STRASBURG – Angling lures catch two species: fish and, eventually, fishermen.
Most of the lures start out aimed squarely at the fish, of course. Their siren song is to look like things fish want to eat, and the mock menu selection includes other fish, bugs, frogs and even ducks, which paints a rather frightening picture of the freshwater versions of Jaws lurking below the surface of our lakes, rivers and ponds.
As the lures of yesteryear age and mature into antiques, they become fishers of men and start to snag fishermen-turned-lure collectors, such as Dave Boyer of Strasburg.
A lot of it is about being hooked on nostalgia: “It goes back to what people caught fish on when they were a child, what they remember using and then later wanting to collect it,” he says.
“Or maybe when they were a child they couldn't afford that special lure and now they've growed up, and maybe they did good in life and they decide, 'I got some money in my pocket, and I am going to own that lure.' ”
You might need full fathom five pockets. Boyer says some of the most desired lures from our piscatorial past can go for $4,000 to $6,000 each, but even that looks shallow compared to one fabulously rare 19th century specimen that sold for $100,000.
“And I heard the guy who bought it resold it for $200,000,” adds Boyer, 67, a retired millwright from Decatur's Caterpillar Inc. plant. “It was the only one of its kind known.”
The early lures are handmade works of art, their bodies carved from wood and their living paint schemes applied by craftsmen, or craftswomen, good enough to have painted for a living. The plastic lures sold these days are still more than capable of persuading wary fish to bite into their barbed version of reality, but they won't get a nibble out of collector aficionados like Boyer.
“If you are a collector, you can just see how the quality disappeared through the years,” he says. “But back in say the '20s, the lure makers were just really meticulous.”
Lure hunting on your own isn't as much fun as joining with a shoal of fellow lure lovers, and Boyer is a proud member of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, some 4,000-strong. His wife, Diana, has taken the bait, too, and become a collector in her own right. She helped him organize the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club Central Illinois Lure Meet in Effingham in April, a two-day dive into intensive lure trading and discussion that drew 300 collectors from 11 states.
“Anything cute and little is what I like,” she says of her own lure feeding pattern. “And I also like odd things, too, like the little tins for split-shot fishing weights,” she glances at her smiling husband. “I'm getting just as bad as he is.”
Talking of odd, there is some pretty weird stuff swimming around at the fringes of the mainstream collectible lure market. These lures appear to have been designed to catch men from the get-go. Boyer has one, for instance, shaped like a miniature kitchen sink. The writing on its original 1960s packaging says “You've tried everything but the kitchen sink: Here it is!”
And he's also got a lure molded into the form of a very well-endowed mermaid who swims with her hands folded behind her head and a big treble hook in her tail. “I don't know if lures like this worked; I've never thrown one in the water,” Boyer says. “But she sure caught my eye.”