Sam Sam the Black Bass Man Part I
In introducing Sam the Black Bass Man, I must digress back a bit, and say thanks for all the views , likes comments, emails and texts I’ve received. The last 12 Months with Fin and Flame has been fun. I have even bigger expectations and plans for the next year. Your continued support and acknowledgement, is your enjoyment, and that is enough to keep me digging up more. I know I’ve been remiss in doing the Sunday Sounds, or the Friday Fly Fishing Features to which I need to return to a regular basis. I did them early on with the blog and with a smaller audience and have since gotten side tracked. I think of this issue as my adult ADHD, as I’m easily sidetracked down new paths when antiques collide with fishing; My wife calls it hoarding.
I’m an avid fishing lure collector and overall fishing and general history lover. I have a fascination with history, antiques, and it’s an added bonus when anything can tie the two together. I must confess, my appreciation and capacity for having a vivid imagination with these items to which I view, study or collect, is way larger than my memory or knowledge of any one single piece of it. I’m great at remembering a few tidbits about a lot of little things, rather than being a true expert at one. So, As I introduce Sam any information that you may have on him, his friends, their stories, or leads pointing to information, I would welcome.
For over a decade, I’ve always wanted to find a way to give Sam his adue, and while doing it would hope I could stumble upon the missing link to the American fishing lure, reel or rod industry. Therein lies the irony to this whole story, because without Sam, the entire American Fishing history would change. At a minimum, black bass fishing at the least in the North East part of the country, and especially Massachusetts, may never have evolved as it did. One can intelligibly argue and conclude, had it not been for Sam, a negative effect on the New England fishery may have occurred or at least have taken decades longer to progress. Not just for Black Bass, but for those involved in fly fishing, for trout, or Salters as well. I also would note, if not for our stately friend, and his wide berth of friends, who’s specific contributions to the finny tribe, and their subsequent teachings may have changed fishing as we know it.
I could assimilate Sam’s story to the Christmas story classic “It’s a wonderful Life” where George, wonders what might have been without him.
So as time has a way to escape us, I’ve been waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop for many years. All it took was me taking the advice I gave to someone else recently; “There is always a greater story, its just how you turn your head to view it.”
I certainly hate to name drop so early in a story, but if I must, to grab your attention please note that names like the great Dr James Alexander Henshall have even penned of Sam, but there again, I put the cart before the horse.
It was through my Adult ADHD and digging far and wide about a dozen years ago, trying to find old pieces of fishing ephemera that I ran across Sam. I love old paperwork, catalogs, photos, items that contains stories, and I’ve enjoyed sharing those stories with others, which is evident in my multiple websites. So, it was apropos that Sam was just waiting for me. However, at that time or purchase and even for some time after I didn’t know who Sam was, or his friends and how important to history they would be. Even to this day, all of Sam’s efforts I believe are untold. Although I had been actively collecting, buying selling trading lures for many years, and researching the history surrounding them, their makers our paths hadn’t crossed. So why then, truly, should I expect anything more or less than anyone else to know Sam, if I don’t tell his story. I personally had owned a copy of Henshall’s book, “The Book of Black Bass”, for a half dozen years prior to finding Sam. I must confess though, I had never read it cover to cover, or had seen Chapter V, the part on Sam and the distribution. While some may say, “Henshall is the father of Black Bass” for his works, his stories reaching the corners of the earth, I would argue that without Sam, the story can not be completed.
The internet in the late 90’s-Early 2K not near what it is today, as far as information, and accessibility to that information. It would seem like even a dozen years ago as far as content, the internet may have well been like comparing that of a kid sailing a wooden handmade boat down a creek, to that of a one of the great ocean voyage of the streamliner’s.
I had came across an old ambrotype photo of a unnamed fly fisherman at an antique shop in Boston. The subject, a gentleman in his mid to late years, dressed in the sporting attire of the times. He seemed like a very stately man, and must have been of some importance. There he was proudly holding and displaying his gear, more specifically a Bamboo Rod, Creel and Landing Net. It was not only a ambrotype, it was a huge ambrotype by photographic standards. A half plate ambro in 19th century plate sizes measures 4.2”5 x 5.5”. For those unfamiliar with an Ambro-type, it is a type of photographic medium patented in 1854 by James Ambro Cutting, and was quickly replaced less than a decade later by a cheaper, and easier form to work with, the tin type. Its use of glass as it’s medium and a negative image when viewed by reflected light against a background appears in the positive. While the size of medium alone adds to its scarcity, coupling it with a fishing theme is another layer to add to it’s scarcity. Finding anything in the daguerreotype or ambrotype era showing any type of American fishing scenes is tough, even on the small 1/16 or 1/8 scale. To give it a time stamp, Sam was pre civil war.
Upon stumbling on it, I called my dear friend to which I’ve enjoyed this and many other finds with, for many years of my find. Needless to say it didn’t take much convincing, and my best friend and I purchased the piece together. We bought it over the internet never having held it or having seen more than the photo and had it shipped to his house in Ohio both for security and length of travel reasons.
We received the photo, and upon inspection tucked inside the back frame was an old hand scribbled note that had been taped at least 70 years ago. The note was written on very fine or thin paper like had been produced a century ago. It was in an almost illegible script like my great grand parents would have written in. This lit a spark in me, like so many times before, and so many things after had. Things that were slightly related to fishing lures, their makers and the history, and stories surrounding them…..And off I went….. The challenge had been mentally issued and thus we would try to make sense of its clues
My friend photographed the note, sent a copy to me and we began the hunt for the clues, and make sense of the words scribbled on the note. At that time, I almost forgot about it being an angling photo in of itself, and its inherent importance. I couldn’t stop trying to figure out how from Oklahoma and Ohio, we would come to know a fisherman prior to 1865, a man from an obscure antique shop 1700 miles away. However, just like trying to fit the pieces of a puzzle together its easier if you first lay down a corner piece and work from there. From that corner, from this note, or puzzle piece we would try to begin to tell Sam’s story, blowing life into this man, his identity, and some of his accomplishments.
I’ve always enjoyed the few River Recordings the Deschutes brewery did to raise money for a good cause, the water.