By: Brock Ray
It seems everyone collects something, be it old buttons or Indian arrowheads. In recent years sporting paraphernalia, such as baseball cards and duck decoys, has been eagerly sought by a growing number of collectors. Old fishing tackle is the latest craze among sporting collectibles.
Crafted and manufactured in this country since the 1880s, collectible old fishing tackle covers everything from rods and reels to wood plugs and bobbers. Makers of early fishing tackle relied on materials such as wood, bamboo, brass, German silver, silk, and leather. Fishing reels and plugs are two of the most highly sought after items of fishing tackle. Early English wooden reels are occasionally found at flea markets and yard sales, but metal level-wind and fly reels are the most frequent finds. Early Milam reels fetch several hundred dollars, while the more common South Bend and Pflueger reels are rarely worth more than $10 to $20.
Wooden fishing plugs were first made around 1990. Fine old plugs like the Michigan Life-Like Minnow have up to two dozen components and qualify as folk art.. Even relatively common Creek Chub or Heddon plugs deserve this same distinction. Many old wooden fishing plugs have glass eyes and baked-on paint jobs that feature rain-bow patterns and highly realistic scale patterns. Most mimic bait fish, but old plugs that resemble frogs, mice, crawfish, and insects are common. Most of the old lure makers such as Moonlight, Paw Paw, and Rush Tango went out of business long ago. A few of the early lure makers such as Shakespeare and South Bend continue to produce fishing tackle.
Everyone wants to know what the reels and lures in a tackle box are worth. As with coin or stamp collecting, old does not necessarily mean high in value. Condition and scarcity largely determine the value of an old lure. Those with chipped paint or damaged hardware have only 10 to 20 percent of the value of the same bait when in excellent condition in its original cardboard box.
Generally, wood lures are more valuable than those made of plastic or metal, but not always. Lures with glass eyes are more valuable than those with painted eyes, but again, not always. Split section bamboo rods are desired over steel fishing rods, which are rarely worth even $5. Brass and raised pillar reels usually are older and more collectible than the level-wind bait casting reels made from the 1930s to the mid 1960s.
Beginning collectors usually grab up every old piece of tackle they can find. Yard sales, antique shops, and flea markets are their favorite hunting grounds. In time most tackle collectors refine their pursuits to certain types of baits such as frogs, or those made by a specific company such as Heddon or Al Foss. Avid collectors who are looking for rare pieces to complete collections usually go to swap shows sponsored by groups such as the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. This organization currently has over 2,000 members.
A few collectors specialize in collecting tackle made in their home state. If you live in Michigan or Indiana, where much of the early tackle was made, this is easy. Those living in Alabama or Tennessee where little tackle was produced prior to 1960, must search for collectables made in their states.
Interestingly, one of the most sought after old southern fishing lures made was in Trussville in the late 1940s. Known as the Pinson Spinner, this mechanical wooden lure with aluminum blades is worth over $75 when in good condition. You probably do not have such a lure in an old tackle box, but odds are you have a few treasures collectors would desire.
If you have an old tackle box filled old fishing lures, or have other old fishing tackle, I am available for identifying and assessing. I occasionally purchase old tackle, and if requested can usually find a potential buyer.