Hooked on fishing lures
WINONA — I own works of art, marvels of invention, refinements of tools that kept people alive 8,000 years ago.
And I thought they were only the fishing lures in my tackle box.
Not to Dan Basore.
The Warrenville, Ill., man has one of the country's finest and biggest collections of fishing lures, going back 8,000 years. He is passionate about those lures, and he's a walking encyclopedia of information.
"This is history," he said Sunday when giving a tour of some of his finest lures, which are on display at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona; the exhibit will be there through Sept. 4.
When he sees lures, he sees more than a way to catch fish. He sees "the expression of the maker, the creativity, the imagination, the boldness, the go-for-broke."
Some of the first items he pointed to were made of raw copper beaten with rock hammers into fish hooks or gaffs 8,000 years ago. Native Americans baited them with worms, hunks or meat, anything to get a fish to bite, he said. Those hooks look remarkably like those today. He also has flint hooks and some lures made of shells from a Pacific island.
What's remarkable is how someone figured out that they would work. Or maybe, Basore said, it was trial and error — and an empty stomach. "Try, try, try," he said. "When you're hungry, you have to have something to eat," so people found ways to catch those fish.
Modern lures often have their roots in serendipity, he said. A famous story is of a man who dropped a spoon into water and saw a fish hit it. He went home, cut some handles off spoons, added hooks and spoons were born.
Another story is of a man whittling a stick to kill some time. He threw it in the water and a fish hit it; lures went from metal to wood.
Not that every lure was a smashing success. Failures greatly outnumber successes, he said.
One such failure on display in Winona was meant to provide an entire day's fishing with just one minnow. It was a glass tube with hooks on the outside; just slip in the minnow and catch fish, and when you're done, turn the minnow loose.
It didn't work and didn't sell.
Another lure was made to look like a frog by putting real frog skin on it, he said. That also didn't work. Designing and selling fishing tackle is a tough business.
Another side of lures is the artistry, Basore said. "They are works of art, they just grab me," he said.
Metal lures of the mid-1800s might cost $1, which was what a working person made in a day. Fishing with lures was for the elite. London jewelers once made lures that had Tiffany glass eyes.
Basore's journey into expertise in the world of fishing lures began with a love of fishing. He has no idea where it came from, but he was smitten with fishing, perhaps from reading a book on fish when he was young. He would tell his parents "I want to go fish, I want to go fish," he said.
He began with an open pin and string, then moved up to better tackle, bigger waters.
When he was about 15, he inherited a tackle box, looked in and thought "gee, those would be neat to collect," he said.
He started and kept on collecting, finding lures in the oddest places.
One day, a man called and offered to sell him some old tackle. The man demanded $400, not a cent less. Basore paid up and looked inside a common Plano tackle box. He saw a mint-condition 1859 Haskell Minnow worth at least $25,000.
Those finds are rare, but they happen. They keep Basore looking, learning more.
The future for collecting, however, isn't bright. "You don't see collectors without gray hair, younger people aren't collecting," he said.
But he still looks for more lures, because what it all comes down to is that fishing lures are a reflection of people, of history.