Antique Lure History Whence The Plug American Angler 1918
In this Antique Lure History Whence The Plug American Angler article you will find an amazing read. I was truly excited when I ran across this gem. If you love antique lures and you love the history bind them, you will love the article from the May 1918 American Angler, by Sam Stinson. Everyone is always asking what was the first antique lure. I’m not sure if anyone ever will be able to answer that with being a bit more specific. But we see here some antique fishing lure recollection of some great history. The story is also printed in Arlan’s book “19th Century Fishing Lures”, one of my favorite books, and have worn out the pages of a few copies thumbing through it over the years. I really wish he would do another. There are a few differences of note, in photos (maybe there just wasnt enough room to print them), and his source was from a 1921 issue of American Angler. One could then draw the conclusion, the article was printed many times over the publications life span.
ISNT it curious how things start? The bass had risen fairly well that day but they seemed a bit finicky. The evening had turned chilly as June evenings will and over our pipes we were holding a post prandial post mortem before the blazing log fire; the Magazine Editor, the Artist the Business Man and I. The Magazine Editor and I had been fishing from the same boat, while the Artist and the Business Man had paired in another.
And there was verbal strife and much abuse, after the manner of men who love each other sufficiently well to feel privileged to call each other names. As bass fishermen we seemed to have but one thing in common. We were all devotees of the plug. But which plug to use under which conditions? Ah that was the beautiful luscious rosy cheeked apple of discord.
Now when we were up in those rushes where we had to pole our way through, said the Magazine Editor, turning his profane attention to me, for his language is apt to be profane even when his voice is most gentle, “if we had discarded our Coaxers for a weedless gang with a frog or had even tried a strip of pork rind or pickerel belly we might have”.
Rot I interrupted with the privileged rudeness of a host. For twelve years I have fished those rushes and until Bill Jamison bobbed up with his Coaxer, I never got anything out of them but promised damnation to my soul. If there is anything in the world more calculated to inspire blasphemy than trying to fish a rush grown stretch of bass water without a-
“But the Coaxer was suggested by the old fashioned pork chunk with a weed less hook” cut in the Artist. Now we were fishing all day in open water where we didn t need anything of the kind and I tried six different plugs before I found that what they wanted was you can never guess, the old Yellow Kid.
The Business Man grinned. “Fact” he reassured us It’s a cold fact Queer how things go. Everything moves in cycles. Hadn’t had a rise in two hours. Got out my old mouth organ. Seemed reminiscent. Don t know what started me, but I struck up Silver Threads Among the Gold Heard it the first time I ever went to the theater, Dan Bryant’s Minstrels. Seemed to strike a responsive chord in the bass. Maybe they were old enough to remember it Put on a Yellow Kid myself canned the mouth organ and got that 5 pounder we had broiled for dinner.
The Yellow Kid was the first plug I ever used said the Artist But the Decker plug.
“The Heddons put out the first plug”, exploded the Magazine Editor. When I was fishing with old Jim Heddon – God rest his soul! out in Michigan ten years ago, he told me. Nix! Nix! thundered the Business Man. “Cast your eyes toward Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, if you want the real dope about where the first plug.”
“How about Malcolm Shipley of Philadelphia” I interposed mildly, but my voice was drowned in a babble of contention that raged through the night. And thus began a quest, the incomplete result of which herewith follows; speculative, inconsequential perhaps but fascinating, I am constrained to think, to any bass fisherman who has become reconciled to the use of the plug through a mass of sophomoric and unpractical criticism a criticism, inspired by an antiquated prejudice against a modern form of sport, a prejudice too strong to allow the critics to. The first wooden minnow put on the market by Malcolm Shipley find out by practical investigation just what it is they object to. Perhaps they are too virtuous to find out.
Camouflage! All camouflage, Do you remember, before we got into the war, President Wilson’s pronouncement; “We are too proud to fight?”
Well, anyhow, that night’s symposium over our pipes before the June log fire started me on a train of thought that lias led me far afield. Almost until the gray streaks of dawn warned us that there were bass to be taken on the morrow did we keep going the controversial fires of contention. We got beyond the priority of the plug itself, we abandoned the discussion as to which was the first on the market we attempted to get back to the verv inception of the idea. And we came to naught.
