I guess I’m not the only one off to a bad start.

The Exposition opens at ten, so Glen Lau and myself head out to find some local cuisine. We ask the bell captain for a good local place to eat breakfast, and without hesitation he says “Mother’s,” a restaurant that specializes in baked ham. We walk the several blocks from the hotel until we reach the café, which is, of course, packed to the gills.

The wait is well worth it. The baked ham, which is billed as the world’s best, is most certainly not a disappointment. New Orleans has many charms, and food may be at the very top of the list.

One tip: don’t block access to the kitchen at Mother’s when you’re waiting in line.

By the time we reach the Expo, the place is an explosion of activity, even without the public. Last minute preparations are being made and the bigger vendors like Dick’s Sporting Goods have so many people milling around it looks like they’ve invited the public in early.

Glen has some fascinating neighbors. The vendor to his right is the Tight Lines Ultimate Vision team, who are here introducing Scot Ortwein and his Nightfishion black light system. This is Scot’s first Bassmaster Classic Expo, although he seems far more at ease with the experience than I am.

On the other side is Gerald Swindle’s “G-Man” booth, and anyone who knows this talented angler will not be surprised to learn his team is as down-to-earth as he is. Across the corridor are Tom Jindra and the knowledgeable Maxima line team; next to them is the legendary rodmaker Gary Loomis and the Temple Fork Outfitter team. Quantum and Pinnacle bookend this section of the Expo floor.

Glen is certainly not hurting for talented company.

Scot Ortwein of Nightfishion (in the blue hat) discusses pressing matters just as the show is about to open.

Anticipation is running high. Will the combination of recent bad weather, the economy and the price of gas keep people away? As Tom Jindra shows me photos of some nice fish he caught along the Gulf Coast just the day before, it alleviates any fears about the weather being a detriment.

The other two concerns, however, are very real, and talked about in hushed tones, especially by those who are actively looking to sell at the Expo.

Everyone is hoping the Classic will signify an upturn in fortunes, both for professional bass fishing and the tackle industry.

* * * * *

There’s a recent series of beer commercials featuring the Most Interesting Man in the World. Somewhere, some advertising executive must have met Glen Lau and based the character on him. The difference is that Glen is very much real, and the life he has led is straight out of a Hollywood fable.

During his six decades in the fishing world, he’s met just about everyone of note in the bass fishing industry. I soon discover that not only are many of these folks attending the Classic, but that they all have their own Glen Lau stories.

Glen Lau, the Most Interesting Angler in the World, getting ready to meet the public.

Two-time Bassmaster Classic winner Bobby Murray comes by the booth to greet Glen. His brother Billy heads over not long after. Both are as engaging and interesting, and smart, as their reputations claim them to be. I soon discover they are also incredibly funny to boot. For example, I’m talking to Bobby Murray about legendary Arkansas angler Glen Andrews, who fished with (and against) the Murray boys back in the early 1960s during the inception of professional bass angling.

“That Glen Andrews used to beat us so bad,” Bobby quips, “he made us start to like it.”

Before long a parade of famous anglers and tackle men beat a path to the booth. One of them, Clem Dippel, recently bought Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine, which had been orphaned during the recent purchase of BASS. I ask Clem why he decided to purchase the magazine; he just smiled and said, “I’m in my 70s. I was looking for something to do.”

Anyone who is familiar with Clem’s legendary work ethic knows he certainly doesn’t need another job. It seems pretty clear he acquired the magazine to insure that it continued to serve the tackle industry as it has since the early 1950s, when it was known as the Fishing Tackle Trade News.

It’s a good sign for the tackle industry as a whole.

Glen Lau and Clem Dipple renew their decades-long friendship.

Between visits from famous bass anglers, Glen regales me with stories of fishing with Ted Williams, Hank Parker, and his best friend “Uncle” Homer Circle. Some of them are so amazing if they came from anyone but Glen I would not believe them. But I’ve had too many of his stories verified by others to cast doubt.

