I’ve always been a pack rat. In fact, I still have the first tackle box I ever owned in the 1960s. In the mid-80s, I found my first tackle box of antique lures at an auction near Lake of the Ozarks. I was surprised to see that buyers were so interested in old fishing plugs, even the wooden Creek Chub Pikies and Lazy Ikes, like the ones I still had in some of my fishing tackle boxes.
My obsession with old fishing tackle grew from that point on. Some of my favorite old fishing lures were made from 1900 through about 1960. I find them in tackle boxes that most likely belonged to anglers who pursued bass in Missouri or larger fish when they travelled to the northern U.S. or Canada.
I hope this bit of tackle history will help get you hooked on collecting old fishing lures, too!
Many companies made side-hook minnows. Most of these wooden baits had either three or five treble hooks, although at least two companies made slightly larger versions that boasted six treble hooks! Can you imagine trying to unhook a fish that had taken with one of these baits? Keep in mind that catch-and-release was very uncommon until the 1970s.
Heddon’s Dowagiac Minnow No. 150 was as popular among anglers of the early 1900s as it is with collectors today. This lure was often referred to by its model number “150” or simply as a “5-hooker” or “Dow-jack.” It came in a variety of great colors, and it was made with glass eyes from about 1904 through 1953. The hook hangers and spinners used on these baits changed over the years and are therefore very helpful in dating individual lures.
At first glance, the 5-hook Shakespeare Wooden Minnows look very similar to the Heddon No. 150 series, but there are notable differences in the spinners and in the way the hooks are attached. For about 10 years, starting in 1906, the side hooks were mounted on a clip or a plate that ran through a hole in the body. If you can actually see through the body of the lure from one hook to the other, the odds are that you’ve found a Shakespeare Minnow, which is about 100 years old.
One of the small companies that made high-quality side-hook minnows was the Pontiac Manufacturing Company in Michigan. Their Pontiac Minnow is a rare find for any collector.
Early Wooden Fishing Lure Companies
Before 1900, very few commercially produced wooden fishing lures were made and sold in the United States. The period from 1900 to 1930, however, must have been an exciting time for avid sport fishing anglers looking for new wooden fishing lures. The industry was growing rapidly, and the four largest early companies were expanding their product lines and offering many styles of wooden baits.
The Enterprise Manufacturing Company of Akron, Ohio, makers of Pflueger Fishing Tackle, sold two of the first wooden lures.
F.G. “Bucktail” Worden of South Bend, Indiana, started making bucktail baits in his kitchen in 1895 or 1896. By 1900, he was selling wooden minnows, and in 1905 he launched the Worden Bucktail Manufacturing Company.
William Shakespeare, Jr. patented the first level-wind fishing reel that actually worked in 1896. In 1897, he started his fishing tackle company, and in1901 he won a patent for his first wooden fishing lure.
By the late 1890s, James Heddon’s carved baits had proven to be fish catchers and were sought after by his fishing friends. In 1900, Heddon and his son, Will, started the James Heddon & Son Company. In 1901, they offered their first commercially available plugs, and in 1902 they received their first patent.
Some of the side-hook minnows were sold as “floaters” or topwater lures. However, there were many other topwater lure styles developed over the years, and several are still popular today.
Heddon’s Surface Minnow No. 300 was sold from 1905 to 1941. This 4-inch fat-bodied surface minnow was one of the bigger Heddon baits of this period. The No. 300 in the photo is one of the oldest versions. Note the three long, red, hand-painted gill marks below the eye. This was one of Heddon’s lures made with muskies in mind. In fact, in 1925 the name was changed to the Musky Minnow. Later it was changed again to the Musky Surfusser.
No matter what they called it, it reminds me of a number of modern bass and muskie baits.
Pflueger made the famous Globe from 1910 to 1966, when the company was sold to Shakespeare. There were subtle changes in the Globe over the years, but it always looked about the same. Many other companies have made similar baits, and most folks call them all “Globe-style” baits.
South Bend produced a good selection of topwater baits, and it started the Surf-Oreno line in 1916. This lure came in several sizes and many colors, and some of them look a lot like the Heddon No. 300. The South Bend Woodpecker represents an unusual style of topwater lure. South Bend often produced this very popular surface bait with a luminous body and red head. The least common version of this bait came rigged with two weedless hooks and was sold from 1914 to 1923.
Very similar to the Woodpecker was the Moonlight Floating Bait, which originally came painted a solid, luminous white.
The Creek Chub Plunker represents a style that has stood the test of time. Wooden Plunkers were sold from 1926 through 1978. Creek Chub made some fairly similar topwater baits like the Pop ‘n’ Dunk and the Surface Dingbat. Plunker-style lures are still being sold today and continue to be very popular, especially with anglers fishing for black bass or white bass.
