Whether they be worn-out, abused, busted, or simply evoke fond memories, some of your favorite fishing lures sit on a desk, a shelf, or a fireplace mantle – a place of honor for retired lures.
A Mangled Fly – Ryan Sparks
Who you are fishing with is often more important than what you catch. From channel catfish in the Platte River to panfishing from a dock, some of my fondest memories are of fishing with my grandfather, or as I call him, “Papa.” By far Papa’s favorite fish is crappie. He’ll be the first to tell you that his love of crappie has more to do with eating than catching. When I was growing up we would fish until we had enough to make a meal and then our entire family would gather around a shaded picnic table – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and close friends – for a fish fry lunch of scalloped potatoes, hush puppies, garden watermelon, baked beans and, of course, fried crappie.
Later, I moved to Montana for graduate school and taught myself to fly-fish. I’m not sure what Papa thinks of it. He’s a faithful subscriber to the belief that live bait will always outfish artificial lures, so the thought of using a hook lashed with chicken feathers and deer hair doubtlessly seems ridiculous. He’s probably right. However, during a spring afternoon on a Cass County farm pond I showed him how effective fly-fishing can be. I caught so many fish the fly began to fall apart. Its black bucktail frayed, the copper mylar mangled and the thread wore loose. It kept catching fish.
Eventually, we made calls announcing a fish fry the next afternoon. I clipped the fly and slipped it in my pocket. The next day as we sat down to eat I noticed Papa was hanging back, letting me fry the fish and watching dishes being carried to the table. He just leaned against the porch railing and smiled. That’s when I realized why Papa really loves crappie – they bring his family together.
Most flies have elaborate names like Royal Wulff, Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear or Lefty’s Deceiver. This home-tied fly doesn’t have a name and it’s about as basic as they come: a stout hook, lead eyes, some copper flash and a small clump of bucktail. When I look at it I remember Papa smiling and recollect that fishing is about much more than fish.
Walleye-chomped Red Fin – Daryl Bauer
There are no magic lures that catch fish all of the time. Every lure or bait ever made will catch fish when used in the right place at the right time. They are all just tools, and the trick is to use the right tool for the job.
With that philosophy, I do not retire lures for sentimental reasons. If they are catching fish, I want to keep them in the water. Sure, I have a bunch of them that have caught big fish, or are special baits for special reasons. But the collection of old, retired lures that hangs on a section of netting in my basement is made of baits with busted lips, mangled bodies, leaks, holes and other major failures. Far too many of them, including some expensive muskie lures, ended up hanging on that net because a gust of wind caught a cast and they crashed on the rocks.
However, there is one – actually all that is left is just the front end of it – that has a good story behind it. That old silver Red Fin found its way to retirement one evening on the wind-swept point of a Nebraska reservoir.
The wiper bite had been very good that evening. As darkness approached, I had a hunch that a big walleye or three would show up. I switched to a minnow-imitating crankbait with good action. The old Red Fins have been a favorite of mine in shallow-water situations.
It was not more than a cast or two, and I got a good “thunk” as something ate the bait. Instinctively, I set the hook and felt the weight of a good fish; big head shakes were indicative of a nice walleye.
And then, there she was, gone.
Retrieving line, it felt like there was nothing left on the end, and I suspected the bait had broken off. Then, skipping across the waves in front of me came the remains of my Red Fin – just the front few inches and the front treble hook. The rest of the bait was completely gone, cleanly chomped off.
Must have been a really big walleye.
Oh sure, there must have been an unseen crack in the bait, something that failed at just the wrong time. But, that lure will forever be the crankbait that was chomped in half by a walleye. That is a much better story.
My Kmart Collection – Jeff Kurrus
There is a collection of retired fishing lures on a piece of driftwood in my office. Whether broken-lipped, failure to float, or some other angling ailment, they have all been designated to memory. But there is a set of them that are a little different from the rest. They are the Kmart lures.
When I was a kid, Dad came home with a 3-pack of shallow-running, bass-fishing crankbaits. They were crawfish, frog and bass-colored imitations, and soon after debuted on a set of farm ponds outside of Senatobia, Mississippi. After their initial trip, where their square bills ran true, bounced off underwater timber with rarely a tangle and caught bass at a rapid pace, Dad went back to Kmart and bought more than $200 worth.