This is a man, after all, who once took an underwater photograph of a bass that almost certainly weighed 28 pounds. No one on earth has been around more big bass than Glen Lau, and he tells mesmerizing stories.

* * * * *

For someone who is in front of an audience all the time, I am shockingly ill at ease in Glen Lau’s booth greeting the public.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring a computer monitor to play Glen’s legendary movie Bigmouth on my laptop. It draws a lot of people in, attracted by both the narration from the great Rod Serling and the incredible underwater shots of bass that Glen filmed at Rainbow Springs in Florida. “Can you find the scene where the bass tries to eat the baby duck?” one gentleman asks. “I want to show my son.”

It is then that I realize that I have left the cord to the laptop back in the hotel room, and the battery life on my Mac is just about dead. So much for planning…

Dozens of people come up to Glen and tell him how much his work has meant to them. He spends the afternoon signing posters, books, and DVDs for his fans, while I spend most of my time trying to get Glen’s credit card machine to work properly.

Half the people, it seems, are wearing Mercury t-shirts. I finally break down and ask one of them why. “The Mercury people said they will randomly stop and give people $100 during the day,” he says, “but only if they are wearing the t-shirt.”

I don’t know how many hundred dollar bills they gave out, but I do know it was a very effective promotion.

Suddenly, Ken Duke appears. He’s on a quick break from the BASS booth where he is conducting interviews with famed bass pros throughout the day. He’s only there about fifteen minutes, but during that time he attracts a huge crowd, bigger than at any other time of the day.

Clearly, the booth is in good hands. I decide to take a quick walk around the show floor.

I’m almost dumbfounded by what I see. If walking the show floor during set up is an experience, then doing it during public hours is something not soon forgotten.

Bass fishing is Big Business.

I am reminded of this every time I turn around. I stop by Skeeter’s massive “Eat. Sleep. Fish.” booth, and am amazed at the technological state of modern bass angling. Few things have changed the sport more than boat technology, and this was on clear display at the Expo. I get a similar feeling while visiting the Yamaha and other outboard motor booths.

Skeeter’s massive booth just before the Expo’s opening.

The rumors I heard about the Classic itself are true. Some of the anglers are making the two hour trek (one-way) to Venice to fish. I think to myself how this is only possible because of the technological leap forward in bass boats.

Whether it’s a good idea is still a matter of debate.

Bass fishing is indeed Big Business. And from the looks of things on the floor of the Classic Expo, business appears to be brisk.

* * * * *

I make my way back to the booth with my eyes glazed over. What started out as fifteen minutes turned into an hour, and I get back in time to watch the booth as Glen does an interview for on some of his best fishing tips.

As the afternoon goes on, traffic begins to slow a bit, which allows me to catch my breath. I get a chance to talk to one of Maxima reps about his latest fishing exploits, and am more than a little jealous of how much time these Southern boys get to spend on the water.

I also meet Gary Loomis for the first time. The legendary rodmaker is in good health and better spirits, and when he finds out I am a college history professor, he comes over and takes a seat and begins to talk American history. Not surprisingly, he is well versed on the subject.

Gary Loomis (center in the white shirt) discussing rod design with the Fetha-Styx people.

Eventually, the subject turns to fishing and fishing rods. Despite having sold his company to Shimano several years back, Gary is still actively testing and designing rods. We chat a bit about his latest projects and about his (and Temple Fork Outfitters) work supporting Project Healing Waters, which helps wounded U.S. veterans recover by teaching them how to fish. It is an exceptionally worthwhile project, and one I fully support. One of Whitefish Press' latest books--A Fly Rod In My Sea Bag--is helping raise funds for this great organization.

Just having the chance to sit down and talk with so many talented anglers and tackle makers has made the trip more than worthwhile.

By the end of the day, I am physically and mentally exhausted. Glen is in his middle seventies in age but certainly has weathered the public crush much better than I have. I am happy to see the Expo close for the night, if for no other reason than my feet really hurt.

