Hooked on Classic Fishing Lures

HaskellHere is my latest in the WSJ Weekend section.

Ernest Hemingwayand Zane Grey are two of the more well-known names in big-game fishing. But serious collectors at the Florida International Tackle Show in Daytona Beach in early March are likely to be more interested in the names Billinghurst and Kovalovsky.

Arthur Kovalovsky was a Hollywood auto mechanic who died in 1958 and whose custom-made fishing reels are highly sought after. In 2007, Lang’s Auction of Waterville, N.Y., sold an 1859 side-mount fly reel made by gun maker William Billinghurst for $40,000, believed to be the highest price ever for a fishing reel at auction.
Lang’s, about 100 miles west of Albany, is a leader in the tackle field. In 2003, it sold an 1859 copper Giant Haskell Minnow lure with a revolving tail for $101,200. “It’s the only lure of that size and style known to exist,” said Jim Schottenham of Lang’s, which holds two big tackle sales a year and has a database of more than 30,000 customers in 44 countries. “It’s the Holy Grail of fishing lures.”

Tackle collectors tend to gravitate toward a particular era or artist. For instance, fly rods made by Lyle Dickerson have skyrocketed recently, with originals going for upward of $10,000. A reel made by the vom Hofes, German immigrants who set up shop in New York in the 1850s, can bring $25,000 or more.

The International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST), which bills itself as the largest tackle show, runs in July in Orlando, Fla. The Daytona Beach show will include more than 300 tables of antique lures, reels, rods, creels and fish decoys.

As with other collectibles, celebrity links sell. Adventure novelist Grey (“Riders of the Purple Sage”) was a pioneer of the sport, working with Kovalovsky and others to develop better gear. Collector Ed Pritchard owns three Grey reels. Lang’s sold a flag from his boat for more than $24,000.

Hemingway was an eccentric sportsman: He often used a Thompson machine gun to shoot sharks that were feeding on his catch. Tackle that once belonged to him is very rare, because most of his personal items were stolen from a trunk Hemingway shipped from Havana, Cuba, to his home in Idaho shortly before he killed himself in 1961. But interest in his sports gear is high, given that one of the author’s leather game bags inscribed “From Ernest and Mary Hemingway, Bag of Tricks, Best Always, Papa”—sold last fall at a Bonhams auction for $12,500.

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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