Discover the value in vintage lures

Ontario is a hot spot for antique fishing tackle that can be worth thousands of dollars. Meet a legend in the industry who has created a business around lures.

The popularity of collecting antique fishing lures and tackle has grown substantially in recent years, and Northeastern Ontario is a hub of activity. That's largely thanks to organizations like the Canadian Antique Fishing Tackle Association (CAFTA), a group dedicated to the promotion and development of collecting and preserving our angling heritage.

The province of Ontario is known for more than just streams, lakes, and wonderful fishing opportunities. There are also many famous fishing tackle manufacturers and backyard inventors who have called our province home, based out of anywhere from Toronto to Peterborough, Napanee, Windsor, Parry Sound, Sudbury, Owen Sound, Gravenhurst, Campbellford, Smiths Falls, Walpole Island, and Elmira. 

Fishing lure makers from the early days like Selco Baits, J. P. Moore, M. Sutton, Delorme, Bakers Baits, Tomlin Bait Company, Colmer Baits, and Gardner Mills Skinner are all highly collectible today.  Of course, Lucky Strike Bait Works and Brecks are Canada’s flagship tackle manufacturers, having been around longer and still in production today.

Some of these old lures are worth big money too!

Photo provided by Jeff Morrison.

Market Value vs. Intrinsic value

As far as intrinsic value goes, antique lures have very little, perhaps $10-20.  It is their worth as a historical piece of art that draws collectors.  The most valuable antique tackle are those lures which have never actually seen water or been used in a practical fishing application.  These are items that have been stored for 50 to 75 years, kept in pristine condition, with no intention of ever being used to fish with.  Some of these antique lures can be worth hundreds and even thousands of dollars. The most valuable fishing lure ever sold was the Giant Haskall Minnow, sold at auction in 2003 for a whopping $101,000!

A lifelong commitment

Few people are as dedicated antique tackle collectors as Andy Clements of Peterborough.  Clements is one of a handful of gents considered a master of his trade.  He is a retired pro angler and avid lure buff, and I was given to opportunity to chat with him a while back about his favourite pastime. 

“Well, I sort of fell into collecting after a neighbour gave me a dingbat,” Andy recalls of his favourite lure by the Creek Chubb Bait and Tackle Company.

After getting that first “dingbat” back in the 1960s, Clements made it his mission to track down every dingbat ever produced.  At the time, the odd-looking lure cost about $5, and Clements made short work of rounding up every colour and configuration he could find.  After cornering the dingbat market, Clements moved on to some of the other big names in the business: Worllwind, Jameson Knights, and Shakespeare.

Today, Andy Clements boasts some of the most highly prized fishing lures in existence, including the largest collection of Lochharts in the world. He confesses that he’s still buying and selling baits today, using the money from the ones he sells to purchase new lures.  For old-timers like Clements, that initial spark for collecting old lures never seems to fade completely. 

As Andy says, “I haven’t yet found every lure I’m looking for, but I’m getting there. The search continues...”

Photo provided by Jeff Morrison.

Professional collectors

The reasons behind antique lure collecting are best summed up by world-renowned lure aficionado Dr. Michael Echols, considered by many as the foremost authority on vintage fishing tackle—and someone who is extremely knowledgeable of the philosophy behind this pastime. Dr. Echols epitomizes the antique lure mentality with a great interest in preserving the past, a love of travel, meeting new people, and sharing his interest with others. He finds lure collecting to be a great investment as well.

Getting started in Antique lures

For anyone interested in collecting antique lures, I suggest you do your homework and do copious background research. Start from the ground up, and look for early lure boxes as opposed to complete sets; monitoring lure prices sold on eBay is another good way to keep on top of the market. Read as many antique lure collector books as possible.

I scour garage sales, estate auctions, and even thrift stores, keeping a watchful eye out for old lures and tackle. One of my most memorable finds was a collection of old Heddon and Creek Chubb baits, in the boxes, at a garage sale in eastern Ontario.  Another time I had the opportunity to “pick” for an old tackle in the basement of Breck's founder George Breckenridge’s grandson, who lived in my Quebec hometown. There is just something exhilarating about finding and collecting vintage tackle, especially for an avid fisherman who fancies himself a bit of a historian. Old fishing stuff forms a collection of our fishing heritage and past, something I find greatly intriguing.

Marten RIver Lodge (photo provided by Jeff Morrison)

Northeastern Ontario Lodge Owners

Speaking of history: lodges and lodge owners in the Northeast also know a thing or two about our fishing heritage. Marten River Lodge, for example, boasts a long and storied past dating back to 1925 when a depot was constructed on-site as a “halfway station” linking North Bay to the rich mining fields further north. As the first licensed camp in the Temagami region, and a lodge that hosted anglers dating back nearly 100 years,  just imagine all the old tackles and lures to have passed through their doors in that time. It makes my heart skip a beat...

Our fishing heritage and history are alive and well, folks, and living in the antique tackle that lurks yet undiscovered in basements and attics across the province. Get out there and treasure hunt—you never know what piece of fishing history you may uncover!

About Jeff Morrison

Jeff Morrison is an award-winning outdoor writer, book author, and nationally-syndicated newspaper and magazine columnist.

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