I am ecstatic to learn that out on the water, Aaron Martens has taken the Day One lead with 20 pounds 7 ounces, followed closely by Arkansas native Scott Rook. Will this finally be Martens’ year? Lurking in third place is Kevin VanDam.

I’m told he chose not to make the long run to Venice.

Back in the room, the Silpada reps down the hall are partying in full swing. New Orleans seems to bring out the celebration in almost everyone, and I’m happy they seem to be having such a good time.

I’m also happy for the pizza that’s being delivered to my room. It’s been a very, very long day.


-- Dr. Todd

The Friday Funhouse

Video of the Week

An interview with fly rod historian Jeff Hatton, who shows off the oldest known Hardy fly rod.

12 Things I Would Buy If Only I Could Afford Them

Oscar and Arthur Kovalovsky made some amazing fishing reels.

The late Stan Bogdan made was a genius, especially as it concerned salmon reels.

Is this an all-time record for a Fenwick Lunkerstick?

I very much like this Point Jude saltwater striper plug in the box.

This is a nifty Pflueger Wizard minnow in a wood box.

An intro Penn 706 is a great find!

This Bingo Flash advertising lure is attracting a lot of collector interest.

It's a big week for big game reels, and this Newell R220-5 might be easy to overlook.

You see Ambassadeur 5000s before, but not often the original box.

A Colorado Floating Moth is always a great lure.

This has always been one of my favorite Heddon advertising pieces!

A Lucas Floating Minnow Bucket is very, very rare indeed!

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

-- Dr. Todd

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lost on the Bayou: Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part III)

Lost on the Bayou:

Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part III)

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson



“It’s going to be a great show.” So goes the exuberant proclamation from Ken Duke, executive editor of BASS publications. I can’t imagine the strains put on Ken’s time by the Classic, but he takes time to come over and talk to me on a number of occasions. Ken helped Glen Lau write the book Bass Forever, and he’s very excited that it is being launched at the Classic.

Me? I’m terrified. As I’ve discovered, there are two prevailing emotions that dominate the life of a small publisher like me: Dread and Abject Terror. There are so many things to worry about in the publishing process it is amazing I have any hair left.

Ken doesn’t have much hair, but then he’s been publishing a lot longer than I have.

There are some hidden blessings. The biggest thing most publishers worry about is something I have never lost a moment of sleep over: if the book is any good. Glen and Ken and their 70+ combined years as top bass anglers have taken care of that. Everything else? Well, those fall into the category of MY problems.

I run into Dan Basore, an old friend who many people know from his years as a columnist for Midwest Outdoors and his unparalleled traveling antique tackle exhibit. He seems genuinely surprised to see me here. I tell him I am genuinely surprised to see me here, too. “Aren’t you supposed to be teaching right now?” he jokes.

It must be the sweater vest…

* * * * *

Walking around with Ken Duke at the Bassmaster Classic is akin to hanging out with Robert Redford at Sundance. When I say that Ken knows everyone, I mean he knows everyone. In the span of five minutes, he introduces me to an internationally famous writer, a former Bassmaster Classic champion, and an NFL hall-of-fame player. And no, they weren’t the same guy.

We’ve spoken many times on the phone but this is the first time we’ve had a chance to meet in person, and I’m astounded at how much energy he has. Keeping up with him is exhausting, in part because his responsibilities are enormous and in part because everyone – and I mean everyone – wants ten minutes of his time. I am tired for him.

Still exhausted from the long drive, I head back to my room at the Hilton overlooking the river. Barges and cruise ships alike pass within a couple hundred feet of my back window. The week before the region had been paralyzed by a terrible winter storm (recall the lead up to the Super Bowl in Dallas), but today I am basking in the 70 degree weather.

The view from my window.

The Silpada jewelry ladies, in town for their own national convention, are in a suite two doors down. They are mostly in their thirties and forties and are perfectly made up, as if to outdo each other. It appears happy hour has arrived early for them in New Orleans. A group of them descend on me near an elevator.

