As usual, the fish were stonewalling me. Left scratching my head and rummaging through my tackle box, I stumbled across a cache of battle-weary Rapala original floaters. They’re unmistakable, with their hand-lacquered red smirks. And the way I see it, each slender Finnish minnow was cut from genetically superior Viking stock. These are water warriors, immensely gifted fish catchers.
These cocky deceivers had been my first-string, The A-Team, for over a decade. My technique rather rudimentary: cast, twitch and retrieve big fish. But for some reason, my confidantes had now faded into the shadows of a tackle tray — not too far from my bent and tarnished Shysters. Their once surgical-sharp trebles, which I’d hand-honed with loving care (and a wet stone), had grown rusty; their finish now lackluster.
How did this come to be? Had the fish shed their addiction for my faux minnows like a recovering addict’s desire for morphine? Had newer, flashier, sleeker, and dare I say, sexier baits led me to stray?
Since the fishing lure industry’s meager beginnings around 1902, lures have come and gone by the tens of thousands. From the absurdly bizarre to the notable, and crazy baits with ridiculous monikers like the Crab Wiggler, Baby Vamp, Musky 5 Hook, Surface 6 Hook Lure, Alger’s Minnow, Spin-Divers, Neverfail, Wotta Frog, and Case Rotary Marvel. All promised fishing nirvana, only to fade into historical irrelevance.
However, a select few have stood the test of time, catching fish no matter the century, decade, political climate, state of the union, fishing condition, latest fishing trend, technique or bait de jour. Here are my top 10, all-time favorite fish haulers. These lures will catch fish today as they did decades ago, and will continue catching well into the future.
Fred Arbogast was an avid lure carver from Akron, Ohio who started selling his baits at local tackle stores in 1926. The Jitterbug was introduced in 1938. Designed to mimic a large bug muddling along on the water’s surface, the Jitterbug continues to land trophies with its distinctive gurgle and wobble.
A mere youngster by antique lure collecting standards, the Devil’s Horse was designed in 1947 by Jack Smithwick. A business machine salesperson by trade, Smithwick hand carved Devil’s Horses from broomsticks for his customers to set himself apart from other salespeople. This one-time hobby turned into a full-time business in 1949. The Devil’s Horse is still a very popular bait thrown when the bite turns to topwater.
Creek Chub Pikie
Around 1915, lure maker Henry Dills spent his spare time whittling lures. Once one was complete, he’d spend hours floating and swishing his creations through his family’s bathtub. Catching wind of Dills antics, a Minnesota man sent Dills a bottle of pike minnows pickled in alcohol. Legend has it the man challenged Dills to mimic the pike minnows’ action in wood. Dills did, and the Creek Chub Bait Company sold 23 million “Pikies” between 1921 and 1950. The most famous fish caught on a Creek Chub bait was George Perry’s 1923 world-record for large-mouth bass of 22-pounds, 8-ounces.
Newel Daniels of Fort Dodge, Iowa carved the first Lazy Ike in the 1930s. Fishing lore has it that Joseph Kanutzky of the Kanutzky Manufacturing Company approached him about his unique bait while he was fishing one day. Upon examination of the crude bait, Kanutzky said, “Look at that Lazy Ike.” Daniels began making Lazy Ikes for the Kanutzky Company, hand-carving every wooden lure from 1938 to 1940. Lazy Ikes were hand-carved until 1945, when they began to be produced on a lathe. Ike’s pronounced wiggle is still catching fish 80 years later.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Fred Arbogast introduced the Hula Popper in 1941. It quickly challenged the Jitterbug’s dominance in the topwater bait market. The Hula Popper was the first topwater bait to feature a live, undulating rubber skirt. The Hula Popper is still deadly when cast into lily pad fields and twitched; causing a large “chugging” sound that drives fish plum crazy.
The Torpedo is the best-selling topwater bait of all-time. Introduced in the 1920s, it was built out of wood until 1936. Early Torpedoes have much more slender bodies and dual-props. Later designs morphed into the current rounded shape. Any smallmouth fishermen worth their salt will have a wide selection of these in their tackle box.
Heddon Lucky 13
The history of this lure is somewhat cloudy. It’s believed the Lucky 13 was first cataloged in 1920. The design has stood the test of time, and continues to be one of Heddon’s best-selling lures. The 13’s cupped face was the early precursor to the popular “popping” style baits of today.
Heddon Crazy Crawler
The first Crazy Crawler was introduced in 1940 after Heddon acquired the patent rights for the lure from the Donaly Company. Designed to imitate a small bird, most of the original Crawlers manufactured by Heddon were assembled using left over parts from the Donaly Company’s “WOW” lure. The earliest Crawlers were made of wood, and were later mass-produced in plastic. If there was ever a lure designed to be idiot-proof, it was the Crazy Crawler. It is best worked on a slow, steady retrieve; sending water sloshing off the “wings.”
Rapala Original Floater
In the 1930s, Lauri Rapala, a Finnish fisherman, began whittling lures of cork. His first “Rapala” floating minnow was wrapped in a chocolate bar foil to mimic a fish scale’s flash, and was protected by melted photographic film. For more than 80 years now, his original minnow has been the best selling lure of all-time. It is probably also the best fish catcher of all-time.
In 1906, Lou Eppinger hammered out a spoon that was thinner in the middle and thicker along the edges. The spoon had the unique ability to wobble side-to-side, nearly flipping over, yet always rotating back to center. Sixteen thousand different models have been built since 1906. Fishermen today still consider the Dardevle a mainstay of their fishing arsenals. As testament to its effectiveness, the Dardevle spoon has caught more world-record fish than any other bait.