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Home Opinion Appalachian Notebook: Lure by lure, recalling a lifetime of fishing

Appalachian Notebook: Lure by lure, recalling a lifetime of fishing

Restoring old fishing reels from a cache bequeathed to me by my late father and uncle led me to wonder if anyone would care what’s in my tackle boxes after I’m gone. I also puzzled over where those containers might be after moving nine times during my lifetime. Consequently, I set out to explore the jungle of my basement and storage sheds to find stuff from a lifetime of angling.

It’s routine for a fisherman to annually inventory his tackle and decide what needs to be replaced or replenished. I’ve been buying, trading or finding angling equipment since age seven. (Some of my best lures have been discovered hanging in trees, hooked in submerged roots or blowdowns and floating in the water after folks got tangled and had to break their lines.)

As kids, my friends and I swapped fishing equipment. It was like baseball trading cards. Six decades ago, I used paper route money to buy lures, new monofilament line, hooks, sinkers and floats. My buddies did the same. We convened meetings where tackle box contents were compared, coveted or traded.

On our bikes, we’d slip off to the nearby creek, almost a roadside ditch, to catch bullheads, chubs and sunfish. Occasionally, someone would connect with a fish large enough to fight back, and this almost always resulted in a broken line, stripped reel and lots of speculation about the type of monster that had been hooked.

Summer afternoons when we weren’t playing baseball meant either fishing or dreaming about it. It was a big deal when our fathers took us to the river or TVA reservoir. To go out in a boat on the big water generated weeks of jealousy among lesser fishing mortals.

My rods and reels were hand-me-downs from my father, usually spin-casting rigs that had to be constantly tinkered with because Dad had almost worn them out. I loved everything about the pursuit of finny denizens, especially the baits and lures that might give me an edge.

There was no online shopping in those days, but a gossip grapevine existed for boys. We knew within a day or two when Shakespeare, Creek Chub, Heddon or South Bend came out with a new fish-slaying lure. Then the penny-pinching and saving would start in earnest. A buck-fifty ($1.50) in those days was a heady price for a lure. But such purchases seemed less frivolous than comic books, candy or movie theater tickets, at least to those in my fishing clique.

Back then, many of the lures were still wooden, hand-carved and hand-painted, with brass hardware. A local maker produced a torpedo-shaped topwater plug with tiny propellers front and back that was a work of art—and caught bass. The mass manufacturers marketed plastic versions of the old favorites like Hula-Popper or Lazy Ike and new products that had decidedly modern, almost rocket-ship styles.

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We liked ‘em all, and each lure represented the chance to hook and land a lunker fish . . . and GET YOUR PICTURE IN THE NEWSPAPER. Boys and girls holding their stiff dead fish at arm’s length toward the camera (to make the catch look even bigger) became summertime heroes even greater in stature than the kids who slammed game-winning homers in Little League.

I saved three months to buy the L&S Mirr-O-Lure minnow in opal finish at the bait shop my father patronized. This was in 1961. My lust knew no bounds the first time I spied the lure in the store’s tackle display case. Dad laughed and prophesied that I’d lose the lure on my first cast. He was almost correct.

The proud first sling of my rod with the Mirr-O-Lure tied on resulted in perfect placement in a pool beyond a riffle of fast water. I reeled and felt a weight. Dad hooted, “Remember what I said? You’re hung up!”

When the smallmouth bass came up on his tail, thrashing and bowing my rod until the line snapped with a pistol crack, his jaw dropped. I’d lost my new, expensive lure in a noble effort. Eyes filled with tears, I looked at Dad, who put his arm around me and conceded, “That fish would have weighed more than five pounds.”

I fondly recalled this episode—and the many days spent fishing with my father, uncles, cousins and friends—during my search for stored fishing gear. I found a surprising amount. Four tackle boxes, more flat plastic containers of soft baits and assorted tackle, even stuff my brother had given me when he switched to saltwater fishing. Some of the lures were from my childhood and teenaged years.

It’s going to take several days to go through it all, deciding what to keep or junk. Several of the plugs belonged to dear angling friends who have passed away. These have special meaning. I also found several antique lures today worth much more than their retail price in the 1950s and ‘60s. Turned out to be pretty good investments for a kid spending hard-earned paper route money, but I am not bragging. I just loved to fish.

So far, my best discovery and most treasured memory is the bait Dad gave me to replace the lost Mirr-O-Lure minnow. It’s one of those wooden, hand-carved topwater baits with propellers: bright red nose like a rocket, ivory body, jeweled plastic eyes and three treble hooks. Beautiful!

I never cast it. Meant to several times, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wouldn’t risk losing the special lure. So, it rests in the cardboard box, pristine and still shiny as the day Dad forked out $1.50 to the bait shop owner, regaling him with a fishing tale about the trophy smallmouth bass his son never caught.

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Steve Oden
Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama. His column, "Appalachian Notebook," appears in the Independent Herald bi-weekly.
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