"Are you a bass fisherman?" one of them asks excitedly. She's wearing one of those dresses where it is almost impossible to find a place to safely rest your gaze.

"No," I respond, staring directly at her forehead. "I'm here to write about the bass fishermen." I hold up my media badge.

"Oh," she says, not even bothering to hide her disappointment. "Well, if you run into any of the bass fishermen, tell them we're having a party in Room 3229."

I stumble on to the elevator to go up and see Glen and Ken. The overwhelming smell of competing perfumes has made me momentarily dizzy.

* * * * *

Ken and Glen are sharing a room, so I've headed on over to see them and discuss the Friday schedule. It’s the first day the Expo is open to the public, and Ken wants to make sure we feel comfortable. Quiet moments like these are cherished memories at such a public venue, and I revel in the stories being swapped about the famous bass anglers the two of them are intimate with.

The topic turns to the Classic itself. Ken gives an expert break down on the favorites and the dark horses, and it’s fascinating to hear his nuanced analysis of professional anglers. You don’t often hear bass angling explored in the same way as basketball experts break down the Final Four, but Ken does it effortlessly. The man knows the professional bass fishing world.

Glen Lau knows bass, and how to catch them.

He’s also fished with many Classic competitors and winners over the years, and gives his opinion on their fishing techniques. The two banter back-and-forth, while I try to soak it all in. Glen talks about one particular pro angler who always seems to be on the cusp of greatness. “He’d catch twice as many fish if he’d just learn to slow down.

I tell them I heard rumors that some of the Classic anglers are planning to be make the long run to Venice, losing precious hours of fishing time. Both Glen and Ken agree that there are abundant fish to be caught closer to home.

During a discussion on fishing techniques, I ask Ken to tell me what makes an angler like Kevin VanDam so successful. “He works as hard or harder than anyone around,” he says without pause. “But more importantly, he’s at the top of his game mentally. It doesn’t matter if VanDam goes a thousand casts without a hit, he knows on the next cast he will catch a fish. It’s that kind of confidence the great anglers need to succeed in a sport where you fail to catch a fish on 99.9% of casts.”

Ken Duke (right) in one of the quiet moments at the Classic. How do we know this? There’s only one person talking to him.

I ask about my favorite angler, Aaron Martens. Ken agrees that this year he’s got a good shot to win. “Aaron has a good shot of winning every tournament he enters,” Ken notes.

Substitute basketball for bass, and he could easily have been talking about Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. The best athletes in any sport are also the toughest mentally. I ask Ken to set aside his professional duties for one second, and predict who he thinks will win.

For the record, not only did he predict the winner, but he also correctly identified nearly half of the top ten finishers.

The man knows professional bass fishing.

* * * * *

That evening, there is a media meet-and-greet that Ken convinces me to attend. It’s held at the nearby Harrah’s Casino, and attending will be a number of competitors as well as media covering the Classic and other VIPs. It is also one of the surreal events of the entire weekend, for it takes place at a dance club called Masquerade.

Professional bass anglers are in their own way a well-dressed lot, but they seem more than out of place in the syntho-pop surroundings of this particular venue. This applies to an infinitely greater degree for the bass angling media, a group not noted for their sense of style. But the lure of easy access to free food and drink proves too much for many of the writers in attendance, yours truly included.

As a result the buffet line is soon backed up past the neon-covered bar, even as non-media bass fans are kept at bay by zealous security guards checking for media badges. There are precious few places to actually sit down, so groups of people congregate, attempting to balance heaping plates of free food with one hand and their drinks with the other while trying in vain to shout above the music.

One of the VIPs Ken Duke introduces me to is Louisiana native and former NFL great Jackie Smith. A graduate of Northwestern Louisiana State University, he went on to a stellar NFL career that culminated in 1994 with his induction into the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame. Now a spry 71 year old, he’s in better shape than the vast majority of people in the club. Admittedly, this is no great feat as most of them are writers, but trust me when I say he is in tremendous condition. Active in outdoor sports his whole life, he’s also perfectly at ease even in such a foreign environment.