Since then I have delved into libraries. I have haunted museums. I have communicated by correspondence or through personal interviews with many persons and through devious lines of reasoning I am constrained to the belief that the first breakfast Christopher Columbus had on American soil, or at least after having gone above tidewater consisted of a big mouth black bass caught by an aborignee on a plug, crude and prehistoric, but nevertheless a plug. And if any man can say me nay let him now speak or forever hereafter hold his peace.
The tackle manufacturers themselves, with a few exceptions, I have found to be curiously unresponsive as to the origins of their respective wares. Lake Hopatcong almost a suburb of New York and believed by many in the East to have given birth to the plug is barren of substantiation, so far as my communications with the Decker family are concerned .Malcolm A Shipley, a Philadelphia tackle manufacturer, made a surface plug in the late nineties and it must have been on the market before the Decker Hopatcong plug, although the Decker plug was the first I personally ever saw used.
As nearly as 1 can recollect, it was in the summer of 1899 that I was fishing at Lake Hopatcong, with old George Decker, as my guide and boatman. He was an older brother of Anse Decker, who later put the lure on the market commercially, and who gained wide publicity by his fishing contest for a stake with W.S. Jamison, the Chicago tackle manufacturer, who at that time was introducing his Coaxer, each contestant using his own plug.
George Decker and I had been fishing all day at Lake Hopatcong with minnows and frogs, strip casting the frogs and trolling the minnows, with very poor success. About five o clock in the afternoon he squinted at the sun just beginning to be obscured by a black cloud in the West, and drawled: “Bout time fer us to be gittin some fish. Dont you think so?”
I assured him I did, and he produced from a tackle box the first plug I had ever seen. Rather astonished, but hesitating to show my curiosity, I watched him take a stiff rod, stiffer than a fly rod but with the reel seat below the hand, and cast this plug just exactly as he had been previously casting a frog, stripping the line in by hand. The short bait casting rod with the reel above the hand now in common use was not at that time known in the East, although it had undoubtedly been introduced in the Middle West.
And much to my mixed amazement and incredulity he got the fish. I remember now the viciousness with which they rose and struck that clumsy looking contrivance equipped with what looked to me like the paddle wheel of a miniature steamboat. He gave me an extra one to try, but I naturally made the tyro’s dismal failure at getting it out, and soon gave it up, content with watching his performance.
Two or three years later in Philadelphia I saw the first bass plugs that had ever come to my knowledge commercially, although the Hopatcong plugs had been sold by the Deckers in a small way as guides. I was passing the retail establishment of Malcolm A Shipley, and saw in his window what he called his cedar propeller. It was of plain, uncolored cedar wood and differed somewhat in construction from the Decker plug, being equipped with two very light weight metal propellers, one fore and one aft, connected by a copper wire that extended laterally through the conical body. It bore three treble hooks.
As I was then preparing for a fishing trip to Lake Sunapee, NH. I entered the shop and purchased half a dozen, and found them so productive of good results that I continued to use them as long as they were manufactured. Although they are no longer on the market I still have some old ones in my kit that I occasionally doctor up, as their lightness enables me to use them with a fly rod but I do not advocate this method of fishing, unless one uses a rod that for some reason has been discarded for fly fishing.
My research into the origin of the plug led me more and more to the belief that artificial minnows, so called had been used by individuals and possibly by a few chosen friends of these individuals, long before they were generally known to the angling public. The Middle West as the home of the short bait casting rod, seemed to point the way to the origin of its side partner the plug, for the two go hand in hand. Consequently it was to the Middle West that I turned my attention In the Kast it was exotic.
Angling literature gave me no inkling. Frank Forester the dean of sporting writers in America would have damned the plug had he known of it even in its infancy as he damned the spoon. For, writing of the black bass, in Fish and Fishing, he says “It bites ravenously at a small fish or spinning tackle or at the deadly and murderous spoon an instrument so certainly destructive that the use of it is properly discouraged by all true anglers as poaching and unsportsmanlike.” But then he also speaks of the bass’s numerous and exceedingly acute teeth to defy which a treble twisted gut is necessary. In discussing mus callonge however he speaks of the effectiveness of a bait of tin or red cloth made to play quickly through the water indicating that even then something remotely suggesting the modern plug may have been used for trolling if not for casting.
