Introduction to Fishing Tackle Made in Kentucky

Kentucky's contributions to baseball bats, horses, rifles, whiskey, and tobacco are well known, but Kentucky also produced some of the highest quality fishing lures, reels and tackle in the country and arguably the world at the time they were made. The artifacts and their makers are a fascinating story of the times, and intensely evocative of the rich history and culture of fishing in this Commonwealth.

Kentucky rivers, streams and lakes represent the soul of Kentucky, and the fishermen who frequented them. The water and terrain across the state varies almost as much as the characters that made the tackle used in the area. We attempt to capture the uniqueness of the individuals, the beauty, utility, and inherent value of the articles depicted, as well as the flavor of the period.

It is interesting to discover that some fishing tackle made in Kentucky is unique to that state, and can be sometimes be identified just by knowing the characteristics of the particular regional art. This is especially true of the folk art lures that were hand carved by individuals. Although no two lures in a given region may be alike, they all may share common design principles and a common heritage shared by all the makers. The fact is, you can't take the country out of the person, even if you wanted to. There is nothing more dangerous than a local fisherman, goes the saying. Regionalism tends to reflect tools at hand, the culture, and the customs.

In my experience as a collector, I have grown to understand that fishing articles are much more than just manufactured goods to the persons who make them, and also to the people that used them. I have seem grown men (and women also) tear up when reflecting upon the lure that their father cherished, or that their grandfather invented and made popular. To many, the artifacts depicted here are priceless for the memories, emotions, and moments in time that they represent. In many cases, the memories of dozens of fishing, camping and hunting trips are captured in the rod, reel, lures and tackle box of their father, mother, grandfather, uncles and friends. The best times of life are sometimes reflected in the objects closest to the ones we grew to love on those brief outings. For myself, I appreciate them for all that they represent, and I would like you to see them in that light also. Probably, you already do.

So far as we know, no one from Kentucky ever gained great riches from manufacturing fishing tackle, and no one established a continuing business dynasty from the early days. While there are definitely continuing businesses today that may well extend far into the future, the older reel and lure companies are long gone and remain only in our memories and through the articles and papers and boxes we can find now and then. It is somewhat a mystery that we can find such greatness in the design and realization of such wonderful and useful articles, and then they can disappear and cease to exist faster than we think possible. The truth is that the tackle exists through the sweat, genius, and passion of a few individuals that made them, and this passion is not easily passed to another generation. Just as true is the fact that some of the very things that we love about fishing tackle of the olden days makes it virtually impossible to manufacture and continue in modern economic times. How can lures exist today that took literally dozens of manufacturing steps, had twenty or thirty different parts, and took seven coats of paint? The market for $1000 reels and $50 fishing lures today is fairly limited, and the fact is that few of us could afford or would choose to support the high cost of such high quality goods. We are recently encouraged however, at some manufacturers that have adopted some of the passion, quality, and techniques of the old line fishing tackle makers, and have started to make tackle that is evocative of the golden age. We wish them continued success.

We have attempted to be somewhat comprehensive in scope, cataloging or at least mentioning what we know about almost every important angling artifact made in the state or with close connections. However, as in any endeavor with a scope this wide, we are sure that we have missed some important persons and artifacts, and apologize in advance. Hopefully this can be corrected in future editions or through future authors. If you have information that is missing from this edition, please bring it to our attention. Write it down before it is gone, like so many of the ones we so memorialize in these pages. Perhaps you can bring your collection or individual piece to the attention of the public.

The Early Years The Middle Years The Modern Years
Folk Art Lures of the Herrington Lake Region Other Fishing Tackle of Kentucky Fishing Tackle Patents of Kentucky
Fishing Licenses of Kentucky Fishing Reels of Kentucky

All photos and web content and articles © copyright 2006, Matt Wickham. All rights reserved.