About a half-century ago

Posted by Phil Lilley on March 27th, 2017
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Well, almost a half-century ago, anyway…I got to thinking after somebody mentioned catching river smallmouth on various old lures back in the good old days.  Fifty years ago, I was 14 years old, and already fishing Big River a lot, both wading, and out of a 12 ft. aluminum johnboat, but I have to admit I was mostly a bait fisherman back then.  It wasn’t until a couple years later, about the time I learned to drive, that I stopped using crawdads and went to using nothing but lures.

But I guess I’m an old timer, because I remember a whole lot of lures from back in those days that most anglers today wouldn’t recognize.  And some that everybody would know.  My first 4-pound river smallmouth was caught on a 2 3/4 inch floating Rapala, silver with black back, and I could show you EXACTLY where I caught it–that same spot produced several more big ones over the many years since that first one in 1968.  I floated by it on my trip Monday, and as always, fished it carefully (caught nothing).


The “old timers” I knew back then, friends of my dad and grandfather, and fathers of a couple of my fishing buddies, had their own pet lures.  One was the Heddon River Runt.  Another was a little fat-bodied wobbling lure called a Hawk.  Lazy Ikes were sometimes used, but most preferred a similar lure called a Beno, which was like a jointed Lazy Ike–one version was even double-jointed, three separate body parts.

And then there was the Peck, a weighted propeller in-line spinner, dressed with chicken feathers.  Yellow was the preferred color.  And of course, the Shannon Twin Spin, which was the lure that turned me against bait fishing.  I’ve told the story many times, but I fished a certain pool on Big River, the closest spot to my house, at least once a week all summer for several summers, with live crawdads.  Caught plenty of fish from it (and I kept fish in those days so I took a lot of fish out of that one pool, yet it continued to produce all summer), but the biggest I ever caught was a 17 incher.  Then one day an “old guy” in a cedar and canvas canoe caught up to me just as I was coming up to the head of that pool, where the sweet spot for crawdad fishing was, a huge, slick log with the current sweeping under it.  He asked if he could make a couple casts before I started fishing, and I told him “sure”.  One cast was all it took with that Shannon; a huge smallmouth took the lure just as he brought it over the log.  He horsed it to the canoe with his heavy steel rod and baitcasting reel, and I came over to look at it lying in the bottom of the canoe.  He said it was a “good ‘un” and dug out his set of De-liars scales.  They read 4 3/4 pounds.  I’d been fishing that spot all summer, and never knew that fish was there.

There was the Midge-oreno, with the secret skirt.  A few people I knew liked the Baby Lucky 13 with the same skirt.  One guy was partial to the smallest size of the original wooden Bomber.

Surprisingly few people I knew used a lot of topwater lures, and none used walk the dog types.  I fell in love with the Tiny Torpedo, and caught some big fish on it.  The Devil’s Horse was sometimes used.  I always read about people using Hula Poppers, but nobody I knew did.  Still, I tried them, with no success.

That original Rapala was interesting.  I always used the 2 3/4th inch size, the second smallest.  I tried the next bigger size a lot but with surprisingly limited success.  When the plastic version, the original Rebel, came out, I immediately tried it and caught some nice fish on it, but I still preferred the Rapala.  Then the Storm Thinfin appeared on the scene.  I had one year of terrific fishing with that lure, and then it just died.  Rebel came out with their “humpbacked” version, and it was very good.

So my tackle box back then was limited.  Rapalas, Humpbacked Rebels, Midge-orenos, Shannons, Tiny Torpedos.  I casted the Rapalas with a Abu-Garcia 314 spinning reel which I had cut the bail off.  Everything else was fished with a 5 ft. solid glass rod and a Shakespeare Presidential direct drive casting reel.  I started fishing in April, when the redbuds started blooming, and switched to walleye fishing around late October, no winter fishing for smallmouth.  I bought my first canoe the year I graduated from high school.

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