Devised by James Heddon in 1898 when he first experimented with bait casting artificial baits. Indeed there is authentic evidence of this fact as early as 1850 at any rate. The forebears of the family of Heddon of Dowagiac Michigan among the most famed of American fishing tackle manufacturers can claim this distinction. Although the Heddon lures were not placed upon the market commercially until 1902, the late James Heddon for many years before that date made wooden minnows for the use of himself and his friends. According to his son, Mr Charles Heddon as early as 1890 his father was using his wooden baits with the short bait casting rod.
“In saying that bait casting was first practiced at that time.” adds Mr Heddon I make the exception that there were a few scattering anglers who devised their own equipment, and we seem to have authentic records that bait casting was practiced earlier, but of course these were very exceptional cases. My father first made wooden baits exclusively for his own use originally having no intention of engaging in the art from a commercial standpoint. He was a pioneer sportsman of southwestern Michigan, the first to own a breech loading shotgun in this county, and was much devoted to field and stream sports. When asked who made the first wooden bait or plug my father used to always exhibit two types of wooden minnows used by his grandfather in trolling for pickerel on Magician Lake, in this county, as far back as from 1850 to 1855. It is safe to assume that wooden baits in various forms are as old as three quarters of a century.
One of the best posted men on angling conditions is WJ Jamison, of Chicago, himself an ardent sportsman and one of the pioneers in the manufacture and marketing of artificial lures for bass. My request for information developed on his part a keen interest in the subject, and reminiscing in the course of our correspondence, he says; “The first bass I ever saw taken on an artificial bait was taken in Southeastern Kansas on a phantom minnow cast with a long cane pole. This was about the year 1880, when I was a boy of fifteen. The next day I procured a spoon fitted with a feathered treble and went to the same place and took three nice bass myself, using a long cane pole and wading along the shore. The earliest recollection I have of a wooden bait is of one called the “North Channel Minnow” somewhere around twenty years ago. A little later someone somewhere in Indiana put out a plug minnow shaped with holes in it somewhat similar to the Waterwitch, Wagtail Minnow and the Pollywog. This Indiana bait had the hooks attached to strings that ran through the holes and connected with the line allowing you to pull the hooks away from the bait when taking off a fish.
About this time Heddon came out with his top water bait and a little later with his regular minnow. Someone also put out a luminous wooden minnow at that time but it did not sell and soon disappeared. Another Indiana man took out a patent on a bait like the Decker bait I believe that was around twenty years ago. The first wobbling wooden plug I ever saw on the market was Heddon’s Swimming Minnow. Then the Wilson Wobbler came along then multitudes of wobblers and wigglers.
Every plug fisherman who has ever lured Mr Bass from water overgrown with weeds rushes and lily pads knows the “Coaxer.” This was evolved by Mr Jamison, from the pork chunk. He noticed another angler decorating his pork chunk with strips of red yarn and meeting with much success. This set him thinking . As an improvement on this idea he experimented with a piece of heavy red felt inserted through the pork just under the rind. It made a hit with other anglers who had witnessed the performance and within a month they were all using the same contrivance. Finally says Mr Jamison, it occurred to me that I might make an artificial chunk that would carry a hook in the rear. This was early in the winter, but I went ahead and made one out of cork. I weighted a hook,split the cork, and inserted the hook so it stuck out behind. A street carnival was on at the time and someone brought in a small feather duster or tickler I believe they call them and I noticed the colored feathers and pulled a few of them out and stuck them in the rear end of the bait. I think this was in November. I found a vacant piece of ground not far from where I lived with about four inches of water in it and tried the thing out at night by the electric light It rode beautifully. I kept on all winter working with it and by spring had about gone daffy over it. And that is how the Coaxer originated.
Credit for the origin of the short casting rod belongs to another former Chicagoan, James M Clark, popularly known to the angling fraternity of that section as Uncle Jim. Mr Clark who is now a resident of Kansas City, was formerly connected with a Chicago sporting goods house and thirty years ago he introduced to Chicago anglers the six foot rod. This was a rod of his own design an innovation and he had a few made to order for his friends and the few customers who were sufficiently far sighted even then to realize its possibilities. For he was a bass fishing enthusiast and was regarded as an oracle as indeed he was.
