Hooked On Classics
Collecting antique fishing lures has become a thriving hobby
By Larry Woody
Jim Duckworth pensively twirls the brass blade on a paint-flecked, treble-hooked Hendrix Spinner that was manufactured in 1874 and lets his mind wander.
“I try to imagine the person who used this lure over 130 years ago,” says Duckworth, a professional fishing guide, outdoors video producer and avid collector of antique tackle. “Who was he? Where was he fishing? What was he fishing for? Did he catch anything? When I look at one of these old lures it speaks to me.”
Duckworth is among a growing legion of antique lure collectors. There are thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of such collectors in the U.S., ranging from casual hobbyists to full-time professionals who deal in vintage angling artifacts valued at six figures.
“Lure collecting is growing worldwide,” Duckworth says. “It has become really big in Japan, of all places.”
What’s the appeal?
“For me it began as nostalgia,” Duckworth says. “I’ve always loved fishing and I enjoy the history of the sport. I like to study the old tackle that fishermen used to use and imagine what fishing was like back then. As I said, it takes me back.”
Over the past 20 years Duckworth’s accumulation of antique lures and other fishing gear has grown, along with its value. Lures that originally sold for 25 cents now may be worth $2,500. Or even $25,000.
Duckworth declines to place a dollar figure on the value of his collection; suffice to say he keeps several of his extra-special lures locked in a safe.
Other prize lures are exhibited in glass cases that adorn the walls of his office/studio in Lebanon, Tenn. One case contains a dozen 1930-vintage Pflueger plugs that Duckworth estimates are worth between $5,000 to $6,000.
“Sometimes the box is more valuable than the lure that came in it, “ he says. He picks a faded cardboard Pflueger lure box off a shelf and turns it around in his hands. “Think about it — when most fishermen get a new lure they open the box and throw it away. Who keeps boxes? Not many of the original old lure boxes survived, and that’s what makes them so valuable as collectibles.”
Every lure collector has a story about the old rusty tackle box he picked up for a song at a yard sale and discovered a treasure-trove of antique lures inside.
“I’m sure it happens now and then,” Duckworth says, “but probably not as much as it used to because more people are aware of how valuable old fishing tackle can be.”
Has it ever happened to him?
“Well, sort of,” says Duckworth. “I once bought a big box of assorted tackle at a flea market for $250 and when I got home and sorted through it I found several old lures in fair condition. The best was worth maybe $300. It wasn’t exactly a treasure but I came out ahead.”
Duckworth likes to prowl antique malls, flea markets and tackle trade shows looking for old gear. Online browsers can scroll through numerous antique lure websites and swap and shop on eBay.
“Like any antique, there’s certain things you look for,” he says. “You have to know what those things are.”
A lure’s value is determined by its rarity and physical condition. Generally speaking, the worse the wear, the less the value — at least monetarily.
Nostalgically, Duckworth admits he is drawn to ancient lures that are paint-chipped and tooth-scarred — well-used lures that have seen action.
“When I look at these old lures I’m immersed in history,” Duckworth says. “Think about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. Imagine the fishing tales they could tell.”