One of the first things a person new to the world of vintage fishing lure collecting will hear about are the so called “Big 5” companies that dominate the news about the pastime. Knowing who these companies are (or were) and a little bit about them will go a long way towards alleviating any fears of someone new to the hobby who is feeling intimidated by all of the information available online.
The Heddon Company
The Heddon Company was created by James Heddon, the man who is given credit for the invention of the first artificial wood fishing lures in 1894. The often repeated story is that he had his light bulb moment when he tossed a hand carved wood plug into the waters of the Dowagiac, Michigan mill pond and watched as a bass struck it. With this insight an industry was born. The original lures were frogs hand carved from broomsticks by Heddon himself. The lures were originally made by hand in the Heddon family kitchen located in Dowagiac, Michigan, but by 1910 there was a new factory in Dowagiac and expanding sales.
The Lucky 13, Punkinseed, River Runt, and the Meadow Mouse are a few examples of this classic brand.
Creek Chub was founded in 1910 by three friends in Garrett, Indiana. The company is named after the creek chub, which is a small fish commonly used for live bait by fishermen.
Henry Dills created Creek Chub’s first lure, The Wiggler, which had a metal lip that caused the lure to wiggle in the water leading more fish to strike it. Another early lure was the Pikie minnow. This bullet-shaped lure had more than one variation available, allowing for choices on the amount of movement in the water desired. The Open Mouth Weedless, later renamed the Open Mouth Shiner is another early lure. These lures were designed to be weed proof and featured long-shanked double hooks facing backwards so they would drag over snags without hanging on them. Open Mouth Weedless lures are a hard to find vintage fishing lure and all three of these are great examples of Creek Chub vintage fishing lures and collector’s items.
One of Creek Chub’s most important innovations in the lure industry was the process of spray painting lures by spraying the paint through netting. Paint applied to this netting (originally from ladies’ hats!) was used to create the now common scale patterns on Creek Chub lures. Creek Chub was a very innovative company in other areas as well. Their early adoption of the use of glass eyes on lures and the invention of the weedless bait mentioned above are great examples of this spirit of innovation. Creek Chub also held numerous other patents related to lure improvements.
Ernest F. Pflueger founded the Enterprise Manufacturing Company in 1881 making fish hooks. When his son took over the business in 1906, it changed names to the E.A. Pflueger Company. During this time, Pflueger was the first company to open up commercial production of wooden fishing lures. The company would also grow from being only a hook maker to all areas of fishing gear. As competition in the industry became more fierce the company began to focus more on reels than lures.
Two of the lures that the company started with were the Flying Helgramite and the Luminous Crystal Minnow lure. These are two very vintage fishing lures from Pflueger that incorporate the founding E. Pflueger’s invention of a luminous lure paint.
William Shakespeare, Jr. founded his company in 1897 with a first product that wasn’t a fishing lure. He started out with reels before expanding into the lure market. Shakespeare began making fishing lures around 1900 and the first catalog was issued shortly after that containing only four lures: the Revolution, Bucktail, Evolution and a Frog. The Shakespeare Revolution is one of the most collectible of the Shakespeare vintage fishing lures. Many of Shakespeare’s early products were rubber lures, including rubber frogs that mimicked real life motions of a frog when in the water. A very rare collector’s item is the Shakespeare Tournament Casting Frog, which is a prize find for any vintage Shakespeare fishing lure enthusiast.
South Bend Bait Company
South Bend was founded in the early 1900’s by F.G. Worden of South Bend, Indiana.
Worden had already been selling his Bucktail baits since 1894 prior to the official company founding. These bucktail baits were wooden minnow shaped lures that were invented and popularized by Worden. The South Bend Bait Company also made the famous Oreno fishing lures. The Oreno was also a minnow shaped lure and would become a popular long term seller for South Bend. The Bass Oreno, which started production around 1915 and was still in production into the mid 1960’s, was the most popular South Bend bait. Another popular vintage South Bend lure is The Vacuum Bait which can be quite hard to find and is a nice collector’s item.
Use this information
Now that you know more information about the “Big 5” go and start using this knowledge to build your collection. Try going to a local fishing tackle show or event and with this starter information you will feel capable of holding your own in an initial conversation and start the network that will help you build your collection. Or if you want to go online to browse around for more information or to find out how to find items online, visit the website in the author box below.