You pull in at the yard sale sign and there, in a back corner of the garage, beside an old fly rod in a leather case, two wooden canoe paddles and a wire mesh minnow trap, is an old tackle box. You think you have hit the old fishing gear jackpot. Multiply that by about a thousand and you have the scene at one of the regional National Fishing Lure Collectors Club (NFLCC) shows.
The Region 3 Winterfest, held in early January in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is a good example. Approximately 800 sellers and buyers attend this two-day event in a cavernous convention center featuring 220 tables covered with every sort of fresh and saltwater fishing gear imaginable.
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The Hawaiian Wiggler, the Musky Sucker, Tuttle’s Whirlo Minnow, the River Runt, the Cisco Kid, Bass Oreno, the Bomber and the frog-skin-covered Frog Pappy—these are lures you might have found at the bottom of your grandfather’s old tackle box if you were very lucky. They are all on display and for sale at the show, along with fly-fishing and bait casting rods by Fenwick, Lyon & Coulson, Orvis, McHarg, Heddon and more. Amidst the tables covered with Pflueger reels and Creek Chub wooden lures, you might also find
old outdoor magazines, classic folding and sheath knives, snowshoes, iron gigs, minnow buckets, deer antlers, Native American artifacts and even a vintage outboard motor or two.
Rustling Up Rustic
If you are looking for a rustic sporting item for the bookshelf in your den or vacation cabin, the NFLCC shows are the place to look. The majority of the folks at these shows, however, are serious fishing tackle collectors and members of the NFLCC. As stated on its website, the NFLCC is a non-profit, educational organization founded in 1976. The objectives of the club are to “foster an awareness of fishing tackle collecting as a hobby and to assist members in the location, identification and trading of vintage fishing-related equipment.”
Since the NFLCC is a nonprofit, the shows are not commercial operations. Shows give members the opportunity to display their collections and sell to other members by renting a display table for a fee. The money collected covers the cost of the convention center rental. Paying $35 in annual dues gives members entry to these closed shows that include gear auctions restricted to members only. The auctions feature tackle boxes filled with dozens of lures, groupings of rods, rare outdoor sporting items, unusual fishing gear and high-dollar collectables. The NFLCC produces six publications each year, four gazettes, and the excellent NFLCC magazine, published biannually. The magazine has articles on the history of tackle manufacturers, featured lures, tips on preserving and displaying collections, and profiles of successful collectors. Nonmembers can enter by paying $5 for a temporary membership that lasts for the length of the two-day show. The $5 is well spent.
Gibby and Pam Gibson, hosts at this year’s Region 3 Winterfest, probably have 30 years of experience collecting lures. Pam said that while they invested quite a bit of time in the club, they were more than compensated by the many great friends they had made over the years. The parking lot at the Region 3 Winterfest included vehicles from as far away as Texas, New York and Florida, with all the Southeastern states represented.
Buyers & Sellers Those attending NFLCC shows tend to fall into several categories. Most are lure collectors, but some just enjoy bartering and trading lures. These are the members who frequent yard sales and flea markets in search of old tackle boxes full of lures at bargain basement prices that can be added to their collections. Not living in an urban area, there are only so many yard sales I can attend easily. I fall in the category of the fisherman who attends shows in search of useable lures and gear at low prices.
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A few are collectors in quality sporting antiques, such as Henry Caldwell, owner of Black Bass Antiques in upstate New York (blackbassantiques.com). Mr. Caldwell showed me a rare Uslan five-sided bamboo fly rod among the impressive display of quality equipment for sale at his table. His sale items would beautifully decorate any upscale vacation cabin.
Caldwell is typical of the friendly, helpful people I’ve met at NFLCC shows who are eager to answer questions and ready to tell some fascinating stories if you give them the time. At one of the first shows I attended, I was delighted to find a 1940s vintage bamboo fly rod for only $20. It was missing a few of the guides and needed minor repairs to the wrapping. An elderly gentleman at a nearby table overheard me mention the missing guides, however, and he waved me over and pulled out a huge tackle box stuffed with spare parts. After rummaging through the box, he presented me with all the replacement guides I needed. When I asked him what I owed him, he replied, “You don’t owe me anything. Just use that rod!” I’ve since followed his advice and caught a few messes of bluegills on poppers and sponge rubber spiders with the rig.
Lure collecting has a definite element of treasure hunting. Armed with a guidebook such as Fishing Lure Collectibles by Dudley and Deanie Murphy, even a beginner might find a valuable lure in a relative’s attic or at a yard sale. The rewards can be lucrative: One early wooden minnow lure sold at auction for $42,560, a lure at the 2015 Region 3 Winterfest sold for $5,000 and a classic, hand-crafted split willow creel was for sale with a $1,100 price tag.
There are 12 to 15 annual regional shows scattered across the country in WI, MO, OK, NY, MD, IL and WA. WA hosts two shows annually, one in the fall and one in the spring. This year’s National Show is being held in July in Springfield, Missouri, but it moves around the U.S. every year. For more info, visit nflcc.org.
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This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN ™ 2015 issue #174. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.