Rummaging through Grandfather's attic, you find a box of old lures. You examine each bait, wondering, "What's it worth?"
In most cases, the answer is, "Not much." But occasionally, someone uncovers a lure worth thousands of dollars. That possibility fuels a nationwide obsession with collecting antique lures and other tackle.
Noted expert Karl White, Bassmaster's consultant on antique tackle, has been collecting and studying antique lures for more than half a century. White recently donated his entire collection — worth $4 million — to the Oklahoma Aquarium for public viewing. He also has released a three-volume set of books evaluating and identifying various types of fishing tackle.
White says an antique lure's value depends on a variety of factors, including the rarity, demand, age, beauty and condition of the lure. As long as you can prove the lure is an original, says White, finding a buyer shouldn't be too hard. In addition, a lure's box is often valuable, sometimes worth more than the lure.
Following is a list of the 35 most valuable antique fishing lures, according to White's newest books. Hundreds of other antique lures not listed here are worth $20 to $3,500.
Heddon Frog $30,000
One of the rarest antique lures in existence today, hence the hefty price tag, this lure was hand-carved in 1897 by James Heddon of Dowagiac, Mich. Heddon was one of the world's largest producers of honey: He gave this lure to honey distributors as an incentive for them to buy his honey. The Heddon Frog is a hand-carved wooden frog with a single hook on each leg and a treble hook dangling from its belly. It has protruding black eyes and a line tie at its mouth.
Shakespeare Revolution Wood Bait $15,000
This 3 ¾-inch jointed plug, built in 1897, was the first wooden bait. It came equipped with three treble hooks and a propeller. It has a cousin, worth $4,000, that was built in 1898 and is 4 inches long.
Haskell Fish Hook $15,000
This lure was the first plug-type bass bait in America. Made in 1859 by Riley Haskell of Ohio, it has a metal body with scales and detailed fins, a revolving tail, and dual upturned hooks at its rear. It is 4 ½ inches long. A smaller model of the Haskell Fish Hook sold for $22,500 in the early 1990s, but more have been found since then, reducing the value.
Krantz & Smith Chautauqua Minnow $12,000
Comstock Flying Hellgrammite $12,000 Pflueger Flying Hellgrammite $10,000
Comstock Flying Hellgrammite $12,000
Pflueger Flying Hellgrammite $10,000
Friend-Pardee Kent Minnow $10,000
Made in Ohio in 1900, this lure has a propeller at the front and rear, treble hooks and yellow eyes. Two versions of this lure are worth $10,000 today: the 3-Hook Minnow and the 5-Hook Minnow.
Heddon Night Radiant $10,000
Moonlight 1913 Special $10,000
The 1913 was made in — you guessed it — 1913. It has a distinctive half-red, half-white body design, a propeller at its front, and two treble hooks. Two sizes, regular and "baby," are each worth about $10,000.
Pflueger Trory Minnow $10,000
Pflueger Decoy $10,000
Another Pflueger creation, this model began production in 1908. It's a 5-inch minnow with a movable tail and a line tie at top.
Heddon Dowagiac Minnow $10,000
Shakespeare New Albany Bait $10,000
Made in 1913 in Michigan, this lure is 5 ½ inches long and has five treble hooks. The front of the body is painted red and the rest is white.
Heddon Underwater Expert $9,000
Harris Manistee Bait $8,000
Made in 1899 by C.R. Harris of Manistee, Mich., this 3 ½-inch jointed minnow has a hair tail. Harris published one of the first catalogs for handmade fishing equipment.
Heddon Muskallonge Minnow $8,000
The Muskallonge Minnow by Heddon has five treble hooks, and propellers at the head and rear. A sale over the Internet about three years ago yielded $25,000 for this lure.
Heddon Bob $7,000
Made in 1903, the 2-inch Bob has two single hooks at its rear, covered with bucktail. It's a rare version of Heddon's Underwater Expert.
Friend-Pardee Kent Frog $6,000
This flat frog bait has protruding yellow eyes, three small treble hooks, and propellers fore and aft. It was made in Ohio in 1907.
Hardy Interchangeable Minnow $5,000
Lane Automatic Weedless $5,000
Pflueger Edgren Luminous Glass Minnow $5,000
This Pflueger plug is an odd, minnow-shaped glass body with a dressed treble hook attached and a propeller in the front.
Moonlight Dreadnought $5,000
South Bend Decoy $5,000
Made by South Bend Bait Co. in 1913, this 5-inch lure has protruding yellow eyes, a red head and a silver body.
Union Springs Specialty Miller's Reversible Minnow $5,000
Davis Jersey Expert $4,500
This 3 ½-inch lure, made by William E. Davis of New Jersey, has two single hooks on the body, one treble hook at the rear, and a rear propeller. It was made in 1909.
Pflueger Muskallonge Minnow $4,500
Heddon Black Sucker $4,500
Another Heddon creation, this underwater minnow-shaped plug, made in 1911, is 5 ¾ inches, weighs 2 ½ ounces, and has three treble hooks and a front propeller.
Burgess Bait $4,000
Heddon Near Surface Wiggler $4,000
The 3-inch "baby" version, built in 1917, has a pink head, white body, and two treble hooks. The regular-size version of the Near Surface Wiggler is only worth a tenth of the baby's value.
Gaide Bait $4,000
Possibly the first floating plug, the Gaide Bait was made in 1896 by Carl J.W. Gaide of Fort Wayne, Ind. It's a wooden lure with a front spinner, two treble hooks, and a double hook at the rear, hidden by bucktail hair.
Harris Manistee Minnow $4,000
Henkenius/Kane Bait $4,000
This 4 ½-inch lure was made by J. Henkenius and Peter Kane of Indiana in 1900. It has a propeller behind its head, and three treble hooks.
Moonlight The Bug $4,000
The Bug, made by Moonlight Bait Co. of Paw Paw, Mich., is a 3-inch, ¾-ounce wooden lure used as a floater or a shallow runner. It was created in 1916, just over a decade before Moonlight merged with Paw Paw Bait Co., around 1929.
Pflueger Rubber Decoy $4,000
Made in 1892, this 7-inch lure has red spots painted on its belly and at its gills to resemble a bleeding minnow. It has movable side fins and a fin on top.
South Bend Truck-Oreno $4,000
To order Karl White's new boxed set of books, Fishing Tackle Antiques & Collectibles, send a check or money order for $104.85 plus $10 shipping and handling to Karl White, Fishing Tackle Antiques & Collectibles, P.O. Box 190, Luther, OK 73054. To order each volume separately, send $34.95 plus $5 shipping and handling to the same address. Individual volumes are Volume One: Plugs; Volume Two: Reels, Spoons & Spinners, Hooks & Harnesses; and Volume Three: Flyrod Baits, Rods & Miscellaneous.