COLUMBIA, S.C. -- New lures catch fish. Old ones hook collectors.
On Saturday, antique fishing tackle buffs from New Jersey to Florida gathered in Columbia to pay homage to a century of baitcasting -- and to swap, sell and buy.
"These big baits are Expert Minnows," said Bobby Wright of Wilmington, N.C., who answered visitors' questions about his collection of pre-1920 lures. "They were made for catching muskies."
Tackle collecting has been popular for decades, with its biggest organization -- the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club -- boasting a membership of 6,000.
Saturday's show was one of two held each year by a smaller club -- Carolina Antique Tackle Collectors -- which has about 175 members, said John Walker, the show host.
From 1900 well into the 1950s, fishing lures mostly were made of wood, and often featured glass eyes and beautiful airbrushed finishes. They were sold in artfully decorated boxes. And most were used.
Today, the most collectable lures are those that were never used, said Walker. "Condition is always something collectors look for. It determines the value a lot of times."
Each collector has a specialty. It can be flyrod lures, frogs, mice, lures with spring hooks or perhaps lures that are red and white -- or yellow. Some collectors crave lures in boxes, or baits by one company.
There is no rhyme or reason -- and few set rules.
"I was born in Marianna, Fla., and we collect any fishing lures made in Florida," said Joe Yates, who trucked down his collection from his Charlotte, N.C., home.
He has Eger baits from Bartow, a Fin-Wing from Jacksonville -- even a Blue Springs lure from his hometown.
"You can never have them all," he said. "But you can try."
Georgia holds a particular distinction in angling history, said Arthur Edwards of Springfield, Ga. "It's where the world-record largemouth bass was caught in 1932."
That fish, landed by George W. Perry in a Telfair County lake, weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces. The record remains unbroken.
The lure that caught the famous fish -- a Creek Chub Bait Company Wiggle Fish -- is the focus of Edwards' collection.
"We have about 75 variations," Edwards said. The lure used by Perry that June morning was a bass-sized Wiggle Fish in perch scale finish. The fate of the actual lure are unknown.
"In our collection we have lots of different colors," Edwards said. There are also baby Wiggle Fish and Musky Wiggle Fish and slightly different ones made for Creek Chub's Canadian distributors.
"We love 'em," Edwards said.
Although most collectors seek out vintage baits made of wood, Dave Keyeck of Lilburn, Ga., specializes in plastic River Runt "Spook" lures made by the Heddon company.
"I got started in this with my son, Brian," said Keyeck, whose extensive collection includes 450 different examples of the same lure.
Keyeck's son, who began collecting as a pre-teen, earned the nickname "Runt Man" for his collecting interests. Now Brian is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 190 pounds.
But the Runt Man label stuck.
Buying and selling are big parts of lure shows, but trading is common as well, Walker said.
Antique lure collecting, he added, can fit every taste -- and every pocketbook.
There are items still common enough to collect for a few dollars. Some rare, early baits can fetch dizzying prices, well into the thousands of dollars.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222.
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