FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Fishermen are always eager to try out the newest baits at sporting goods stores each spring, but people like Steve Knight are equally fascinated with the lures of the distant past.
“See this one right here? It was made in the 1860s, by a guy who died in 1900,” he said, pointing out an ornately sculpted brass spinnerbait made by legendary luresmith John B. McHarg Sr., of Rome, N.Y.
McHarg’s metal baits, made solely for fooling fish, are highly sought by collectors today – and Knight’s 20-year quest to assemble the best examples earned the “best of show” prize last week at the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club’s 2014 conference.
Knight, who is also an avid angler, was among about 550 collectors who converged here to buy and sell, trade and share their knowledge and discoveries with fellow collectors from across the nation.
The club, with about 3,800 members, is dedicated to preserving and sharing the colorful history that evolved into today’s multi-billion dollar fishing tackle industry. At center stage are the many wooden lures invented and patented from 1900 into the 1960s, but reels, rods and ephemera are always popular items.
Collectors came from as far north as Canada, as far south as Houston and Miami and as far west as Seattle, Oregon and San Diego. Some visitors made even longer trips – from Japan and the United Kingdom.
Many collectors specialize in lures from a single maker, such as McHarg, but the opportunities are as varied as the thousands of lure companies that have come and gone since the 1880s.
Jeff Kieny, an author and collector from Missouri, has spent a lifetime chasing homemade lures – or “folk art” baits, as they are known in collector circles.
Commercial makers offered consistency of design and color in most products, but the lures in Kieny’s unusual collection are unique as snowflakes – which is part of their appeal.
“If you think about it, it’s early recycling – using ingenuity to make something new from something old,” he said. Folk art lures can be made from broomsticks, discarded razors and kitchen implements, chunks of wood from scrap lumber, buttons, hat pins - anything that might attract fish as it is pulled through the water.
“In the early 1900s, not every fisherman had access to the commercial lures,” Kieny said, noting that the premium factory baits of that era often cost 75 cents to a dollar – a huge sum in those days.
“They’d take a look at those lures and think of how they could make their own version,” he said. “Sometimes they ended up making copies of the baits they’d see in stores.”
Other collections at the gathering included lures made in a particular state, lures that resemble mice or frogs, tiny lures made for fly fishing - and of course, an abundance of collections focusing on the products of the famous early companies including Heddon, Shakespeare, Creek Chub and South Bend.
Perhaps the most-asked questions at antique fishing lure shows is “what’s it worth?,” and the answers are as varied as shells on the beach. Value often depends on age, rarity and condition – factored with demand.
The lure collecting hobby has broad appeal because quality collections can be built with items costing only a few dollars apiece. There are also items that can be a bit pricey for something made to throw at fish. The most expensive lure seen at the show last week was a slender brass fish-shaped minnow made by Ohio gunsmith Riley Haskell in the 1860s. The asking price: $19,000.
WHALE DETECTIVE: A pilot whale that washed up on Hilton Head Island, S.C., Thursday made national news, but the story also has a local connection.
Augusta resident Eliza Nixon, a student at the University of Georgia, is completing an internship in Charleston at the Hollings Mammal Laboratory, whose programs include performing onsite necropsies on stranded whales.
The rising senior at the university’s Warnell School of Forestry was part of the team that conducted the 3.5-hour study in blazing July heat to gather information that will be used in research on whale mortality.
Once she completes her degree in wildlife biology, she plans to attend graduate school at the College of Charleston to attain a master’s in marine biology.
NEW DEER RECORDS: The most recent round of white-tailed deer antler measuring conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources revealed 222 new records, including one Boone and Crockett qualifier.
Each spring, DNR personnel make a concerted effort to measure deer racks throughout the state, with a major session during the Palmetto Sportsmen’s Classic in Columbia. Of the 569 sets of antlers measured this spring, 222 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list including 213 sets of typical and 9 non-typical racks.
According to Charles Ruth, Deer/Wild Turkey Program coordinator for DNR, although not as strong as the past couple of years, the number of successful entries into the records list this year is the third highest number of entries in the past 10 years. Although all of the records were not taken during the 2013 season, 182 were taken during the 2012 or 2013 season. Racks must score a minimum of 125 points typical or 145 points non-typical to qualify for the South Carolina state records list. Records are based on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system, which measures the mass and symmetry of deer antlers in two categories-typical and non-typical.
The top typical buck was a 162 7/8 inch buck taken by Gary Walls in Orangeburg County in December of 2009. The second highest scoring typical was a 159 3/8 inch Laurens County buck taken by Ricky Brooks last October. Netting 167 4/8 points, the top scoring non-typical buck was taken by Tony Blackwell in Oconee County last December.
Kershaw County was this years’ top producer of state-record entries with 15 followed by Aiken County, which had led the state the three previous years, with 14.