For the last 30 years, we have continued to search for these lures as our current supply dwindles. While Kmart only sold them for a brief time, we have tracked down others at antique shops, consignment stores and yard sales – sometimes offering as little as 25 cents for a lure we deem priceless.
And their value is not just because of the fish we know they’ll catch, or how we’ve never found crankbaits that run better, but that they take us back to a time when dad and son wanted to be better fishermen, and we had amazingly found a set of lures that convinced us that would be could be just that.
Fire Tiger – Jake Jadlowski
My favorite place in the world is Ottertail County, Minnesota. My family still goes there every year on vacation. As kids, we spent the mornings catching bluegills by the dozens. It’s the place that taught me how to fish.
As I got a little bit older, the fun of fishing for bluegill was replaced by an obsession with northern pike. I wanted to catch a pike more than I’d ever wanted to do anything. In my mind, it was a rite of passage. I couldn’t possibly consider myself a legitimate fisherman until I caught one.
One summer, my dad bought me a box of Daredevil spoons. And in the box was the Fire Tiger. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know if it was a good lure or not. All I knew was that it was the coolest lure that I’d ever seen.
As a kid, I casted that thing thousands of times. I don’t even think I caught many fish with it. But I know I caught one. While everyone else was swimming, I grabbed my rod and I went to the dock and I started casting. I casted that Fire Tiger as far as my little body would let me toward the reeds where I hoped a northern was lurking.
In reality, I didn’t think I would catch one, not off the dock. But that didn’t matter, I loved casting and watching my Fire Tiger shimmer through the crystal clear water. And then it happened. I didn’t set the hook. I didn’t have to time think. All I knew was that my Fire Tiger just got ambushed by something huge. I’ll never forget the feeling. It wasn’t even close to huge. It probably wasn’t even big enough to eat, but I did it. I proved to myself that I could do it. My first northern pike.
I’ve kept that Fire Tiger in my tackle bag ever since. Even though I haven’t used it in years, that lure will forever be immortalized in my mind. Every time I come across it, it takes me back to my favorite place in the world, a simpler time, and the journey of a little kid trying to prove to himself that he was a real fisherman.
An Early Retirement – Eric Fowler
I’ve had some great days fishing in the Sandhills, and this was one of them. The northern pike were hammering my chrome and black Rat-L-Trap, and I remember looking at the lure and thinking: “I have got to get a photo of that thing with all those teeth marks on it.”
Soon after, I grabbed my leader while landing another pike and the fish somehow spun, unhooked the snap and swam away with that lure in its mouth.
I tied the one you see here onto my line. It was the same size and color, but it had lost a big chunk of chrome off one side in the few run-ins it previously had with fish.
I don’t know if it was that or it was simply tuned slightly different, but it would not catch fish. Neither would the only other chrome and black lipless crankbait of another brand I had in my box.
So this one is retired. I wish I could’ve retired the other.
Pike Like Tarpon – Larry Kurrus
I have an assortment of old and retired lures I can’t throw away, and another one that needs to be added to the still- growing collection. It is a black and blue spinnerbait with a red trailer hook.
In May of 2018, fishing partner Mike Groenewold and I took a four-day trip to the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Two of those days we fished Pelican Lake, where a renovation project would soon begin in the fall to eradicate carp.
Both days we were immediately into fish. It seemed that about every third or fourth cast, Mike or I had a fish on. We caught a few bass, but the northern pike were on every grass
and reed mat we approached. The plan was simple: Throw your black and blue spinnerbait as far as you could, start reeling and hang on. The pike would do the rest.
Those two days were amazing. We caught more than 100 fish. Better than 90 percent were northerns, with some of them going airborne trying to shake the spinnerbaits.
Now Pelican Lake has, in a way, been retired to a new life, one that has the capabilities to produce two-pound bluegills. My fly rod and I are surely game for that. My black and blue spinnerbait now hangs from an old fish lamp on my desk with its retired brethren, its red trailer hook silver from teeth marks. It reminds me of older Pelican Lake and a time when big pike would fly like tarpon. ■