When I'm not fishing tournaments, much of my free time is spent searching for antique tackle. It's my passion. Anything old or unusual that relates to fishing, I like it. And I'm not alone. There are thousands of tackle collectors out there, worldwide. Some network through clubs, collector meets, auctions and message boards. Others prefer a more private pursuit, searching out flea markets and garage sales.
Those that shy from clubs or shows are referred to as "closet collectors," and there's no telling how many they might number.
Me, I'm pretty active. Besides networking with other collectors, I monitor Internet sites like eBay and Joe's Old Lures. There you'll find tons of tackle — from ancient to contemporary, and everything in between. There are thousands upon thousands of vintage lures, reels, rods, and tackle boxes listed online daily. You name it, it's out there. But even so, finding the good stuff is like finding fish — you gotta work at it.
During tournament season, that's next to impossible for me. But in the off season, I'm on it like a bloodhound. I have to be. There's so many others out there competing for the same stuff, and they're tireless. It's like tournament fishing, but on dry ground.
For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby is attending vintage tackle shows, like those sanctioned by the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club (NFLCC), Old Reel Collectors Association (ORCA), and the Florida Antique Tackle Collectors (FATC). Their shows are well organized and strategically scheduled for various cities across the country. The hobby's most avid collectors gather there to swap tackle and tell fish stories — it's a lot of fun and always educational.
My interests include early, turn-of-the-century lures, odd reels and rare Florida-made tackle — the tougher to find, the better. But that's just me. There are countless directions to go in. Some collectors focus on specific makers, others concentrate on certain lure styles and colors or tackle made within a specific window of time. And that's the beauty of it — you can go in any direction you choose or even several directions at once. It's totally up to the individual.
Even if you're on a limited budget, there's affordable tackle out there. Lures made in the 1950-80s are becoming collectible. They're plentiful and, in most cases, cheap to acquire.
When I started, I collected anything I could get my hands on. But as time passed, I focused on those items that meant the most to me. Trading with other collectors has allowed me to narrow my collection, and that's why I spend so much time online and at shows.
Years ago, I hosted a series of short features for ESPN2called "The Lure Collector." Conceived by Jerry McKinnis, the series focused on vintage lures and was targeted toward viewers watching ESPN's Saturday morning fishing block. It became so popular I added an index of old fishing tackle to my website, so that those interested could learn more.
Since that series, TV viewers have been bombarded with collector shows, including Antiques Road Show, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, American Restoration, Storage Wars — the list goes on. Judging by their popularity, it seems the entire country is on a treasure hunt.
Recently, I attended the Daytona International Antique Tackle Show, an annual event hosted by the FATC. Collectors from across the globe came, including some from the UK, Japan, Canada and Australia. It truly is an international meet, and the diversity of exhibits reflects it.
On display were prehistoric bone jigs, the earliest wooden plugs, the first bass reels made by Kentucky watchmakers, big game tackle used by Earnest Hemingway and Zane Grey. Heck, even Chuck Heddon displayed a collection of lures fished by his famous ancestor, James Heddon. Talk about historically significant!
Over 20,000 square feet of angling artifacts, all on display for its members and the public. As a service, the FATC offers free appraisals to anyone interested in learning more about their angling heirlooms, plus you can consign your items to the auction where collectors battle for ownership. That in itself is a show.
So next time you come across your grandfather's old tackle box, or a great-uncle's rod and reel, you might want to think twice — they could prove to be quite rare and valuable. To find out, visit the following websites, or contact me through my website, and I'll try to help.