NEW YORK – Anglers have their favorite fishing holes, especially deep and dark spots few know about where the big fish lurk, and have their favorite lures to catch them. Much like their decoy compatriots, fishing lures have become highly collectible.
Gary Smith, an editor with The National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, said the best-known fishing lure makers are referred to as “The Big Five” and are Heddon, Shakespeare, Pflueger, South Bend and Creek Chub.
While a top five list of the most highly collectible fishing lures is debatable, and certainly personal, most collectors would likely agree that the original Heddon Frog tops the list. “Very few are known to exist, and provenance is extremely important because reproductions/fakes are out there in circulation,” Smith said. “After that, I would say that the Haskell Minnow is number two.”
Smith’s third pick for the top lure would be the Flying Helgrammite, which was made by Harry Comstock in upstate New York and was notable as one of the earliest lures having glass eyes. “Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess or preference but good candidates would be the Chautauqua Minnow, first production Heddon Minnows, early Rhodes Minnows [Rhodes morphed into Shakespeare] and first production Pflueger lures,” Smith said.
Founded in 1996 by Don and Joan Lyons, the Heddon Museum stands today in Dowagiac, Michigan, where the Heddon company made its fishing tackle.
“The James Heddon & Sons company began selling wood lures on a commercial scale in 1902 in Dowagiac, Michigan. In fact, they named their first lure the ‘Dowagiac.’ That lure today is referred to by collectors as a ‘Slope Nose in recognition of its upward facing snout,” Don Lyons said.
From that first Dowagiac lure, Heddon quickly developed a number of new lures that for the next two decades they referred to generically as Dowagiac Minnows, and added a number such as “100” or “150,” or a name such as Artistic Minnow or Crab Wiggler to distinguish the different lures.
For years, fishing tackle was purely functional and it’s hard to say just when tackle collecting, especially bait lures, took off but it took shape in the mid-1970s with the formation of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. The club (spawning many localized clubs) promoted regular shows across the United States – initially referred to as swap meets because lures were traded, not sold – and it encourages members to share information via club publications, a mission it continues to embrace today.
“As with most hobbies, the popularity of antique fishing tackle was fueled by people who had matured, gained some disposable income and could now afford to own those things that they could only dream about as young kids who had made do with what they could afford, not what they really wanted,” the Lyons said.
Lures were made in different price points and when collecting today, potential buyers must evaluate not only condition but how a specific lure was decorated (glass eye vs. painted eye), material (wood, rubber or hard plastic) and what color. Some lures were made in multiple styles. With regard to condition, Smith suggests buyers consider: “Do you want a lure that appears to be factory-new or would you prefer a lure that exhibits good honest use and therefore tells you it has tempted fish, and maybe caught them?”
People collect vintage lures for various reasons, he noted, including, “the beauty of lure construction and finishes, the link to an earlier (and seemingly less complicated) period in our history, fraternity, investment/profit, the thrill of the hunt or an appreciation of fishing lure history and owning a tangible part of it.”
Offering advice beyond doing homework, Smith said, “Be disciplined. Stay within your budget. You might want to limit your search for one company, like Creek Chub. Don’t display your lures in direct sunlight and keep artificial light to a minimum. Excessive exposure to light will cause lures to fade. Control climate as much as possible. Extremely dry air can cause paint to crack; extreme moisture encourages rust.”
“Again, as with all collectibles, collect what you enjoy,” the Lyons advise. “It’s a large and diverse hobby with regional and national clubs that will be glad to help newcomers to the hobby gain knowledge and make new friends.”