Collecting is a pastime that can date centuries. People collect stamps, coins, guns, baseball cards and comic books to name but a few items – why not antique fishing tackle?
This is not to be confused with the collection of current present-day fishing tackle, similar to what a charter captain might do as “normal” equipment on their Great Lakes boats. After all, you do need different kinds of rods, reels and lures for each species of fish you might be pursuing. Using that kind of philosophy, you can see where the early days of fishing tackle could see inventors going off in different directions. And Western New York was a hotbed for different ideas when it came to casting, drifting or trolling because we had some pretty darn good fishing!
“We have lures that date back to 1850 or so,” says Dan Bedford of Lockport. “It’s fun to collect old lures and other fishing-related items and help to tell the story of a particular product. Many times a collector will focus in on a particular manufacturer. The Big five are Shakespeare, Heddon, Creek Chub, Pflueger and South Bend, but there were so many different companies out there, you could specialize in something as focused as frog imitation baits.
“The more popular a bait was, the more a company made. From a collector’s standpoint, that really isn’t a good thing. You wanted things that were unique, such as a different color or a different size. Some lures were short-lived so they didn’t last as long. Preserving all of these different kinds of lures helps to give an historical perspective for the area and for the state.”
For example, the Spiral Wind Reel Company started up on Military Road in Buffalo prior to World War II. Four versions were available, including one special one. Just when things were going well, the war hit and the company ceased production because it was too difficult to get the metal to build the reels. The popular Jitterbug lure ran into the same problem for its metal blade, so they made them out of plastic. “The plastic-bladed baits are now collector items,” says Bedford.
Time after time, we hear about people who were digging through their father’s or grandfather’s possessions after their passing. Old fishing tackle often shows up and more often than not, they don’t know what to do with it.
“We have a one-day antique tackle show in Lockport every year and it’s a perfect way to find out what you have and whether or not it’s worth anything,” says Mark Schmitkons of Wilson. He’s been collecting antique fishing gear for more than two decades and it’s a passion that he’s really come to enjoy.
The Antique Tackle Show is one of the oldest running shows in the state. This year will be the group’s 28th annual event, set for March 25 at the Elk’s Lodge, 6791 N. Canal Road, Lockport, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s not a huge event, but it’s worth the $5 admission price if you are interested in old fishing stuff. Some of it is for sale; most is just for viewing. If you would like to display and/or sell some items yourself, tables can be rented for $15 (by March 18) or $20 up to the day of the show by contacting Bedford at 713-9410.
“If you have found some old fishing tackle lying around, don’t clean it or take it fishing first,” says Schmitkons. “Lure value is based on the condition it’s in and how rare it is. Cleaning something with ammonia in it could destroy the lure. If the lure is still in the box or the packaging, it could actually double in value or more. In fact, sometimes the box is more valuable than the lure!”
Bedford agrees. Contact one of them or stop out to the Lockport show on March 25. They would hate to see a piece of our fishing heritage lost needlessly.
“I have a glass tube lure that was built by Welch and Graves that was patented in 1890. You would put a live minnow inside the lure and try to get the fish to hit. However, if you would cast this lure and you hit a rock or something hard, the lure would break. They are very rare and many people would not even know what it is.”
We mentioned the importance of preserving history and telling the story of the lures and the companies. Sometimes collectors really don’t know the stories and they stumble across something that enlightens them. Schmitkons was on the weekly Outdoor Beat television show (Channel 22, Time Warner Cable; www.lctv.net) a few years ago and he showed off some items that he wanted more information on. One particular item was a casting medal from Buffalo, dated from 1956. He asked viewers to assist him with identifying the item and help to tell its story.
As luck would have it, when he arrived home, there was a message waiting for him from an individual retired from the Coast Guard. He shared that his father used to participate in casting tournaments at Delaware Park in Buffalo back in the 1950s. At the time, the park looked totally different than it does today (this was before the Scajaquada Expressway was even built).
Somewhere near the present Grant Street exit, there was a large round water pool and they would set buoys out for accuracy casting. Distances would be set at 5, 10, 15 yards and beyond. There would be a bell attached at each buoy and the idea was to cast and ring the bell. John Robbins was the local scorekeeper, a person who used to sell live bait as a sideline. Robbins was also president of the West Side Sportsman’s Club. They competed against other clubs in the area. The caster logging in the most points (hits) would be declared the winner … and earn one of the medals.
It’s a cool piece of history that we really don’t want to lose. Antique tackle collectors are preserving that history and they would like to see the next generation getting involved with this hobby so that they can pass that history on. Check out the Antique Tackle Show in Lockport on March 25. For more information on collecting fishing lures, visit the National Fishing Lures Collectors Club website at www.nflcc.org.