Fishing lures are designed to attract fishermen and not fish.
I didn’t make up that line, but I wish I had. It’s nearly as true as “all fishermen are liars.”
My future father-in-law always instructed me that when I showed photos of the big bass that I had caught in his farm pond, tell people I caught them in a bar ditch.
I did as told, because I wanted to keep fishing in that pond and keep dating his daughter. The fact that she had access to a pond with big bass certainly didn’t hurt the relationship.
Old fishing lures can be quite valuable. Last week in Florida, someone paid $125,000 for a set of 89 vintage Heddon lures.
Heddon advertises itself as the world’s oldest lure maker, having started in 1894. The company was started by James Heddon in his family kitchen in Dowagiac, Mich.
Heddon is credited with inventing the first artificial fishing lure made of wood, and eventually a factory was built in Dowagiac. In 1983, Heddon was sold to Pradco of Fort Smith, Ark., and legendary lures like the Heddon Spook, Lucky 13 and Torpedo are still being manufactured today.
Recently, a friend of mine had an elderly aunt pass away. Her uncle had died many years earlier and had an old metal tackle box with a few fishing plugs in it.
Having no interest in fishing, she gave them to me. Most of them were unmarked, but a couple had identification.
One was an old-looking Heddon. Well, you know the first thought that popped into my head: Could this be some hidden treasure?
Had I discovered a hidden treasure like a Honus Wagner baseball card?
I told her that some of these might be worth some money. She told me to take them anyway, and, if they turned out to be anything of great value, we could split the bounty.
The Heddon lure in the tackle box was a black-and-gold Midget River Runt. I called Karl White of Luther, the world’s utmost authority on antique lure collecting, to learn what information I could about the River Runt.
White writes a column for Bassmaster Magazine on lure collecting, and he published a series of books on fishing tackle and collectibles.
Part of his collection once was displayed at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, but he removed it and is searching for a museum to house his entire collection, more than 50,000 pieces, which is valued at $5 million.
White was out of town, so I couldn’t bring my treasures by for him to eye-ball, but over the phone I told him about the Midget River Runt and asked about its history.
“It is one of the best lures ever made,” White said.
The River Runt, which was created by Heddon in 1923, has probably caught more fish than any other lure of Heddon’s, White said.
A Popular Mechanics article in the early 1960s listed the Heddon River Runt as the second-deadliest lure of all-time, he said.
The only lure ranked ahead of it was the Bomber, made by the Bomber Bait Co.
“They made all styles of River Runts,” White said. “They must have made 15 different varieties and every color under the sun because it was so popular.”
But is it valuable, I asked?
“If you can’t pick one up for $10, you are probably not looking very hard,” White said.
That is the irony of lure collecting. The lures that caught the most fish were made in abundance by the tackle companies, and as a result, are not very rare.
There are Heddon lures that are extremely valuable, but my Midget River Runt was likely not one of them, White said.
Then, I asked him about the only other lure in the tackle box with any engraving. On the bottom of the lure was “KEELING Patd July 6, 1920.”
“Now that’s quite the opposite,” White said, much to my surprise.
I was anticipating an “Antiques Roadshow” kind of moment in the next few seconds.
“That is probably worth $100 or $150, depending on which one it is,” he said.
Fred Keeling began making lures in 1902. His company in Rockford, Ill., stayed in business until the 1930s. His lures often had the typical Keeling belly plate and diving lip, usually stamped with the July 6, 1920, patent date.
It is more valuable than the River Runt because it is more rare.
The Keeling lure appears to be called a Pike Tom Wiggler, based on the photographs in White’s book, which lists its value at $200. Also in the tackle box were a couple of old Shakespeare and Creek Chub plugs, which might bring another $200.
I am not going to get rich, but at least it will buy me a few Alabama rigs. But on second thought, I think I will put the plugs in a shadow box.
It would be nice to have something in the house older than me.