The scene is set in Bartow, Florida, in the early 1930s. A man named William Eger designs something he likes to call the “Florida Special.” But with recent events on the brain, the locals start calling it the “Dillinger” because the patented, prison-stripe-patterned beauty’s main purpose is to kill its prey so the user can reel it in and eat it.
That’s right, reel it in. Eat it. I’m talking about fish. It’s a story about an old fishing lure. And this is a story about new versions of old lures that Christopher Augustus is designing to reel in a whole different catch: fishermen.
For him, it all starts with a good story, so it only seemed right that I started with his favorite.
Chris got hooked on good stories about fishing lures after purchasing an old box of them at a flea market several years ago. Curious of their heritage, he went online to try and identify them and discovered a “whole world” of which he was previously unaware.
Apparently we live in a world where people will spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on old fishing lures. But not any old lure. Collectors are attracted to wood lures in particular because they’re true Americana; wood fishing lures didn’t happen anywhere else in the world — not Europe, Africa, South America — and only between 1900 to 1950. Before 1900 nobody’d ever mass produced wooden lures and after WWII plastics dominated the market.
A short time frame, a limited market, and lots of collectors out there.
“I thought, well I could do that. I could reproduce those. And do the art and craft show circuit and have some fun with it. And I did!” Chris said. “To be honest, I’m a better woodworker than I am a fisherman.”
Chris begins by doing his due diligence on research. He’s combed through dozens of books, periodicals, magazines, and hundreds of articles online. And he takes all this carefully accrued foreknowledge to one place: the U.S. patent office.
Old fishing lure patents never say the name of the lure — they describe it in great detail, sure, but they never name them; or include the colors. Those two things are decided by manufacturer. So in the search for a lure blueprint, there’s a lot of trivia and backstory Chris has to know about. It makes the search almost game-like. Matching the story of a lure with its original designs is a delightful prize.
Once Chris has reunited patent with story, he’ll try to obtain an original copy of the lure — if he can afford it. Remember, some of them go for thousands of dollars. If he can’t get the real thing he’ll obtain photographs, or other reproductions.
His goal is perfection. To try and match the actual lure as close as humanly possible — size, color, pattern, parts — so that people go “ah-ha! I know what this is.”
There was a significant learning curve. Apparently it’s difficult to find all the parts — Chris says only about three companies in the US make the components he needs.
“Sometimes parts aren’t available and you have to be creative about how you’re going to make them,” he told me while hanging bits of lures to dry on a stand he hand-made specifically for the purpose. “There are no catalogs with tools for many of the things that I do. You have to be pretty innovative.”
And his attention to detail is a real killer on his time. His painting process? Wood sealer. Flat white. Gloss white. Color coat(s). Artwork. Wood sealer. He buys his glass lure eyes clear with only a black dot for the pupil and then painstakingly paints back with nail polish to get his desired eye colors.
Even on his mini wood-lathe he strives for constant quality. Once he hand carves the size/shape of the lure he wants perfectly, he creates templates that he can mount to his lathe later. No variation. Constant perfection.
Chris told me that there’s an old saying among fishermen that “fish lures are designed to catch fishermen, not fish.”
“Frankly, when I go fishing I use live bait,” he tells me, with a sly grin.
Southwest Harbor, ME