Perhaps the center of attention is also the one person I am sure is more uncomfortable than I am: Japanese bass angler Manabu Kurita, who tied George W. Perry’s largemouth bass world record in July 2009. Sponsored by Yamaha, Kurita is currently touring the United States and was the center of attention just about everywhere he went. As he does not speak English, it must have been a rather bizarre experience, especially as people continually thrust copies of magazines at him to sign. He was surrounded almost the entire time by people, including a translator.

All of a sudden, I looked over and saw for the briefest of moments he was sitting alone. I watched as he closed his eyes for a full three seconds and exhaled.

It was nice to know that the Bassmaster Classic is exhausting for others, too.

As part of his Yamaha-sponsored tour, Kurita visited Georgia’s Lake Montgomery, where George Perry caught his world record bass in 1932. (Photo Courtesy Bea Babb).

After an hour or so the music had so successfully dulled my hearing I could no longer understand anything anyone was saying. I fight the urge to try out the Safety Dance, and instead make my way out the door and back to the hotel room. The last thing I see is Ken Duke in animated conversation with several anglers. The man’s energy is a marvel to see.

As a postscript to my first official day of the Classic and Expo, later that evening I find myself in the hotel lobby, where I run into a couple of members of an SEC college bass fishing team here for the 2nd Bassmaster College Classic.

As I’m around college student athletes all the time, I strike up a conversation with them, asking them what they think about the experience. Tan, fit, and dressed smartly in their team uniforms, they seem a bit overawed, although it’s not quite clear whether it’s due to the pomp and circumstance of the Bassmaster Classic or because of the sea of perfume and glitter of jewelry from the Silpada representatives who are milling around them like schools of sharks.

Just before I get on the elevator overlooking the lobby, I take one last look back at the college bass anglers, who are already deep in conversation with a half dozen Southern Belle jewelry reps. For some reason, the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar from the movie Star Wars come to mind, but I manage to avoid yelling out "IT'S A TRAP!"

This Bassmaster Classic is surely an event they will never forget.

This evening, I do not dream of bass. I do not, in fact, dream at all.

I simply collapse into a bass-induced coma.


-- Dr. Todd

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lost on the Bayou: Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part II)

Lost on the Bayou:

Dr. Todd Attends the Bassmaster Classic (Part II)

By Dr. Todd E.A. Larson


NOTE: This series was written about the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans. The 2012 Classic is in Shreveport, and kicks off on Friday!


It is early Thursday afternoon and I am circling the New Orleans Convention Center when I see a sign that says “Bassmaster Exhibitors” and an arrow. Gleefully, I get in line behind Wally Marshall, the Crappie King, with his massive custom painted truck and trailer. Suddenly, I am conspicuously aware I am driving a Saturn SUV with no sponsorship logo. You may want to check the replay, but I believe I’m the only person at the Bassmaster Classic driving a Saturn.

I also realize that I’m likely the only person in the state of Louisiana wearing a sweater vest.

I follow the Walleye King, who thrusts a piece of paper out the window. A security guard waves him on. I do not have any pieces of paper to wave. I pull up and am politely told I must go get a bill of lading from the Port Authority to unload my books. The guard explains I have to turn around and drive straight ahead at the end of the street, where I will find a friendly gentleman who will take care of all of my paperwork for me.

I imagine that’s what he probably said, because he is speaking so quickly he might as well have given me directions in Farsi. I am more lost than ever. The huge line forming behind me is growing impatient so I turn around and head to anywhere but there. When in doubt, my father always says, go with what you know. At this point I only know how to slowly circle the New Orleans Convention Center, looking lost and confused. So I continue driving slowly around the New Orleans Convention Center.

The good news is that I am clearly the lap leader at the Bassmaster Classic.

