Collecting antique fishing lures a fascinating hobby

Posted on: June 7, 2018 | Bob Frye | Comments

Treasures are harder to come by these days, at least at bargain prices.

Oh, sure, every now and again, someone finds – stuffed in an old cigar box, tucked away in the attic – a long-gone relative’s antique fishing lures.

But rarely do they end up at garage sales any more.

Not in the age of Google.

“Everybody thinks that every piece of tackle they have is a vintage gold mine,” said Gary Lopez of Riegelsville, Pa., a member of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club “So it’s a little tougher to find things out in the field.”

Not that that’s dampened anyone’s enthusiasm.

Lure collecting remains a passion for a lot of people, said Lopez, who is one of the organizers of the club’s annual convention. It’s set for July 19-21 in Lancaster, Pa.

He expects the show to feature more than 300 tables of collections.

It won’t be just lures, though.

Antique fishing lures come in many varieties.

Collectors of antique fishing lures also target bobbers, hooks, tack;e boxes and more.

“The realm of collecting just runs the gamut,” said Dennis Ocharzak of Hagerstown, Md., the club’s region 2 vice president. “We’re the lure collectors club. But people collect rods, reels, tackle boxes, catalogs, paper products, anything to do with fishing history.”

Value is one reason why.

It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money to start collecting lures or anything else related to fishing, Lopez said.

The Flatfish lure, originally designed by Charlie Helin and now marketed by Yakima Bait Co., has been around for decades. It’s been made in hundreds of colors by the millions for decades.

“So they’re out there. And they’re easy to find generally,” Lopez said. “In a case like that, there’s very easy entry into the hobby.”

Some lures, though, are worth much, much more.

It’s not uncommon for some to sell for hundreds of dollars, Ocharzak said. Some go for thousands. One, a musky-sized Haskell Minnow, went for a record $101,200 in the early 2000s.

Age and rarity contribute to a lure’s value. So, too, does condition.

Lures accompanied by their original box are especially worthy. Presence of the box might double its value, Lopez said.

And if you can find an old lure, in its box, that a well-intentioned-but-too-busy fishermen bought, but never or rarely used?

That’s a real winner, potentially.

“Back then, you bought a lure, it came in a box or package, and you threw it away. And you took the lure and tied it on your line or it went in your tackle box and it got banged up and that was the end of it,” Lopez said.

Antique fishing lures date to the early 20th century and before.

Antique fishing lures accompanied by their original box are especially prized.

“But if you find one today, say, that was in somebody’s closet or basement for the last 50 or 60 years, and hasn’t been used or used much, you might have yourself a real find.”

For many collectors, though, there’s more to the hobby than dollars and cents.

Sentiment can play a role.

Often, early on, collectors gather anything old. Eventually, though, most specialize in one type of lure, brand or even color.

“A lot of people who collect do so because it brings back fond memories of fishing with a family member. Or someone gave them a lure as a child and they had good luck with it, so they go with that” Ocharzak said.

“I collect Rapalas because that’s what my dad liked to fish with. That’s what we used.”

Others like lures – and other vintage fishing gear — for how it was made.

Lopez specializes in a specialty line of lures made by Creek Chub Bait Co. Its “Sure Strike” lures were made for Montgomery Ward, Western Auto and other companies and sold under their own names.

They were produced in different colors than in the regular Creek Chub line, but to the same quality standards, Lopez said. That means with glass eyes, wooden bodies and individual paint jobs.

It’s the same reason he likes 150-year-old reels, the kind with metal gears.

“You get to see some of that American quality in some of this stuff,” he said.

Of course, the older and more valuable a lure is the less likely it is to ever get used for its intended purpose.

“My wife makes fun of me because I’ll get a lure, put a catalog number on the side, and put it away. And she’ll say it will never see the water again,” Ocharzak said with a laugh.

But most club members have “beater” lures, too. Those, Lopez said, are rough if commonly available ones. And they do get used.

There’s a special joy in that.

“It’s fun, fishing with the old equipment,” Lopez said.

It’s not just that the lures still catch fish, he said. Rather, there’s something to be said for the lure’s past, and most especially knowing what it is.

“That’s part of the fun of collecting. It’s not just having the stuff, but knowing something about it, how it evolved, and so forth,” agreed Ocharzak. “It’s a fascinating hobby, what with all the history of it.’

Even if treasures are harder to find.

Antique fishing lures national show

The Antique Fishing Lure Collectors Club national show is being held July 19-21 at the Lancaster County Convention Center, at 3 E. Vine St. in Lancaster, Pa.

There will be about 300 tables of lures and other vintage fishing equipment for sale or trade. The club will have 30 display tables of old gear just for viewing, too.

While the show is meant primarily for members, the public can visit. A ticket good for all three days (Thursday to Saturday) is $35, with $10 of that applied to a yearly membership. Two-day tickets, good for Friday and Saturday, are $10, and a Saturday-only ticket is $5.

There will be games, a contemporary lure making competition, auctions and more.

Expect to see some high-quality equipment. Prizes are awarded to members for “best in class” in several categories, “so people bring their A game,” said organizer Gary Lopez.

More than anything, though, it’s a fun event offering the chance for hands-on inspection of old lures, he said.

“Nothing beats the experience of going to a show and getting to touch it and feel it and talk to the guy who has it,” he said. “You find out where he got it from and what he collects and his interests. It’s a good brotherhood.”

Details about the show and the National Antique Lure Collectors Club in general are available at the club’s website here.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.