My correspondence with Mr Clark, however, did not result in any claim on his part to the discovery of the plug. With that proverhial modesty of the true angler, with that eagerness to give credit where credit is due, so characteristic of the sportsman, he passes the buck to Charles Shaffer of Alliance Ohio. At least in so far as Mr Clark has any knowledge and his experience covers many years of practical trade conditions, he says the first plug to be introduced commercially of which he has any knowledge was known as the Woods Minnow advertised as the Expert.
At that time Mr Shaffer was in the employ of the Government, in the railway postal service, so did not consider it advisable to use his own name commercially in connection with the plug. In order to properly introduce it to the trade he named it after a relative, a Mr Woods. This was about 1885, and although the business was inaugurated in a small way due probably to a lack of capital, Mr Clark recollects that the plug was a success from the start.
Mr Schaffer disclaims any intention of posing as the father of the plug, but he does insist that the Expert was the first to be advertised and offered for sale through the medium of advertising. From the best information I can obtain writes Mr Shaffer the first wooden minnow was made by a file maker somewhere in New Jersey, and he got the idea from the Indians along the Maine coast.
The file maker somewhere in New Jersey, has a rival, however, in a Chicago barber, equally obscure, Robert H Davis, who knows bass lore from the ground up and who has written much concerning bass fishing with the plug stands sponsor for the Chicago barber although unable to give me any definite information about the identity of the ton sorial Piscator.
Antedating Mr Schaffer’s “Expert” were at least two plugs made by the Enterprise Manufacturing Co., of Akron Ohio. E.A. Pflueger President of the company, tells me that their first plug was manufactured in 1881. This was an artificial minnow made of hollow glass mounted with single and treble hooks and equipped with a spinner at the head. It was filled with a mirror substance and also had a luminous quality. Artificial minnows of rubber pearl and metal followed. The first wooden minnow put out by Mr. Pflueger w as the “Comstock.” This made its appearance in 1883. It must have been a curious contrivance, as the spinners were mounted on the sides instead of at the head and tai,l according to the present method.
But all this doesn t bring us to an understanding of what first inspired the belief that a bass would strike at an object armed with hooks moving on the surface of the water. I myself have thrown a brilliantly colored empty cigarette box out of my boat and have seen a bass make a rush at it and knock it out of the water. Why? Undoubtedly in uncontrollable anger.
A popular belief is that the plug was originally evolved from the common or garden variety of clothespin. Another is that a woodchopper plying his trade on the shore of a lake noticed the bass rising to the chips as they fell on the surface of the water. James M Clark speculating on the origin of the plug advances the theory that it might be traced back to the English Phantom, or to the Scotch solid rubber Caledonian Minnow. The latter was in use a hundred years ago and the former Mr Clark claims dates back to the time of Izaak Walton!
Undoubtedly the Indians caught fish by artificial means, probably even before the Christianized paleface bartered firewater and fish hooks for pelts. Evidence of this fact may be seen in the anthropological department of the American Museum of Natural History where among the Indian relics, one may inspect crude and hookless contrivances for catching fish. These are very remote from the highly colored and enameled lures of the present day but it is quite possible that through a process of gradual evolution the finished product as we know it may have come from that source.
The late Alfred M Mayer, of the faculty of Stevens Institute of Technology, had in his collection of archaeological interest a curious specimen of the handiwork of the American Indian that somewhat remotely suggested the plug It might be termed an artificial shrimp. Thirty five years ago Barnet Phillips, at that time secretary of the American Pish Cultural Association, published a paper entitled “The Primitive Fish Hook” in which he dwelt upon this forerunner of the modern plug without of course realizing its significance.
Mr Phillips in describing this lure says, ‘Occasionally a savage will construct a lure for fish which rivals the daintiest fly ever made by the most fastidious of anglers. In Professor Mayer’s collection there is an exceedingly clever hook coming from the northwestern coast which shows very fine lapidary work. A small red quar toze pebble of great hardness has been rounded polished and joined to a piece of bone. The piece is small not more than an inch and three quarters in length and might weigh an ounce and a half. In the shank of bone a small hook is hidden. It somewhat imitates a shrimp. The parts are joined together by lashings of tendon and these are laid in grooves cut into the stone .It must have taken much toil to perfect this clever artificial bait.”
This origin of the plug is a speculative field fascinating in its possibilities. I admit that I have been able to merely skim the surface and there are probably many readers of, The American Angler, better equipped than I to solve the moot question. Mr Knowitall