I call Glen Lau, who arrived earlier to set up his booth, and explain that I have no idea how to get a bill of lading. He says if I pick him up out front of the Expo he’ll take me over, which he does. He’s driven 900 miles himself from his beloved Florida home, and has already done this. He gets us all straightened out, I eventually get a bill of lading, and we are allowed behind the Convention Center to the loading docks where we can disembark the books.

* * * * *

“That’s a beautiful boat,” Glen says, pointing to one of the incredible bass boats being pulled onto the Expo floor. We’ve parked next to a dozen big trucks, all unloading huge boxes of tackle and associated items. The look of pain on the guy next to me as he manhandles a massive box on to a hand truck reminds me that we have a lot of books to unload, and that books are incredibly heavy.

I always say that books are the safest thing to travel with, as you can be nearly 100% certain that, even if you forget to lock your car, when you come back in the morning your car may be gone, but you will find the books stacked where the car used to be.

I sigh as I reach for the dolly in the SUV. Glen looks out at me from under his wide-brim hat, his steely eyes dancing. “Oh, don’t do that. We’ll get someone to bring them over for us.” Before I can respond, he then goes off looking for someone to talk to about getting an electric cart. I look around and everyone else is unloading on their own. I figure we’re wasting time.

Five minutes later, a big cart zips up with two burly young men, and behind them is Glen with a big smile on his face. The two even take all the books out of the car. I stand and watch in awe. So do a number of other vendors who are stuck unloading their own trucks.

If you can’t already tell, Glen’s done this kind of thing before, even if this is his first Expo. People instinctively like him.

We are told to meet the cart at our booth, so I walk on to the floor of the Bassmaster Expo for the first time.

First impression of the Expo. I can’t get over how incredibly huge the convention center is.

Words have not been invented yet that can describe your first moment on the floor of the Bassmaster Classic Expo. The sensation is overwhelming – entire semi trucks filled with boats, motors, and fishing tackle of every possible description. To my left is the Evinrude display. Although Thursday is set up day, and they are still working on it, the exhibit is accompanied by so many tables and chairs emblazoned with the Evrinrude logo that it looks like a mobile Starbucks.

Glen must have felt like he was walking with a little kid set loose in a toy factory. “There’s Jann’s/Netcraft!” I blurt. “There’s Carrot Stix. Have you ever fished one? Ooh! There’s Hildebrandt! I wrote an article about them.” Glen is unflappable even in the face of my annoying exuberance.

Thanks to our burly pals, it takes all of five minutes to unload the books at Glen’s modest booth. I look around and immediately feel like a fingerling let loose in the Bass Pro tank. I think to myself that tomorrow, when the public comes in, will be a very interesting day…and I secretly wonder if I’m prepared for it.

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. Nothing can actually prepare you adequately for this kind of experience.

After meandering around the Expo floor for a couple of hours, I find myself standing in the hotel lobby, where I suddenly realize I’m surrounded by literally hundreds of perfectly made up women decked out in more jewelry than a Macy’s mannequin.

I realize that bass anglers are not the only ones holding a national convention in New Orleans this weekend...


-- Dr. Todd

52 Trade Houses Part 47: Four Seasons Fishing Tackle of Chicago

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Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.

For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!

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Trade House Tackle, Part 47:

Four Seasons Fishing Tackle of Chicago

Voedisch Bros. was a veritable Chicago institution for over seven decades. They were a prominent sporting goods wholesaler and retailer responsible for marketing some iconic lures, ranging from the Edgren Minnow in the 1910s to Winter's Weedless Surface Bait in the 1920s.

We won't get into too much of their early history, because I want to use this rather obscure company--best remembered today for their 1930s-1950s trade tackle marked "Vee Bee"--as an example of how a company with an already established name, and an additional established trade name, could launch a second trade name aimed at a completely different market.

I'm referencing the Voedisch Bros. heretofore unknown "Four Seasons" Brand of fishing tackle.