You never know what treasures you may find when you open up an old tackle box. I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of enjoyment over the years from researching the history of old fishing lures and their makers. I just wish the old lures could talk and share their fish stories with us!
Missouri Baits and Fishing Reels
Missouri has a rich fishing tradition. It’s no surprise then that many fishing lures, tackle items, and fishing reels have been made in our state for more than 100 years.
Several of the most notable Missouri baits came from Springfield and are sometimes collectively referred to as “barber pole baits” because of their spiral-striped paint jobs.
Missouri was also well known for quality fishing reels. William Talbot was a Nevada, Missouri, jeweler who made outstanding reels starting in the early 1890s. Some of the model names include Star, Comet, Meteor, Mars, Jupiter, and Niangua.
Around 1915, South Bend began selling a shallow wobbler-type lure, which claimed the name Bass-Oreno. It became one of the best-known South Bend baits of all time. In 1922, South Bend added the very similar Pike-Oreno No. 975. This was a slightly slimmer version of the wooden Bass-Oreno and was fitted with a metal lip to make it a shallow-diving crankbait. The following year they added the Midget Pike-Oreno No. 974. These lures have great action, but only lasted until 1929 and 1927, respectively. In 1931, a new style of Pike-Oreno, shaped much more like our modern-day crankbaits, hit the market.
Heddon made two sizes of the Game Fisher from 1923 to 1933. The larger version had three segments, and the baby had two segments. It has a fantastic action in the water. The shape and action of the Baby Game Fisher lives on, with at least two companies making very similar lures out of plastic. The newer lures range in size from small bass baits to 13-inch-long muskie baits. I’ve caught many muskies and some big bass on the modern versions, but I’ve also landed a muskie on one of the original Game Fishers from the 1920s.
You can’t talk about classic wooden baits without mentioning Creek Chub Pikie Minnows. These baits were made from 1920 through 1978 in many sizes and models, from the inch-long Fly Rod Pikie to the foot-long Giant Pikie. You can still buy Pikie Minnows today, plus many modern lures that have a similar design.
One of the fun things about collecting old fishing lures is finding some of the real oddball designs. Some lasted just a few years because anglers and fish may have not liked the design as much as the inventors did. Others faded away because they were just too labor-intensive to allow the inventors to make a good profit. Some of the oddballs lasted a long time, so they must have hooked plenty of fish — or at least plenty of fishermen! I’ll mention just three of the oddballs I like the most.
Heddon’s Dummy Double was sold from 1913 to 1916. It came equipped with three very odd “dummy double” hooks (note that the bait in the photo has had the dummy tail hook replaced with a treble hook). The shape of each hook is like the common double hooks of the early 1900s, but one side of each is a smooth “dummy” loop. One 1913 advertisement for the Dummy Double says, in red, “The Idea Looks Wrong But It Is The Rightest Thing Ever Developed In Hook Manufacture” and goes on to mention that it “makes a miss practically impossible.” Apparently the bait didn’t hook anglers as well as it hooked fish — it was discontinued after just four years.
Omer F. Immell of Blair, Wisconsin, made six sizes of his unusual Chippewa Baits from 1910 to 1917. I really appreciate the workmanship of these baits. All the sizes are rare, but the larger muskie sizes are the rarest. The one muskie version I have was a gift from a good friend who was past president of Muskies, Inc.
Would you design a lure that was shaped like the head of a vacuum cleaner? Well Frank Howe and his partners from Indiana did, and they were granted a patent on their Howe’s Vacuum Bait in 1909. By 1922, it was being sold as the South Bend Vacuum Bait. It stayed in the South Bend catalogs until the 1940s. So the bait that looked like a mini vacuum-cleaner head remained in commercial production for over 30 years!
Resources for Antique Tackle Collectors
If you are serious about collecting old fishing tackle, join the National Fishing Lures Collectors Club (NFLCC). The club is a nonprofit educational organization that aims to foster an awareness of fishing tackle collecting as a hobby and to assist members in the location, identification, and trading of vintage fishing-related equipment. You can find out more about the NFLCC at nflcc.org.
To learn more about antique fishing tackle, check out the following titles.
- Old Fishing Lures & Tackle, 7th Edition by Carl F. Luckey (edited by Tim Watts). With 768 pages and more than 1,500 photos, it provides a detailed overview of many tackle companies and lures. I referred to it extensively for this article.
- Fishing Tackle Made in Missouri, Second Edition by Dean A. Murphy. This is a very good reference book if you want to learn more about tackle made in our state.
- The Heddon Legacy by Bill Roberts and Rob Pavey
- The Pflueger Heritage by Wayne Ruby
- Identification and Value Guide to South Bend Fishing Lures by Terry Wong
- The Paw Paw Bait Company by Reed Stockman and Scott Tougas
- Collector’s Encyclopedia of Creek Chub Lures and Collectibles, Second Edition by Harold E. Smith, M.D.