This is a cold winter, so I have started rearranging my fishing tackle. I look at the old lures and new to find each has a place. Bass lures never are obsolete because each style and color has a place on any given fishing day.
Sadly, fishermen have the idea that modern lures are better than vintage versions and in some cases, they are. Various types of lures with their unique characteristics are good for certain times of year, weather patterns and water clarity. In other word, right place at the right time for the right lure. Old wooden lures are still effective and the best choice to use in their ideal conditions.
For example, experts and lure designers claim that the old wooden lures made before 1940 produce more of a natural sound. Many look for this natural vibration in the spring when bass are moving a little slower and more attracted to a tighter vibration with little sound.
Color patterns on the older lures like the Creek Chub Darter and Dingbats are another factor that modern day lure designers have paid attention to. Bass in smaller bodies of water seem to like duller colors over the modern, brighter versions. Pond and small lake fishermen have learned this lesson in small bass tournaments when modern day fishermen ended the day scratching their heads with an empty stringer.
I have written several stories over the past several decades about anglers who only use tackle built before 1940. Jack Looney of Independence is a world-class antique lure collector who started wondering how his lures would look in the water.
“I started wondering about my old lure’s fish catching abilities,” Looney said. “I tried several lures from my collection that were flawed, making each piece less valuable. Fishing with those old lures showed me two things – some rare lures that collectors look for had lousy action and that the popular old lures still catch bass.”
Soon his lure collecting companions started repairing and fishing with their damaged antique lures that would never be worth much. Today they have annual tournaments with tackle made before 1940 and likely most of the lures, reels and rods from the early 1930s.
The annual contest limits contestants to using only nylon braided line made from colored nylon, but monofilament leaders are allowed. Plastic baits are not allowed. Visit your sporting goods dealer and scan each row of lures. You will find that 99 percent are plastic. There are a few wooden lures on the modern market if you look hard enough.
PROBLEM IS: Investing in old wooden lures for fishing can be a challenge. A lure in excellent condition will command a hefty price tag. Anglers in their right mind would not want to fish with an expensive lure. Old lures are considered to be folk art by many. Some lures are even considered investment pieces.
Lures in poor condition are the best for fishing, after a little tender loving care. Special efforts must be made to protect the old wood. Each lure must be refinished, a simple process. Start by removing the hardware and polishing each piece with steel wool. Then fill in chipped areas with wood putty and touch-up paint. Next spray the wood with clear acrylic to protect the old paint. The paint will chip or peel off quickly without this additive.
After several days in the water, lures should receive a new coat of acrylic. Collectors claim that you can use these lure for many years by paying attention to these vintage finishes.
Beware of the vendor who tries to rip you off by selling vintage wooden lures. You can find many under $10, especially the lures in poor condition that you might want to repair. I might add here that lures lose most of their value with modern-day repairs, so make sure they are not in good enough shape to be considered collectible before making repairs or changes.
You can check antique lure prices by investing in a current copy of Carl F. Luckey’s “Old Fishing Lures and Tackle” at most bookstores, or simply go online to find a complete listing of antique tackle guides.
VINTAGE RODS AND REELS: I will not say that old reels are better than modern reels – they are not. But I did gain new respect for my great grandfather after casting a J.A. Cox antique reel made in the early 1930s with black nylon fishing line.
My respect was developed by clearing severe backlashes when the reel stopped and the line continued moving. Handles on the old reels turned backward too, creating more margin for error. Backlashes are almost automatic by failing to thumb the line or releasing the handle during a cast. Setting the hook and releasing the handle is another good way to create nests of tangled line. You either learn quickly or spend your fishing day clearing tangled line and spouting out phrases that once would have gotten your mouth washed out with soap.
Modern day reels have gear systems and braking systems. Old reels are just that, reels without drag systems, brakes or other guts that make fishing easier. You supply all of that with coordination, clear thinking and effort, or everything that I failed to produce during many casts. Your thumb applied to the line is your drag system.
Old reels are easy to find. Many are stored in old barns or attics and almost any good antique store has a couple under glass. The first step before using a vintage reel that has been stored for 50 years is removing old grease. Early lubricants tend to harden with time. The gears must be soaked until crusty grease breaks loose. Check your local sporting goods or hardware store for the best solutions to use.
Gently turn your reel handles after applying a good lubricant to loosen the stiff gears. This may take some time to loosen a lifetime of stiffening. Be patient and continue working the gears until your reel handles easily turn. Add line and you are ready to fish.
The first rods were generally made of steel. A large fish will occasionally place a bend in the rod’s top end, sometimes permanent. You may have to tighten or even replace rod guides. I suggest replacing to old steel versions with modern graphite coated guides to prevent constant line wear.
Antique tackle is fun to fish with, especially when you are with someone who can explain how not to backlash the delicate reels. Try invading grandpa’s tackle box for a new fishing challenge.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.