The company itself was founded in Chicago in 1904 by a pair of German immigrant brothers named Voedisch, and the firm was a wholesale dealer from the beginning, and although they did dabble in direct market sales, they stuck to the wholesale market until the very end. As far as I know they never had a retail store.

The question dominating so many tackle companies in the late 1950s was how to deal with the increasing flood of Japanese-made fishing tackle that began in earnest around 1955. Some companies fought against this trend tooth and nail (such as Bronson) and lost spectacularly. Others updated, streamlined, and modernized and survived. Some, however, tried to maintain a delicate balance between their traditional line of tackle and the new imports. Voedisch was one of these companies.

As noted, as early as the 1920s Voedisch Bros. had already launched a successful line of trade tackle marked with their own name--the Vee Bee line of tackle, found on rods, reels, and lures (especially Creek Chub Shur Strike baits). They were unsure of how their line of dealers would react to cheap Japanese tackle branded with their venerable name. Would putting cheap (and cheaply made) tackle under their venerable name, already a half century old, diminish the respect many had for their company?

Vee Bee was used on a variety of fishing tackle.

Sometime in the late 1950s (around 1957 or 1958) they decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to launch an entirely new line of fishing tackle, inexpensive and imported, to compete with the big importers like TAICO and L.M. Dickinson. They disassociated the Voedisch and Vee Bee names from this division of their tackle company.

In this way, the Four Seasons brand of fishing tackle was born. Referenced in The Printer's Ink for 1960 as "a division of Voedisch Bros., Chicago, manufacturer of fishing tackle…," Four Seasons was branded on all kinds of imported tackle, ranging from hooks and sinkers to fishing rods and reels.

The following two ads show the kinds of places Voedisch was targeting for their Four Seasons brand of tackle.

This June 8, 1960 ad from the Wisconsin Daily Tribune shows Four Seasons tackle hawked at the local variety store chain (Schroeder Stores).

In this Hamburg, Iowa paper ad from June 22, 1969, Four Seasons tackle was hawked at the local B&E Variety Store.

Inexpensive lures are commonly found on Four Seasons cards, as are marked line spools and snelled hook packets. Here is a selection of Four Seasons baits, including a worm rig and their "Faithful Four" spin cast assortment.

What are harder to find are the marked Four Season reels. I was fortunate enough to pick up three Four Season reels in original packaging dating from around 1960. They include a baitcaster, spincast reel, and a fly reel. I have heard there is a spinning reel marked Four Seasons but haven't seen it. Only the spincast reel is marked "Four Seasons" on the actual reel. All of them were made in Japan, as was all the Four Seasons tackle I've seen.

All three reels came from the same estate and were purchased at Fanaro Bros., which was a small hardware company in Collegeville, Pennsylvania founded by Ernest Fanaro (1929-2011) and his brother in the 1950s. Fanaro was exactly the kind of place Voedisch Bros. hoped their economy line of tackle would take hold. This makes these three reels my favorite category of trade reel--the "dual" trade reel attached to both wholesaler and retailer. Interestingly, none of the three reels were ever used.

For those keeping track, to unravel this particular chain, we discover that a Four Seasons tackle representative sold these reels--manufactured in Japan and imported by Voedisch Bros., Inc.--to a small hardware store named Fanaro Bros., who then sold it to the customer (who apparently never used them).

In 1973, Voedisch Bros. was still trading as Four Seasons Sporting Goods but seems to have disappeared soon after. The very fact they survived the sporting goods blood bath of the 1960s means that the Four Seasons line was successful. That they didn't survive the 1970s implies they did not update this line to accommodate the much higher quality Japanese imports like Ryobi and Daiwa.

A fascinating story all the way around that shows just how much Japanese imported tackle changed things, and how complicated the American tackle trade became after World War II.

Four Seasons tackle is not rare but certain items (especially reels) can be tough to find. They are a fun addition to a post-war trade tackle collection.

-- Dr. Todd