Fishing with Antique LuresFishing with Antique Lures
Trying to relive a piece of history with a 1924 Shakespeare Swimming Mouse, an antique rod and reel, and braided line.
By Bob Hood
Somewhere around 1978, I pulled an old tackle display case from the corner of a small building in my barnyard north of Granbury, wiped the dust off an antique Shakespeare lure, and promised to give the old fellow one last chance to outwit a largemouth bass.
The Swimming Mouse I had was the smallest of a series of wooden mouse baits with glass eyes made by Shakespeare decades ago.
In fact, Shakespeare first introduced the Swimming Mouse to the fishing world in 1924 and the junior (No. 6580), which I had, was made somewhere between 1929 (when the junior size was introduced) and 1932 (the last year the company used glass eyes on the lure). It measured just under three inches in length.
These dates are important to lure collectors, but probably don't mean much to the casual angler not interested in nostalgia. Being both a lure collector and a fisherman, though, owning such a fine specimen of historical significance played heavily upon my mind that summer day as I contemplated taking it down to my stock tank and giving it one last chance to show its stuff.
The event would be as much of a chance to relive history as it would be a chance to fight, and land, one of the husky largemouth bass which lurked in the weedy waters of my stock tank. And, besides, if I tied a really good knot, surely I wouldn't lose the thing to a fish.
To add authenticity to the occasion, I decided to use an antique rod and reel and braided line. After all, that's what the folks had to fish with when the lure was new in its box.
The rod I chose was a squared steel True Temper rod with a buggy whip-like action. It was the first fishing rod I ever owned, given to me by my father when I was eight years old. The reel was a Langley baitcaster, also my first. The line also was antique, but on a spool that had never been used. I tested it as best as I could before spooling it on the Langley and felt satisfied it was still strong enough to use on the bass in my pond.
To add to this reliving of history, I took along a couple of other oldies - a Creek Chub Wigglefish made somewhere between 1908 and 1917 and an Al Foss Pork Rind Minnow made in about 1920.
It was the Swimming Mouse, though, that I really wanted to catch a fish on. Maybe it was those pleading glass eyes which caught my attention, or maybe it was that wagging little whip-of-a-tail which seemed to give the little lure new life with every twitch of the True Temper rod's tip. Anyway, I decided to give the Mouse the first chance.
A weed patch in one comer of the stock tank always held a bass and with one careful heave I sent the Swimming Mouse toward that little patch of weeds. It plunked down right where I had intended, which somewhat surprised me since I had no idea how to cast the thing on such a whippy steel rod and worn out Langley reel with rope-like line.
The moment was at hand. I reeled down to take out the slack and proceeded to give the little floating mouse a short twitch when the water beneath the little lure rolled up in one giant swell and then reversed in a volcanic-like vacuum, flushing my little mouse down with it.
This, no doubt, was a big bass. I set the hook, felt the sudden heaviness of a big fish on the other end of the line and then sank in disbelief as the little Swimming Mouse came zipping back through the air at me. The bass was gone, but that wasn't the heart-stopper.
Also gone was the little braided tail on the wooden bait a seemingly insignificant two-inch piece of string to some folks, but a part of the lure which makes it a valuable keepsake for any lure collector. Owning a wooden, glass-eyed Shakespeare Swimming Mouse without its tail is like owning a rare bottle of wine without the wine.
I didn't sit down and cry, though. I sat down and bawled.
Later, when I went to put the Swimming Mouse back in the display case, I spied another oldie I had long forgotten about, a Weezle Sparrow topwater lure with real mallard duck feathers that, like the mouse's tail, gave it the looks of the real thing.
I know that Weezle Sparrow will still catch bass, but the thought of a fish throwing it back at me without its feathers was just too much to contemplate. I put the lure back on the shelf and then sat down in a chair with a chilling thought: I guess there really are some days when it's best not to go fishing.
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