Preserving fishing history is important
Mark Schmitkons, of Newfane, is crazy about antique fishing stuff. His passion is collecting old fishing tackle that truly means something, a piece of equipment that has a story to tell. His primary focus is Western New York, but he is also quite knowledgeable about the value of gear outside of the area.
“I grew up in WNY fishing Lake Erie, Canandaigua Lake, Honeoye Lake, Wiscoy Creek and Case Lake,” says Schmitkons, who was raised in Cheektowaga. When he was old enough to ride his bike, his fishing adventures included trips to Ellicott Creek and Aero Lake. His weekly allowance was spent on fishing lures.
It was when his grandfather died that he began his appreciation for collecting older fishing tackle. “I inherited my grandfather’s tackle box, and it was a treasure chest for me. There were all types of lures in there that I was never allowed to fish with. Lures made by Creek Chub, Heddon, Chapman and Pflueger to name but a few. This was the start of my obsession.”
Of course, when he began saving pieces of fishing memorabilia, there were no books on the subject and no Internet to use for research. He collected what he liked – cool looking reels, lures with 4 or 5 treble hooks, fish spears and old fishing license buttons. For him, it was a fun pastime. It was no different than someone saving baseball cards or comic books.
It was in the late 1990’s that Schmitkons discovered the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, a group of like-minded people with an obsession for collecting pieces of fishing history. He learned how to value a lure, a reel, a pole and how to grade them as far as condition. He learned how to research the old (now defunct) lure manufacturers, finding out when they started, when they were sold or went out of business and how to age the lures by the type of hook hangers and hardware it had installed.
He had a lot of fun through the years and more recently he has refined his collection a bit to specialize in Creek Chub and Heddon lures. However, at the top of his list is still fishing tackle made in WNY such as the Spiral Wind reels from the 1940’s and pre-1915 William J.T. Lowe spinner baits.
“This is a perfect way to preserve an important part of our fishing history,” insists Schmitkons. “However, I’m not seeing any younger kids getting involved with collecting old fishing gear. What will happen to this collecting hobby when guys like me are no longer around?”
In kind of answering his own question, he pointed out that we’re in a new era of antique tackle collecting in that some of the more recent additions to the fishing world from the 1960’s and ‘70’s are now becoming collectibles.
There are still plenty of opportunities to collect older tackle through garage and estate sales. You can also search the Internet through sites like eBay and Craig’s list, but you will need to become savvy because there are people out there who will take advantage of a new collector.
“If you want to get started in collecting, I would be happy to help and point you in the right direction,” insists Schmitkons. “If you have some old tackle laying around and you are looking for some guidance or an estimate, I will be happy to share my expertise. I love helping people and educating them on this interesting hobby.” He can be reached at 716-751-6611.
What will happen with his collection? “I hope I can pass along a tackle box or two to my grandkids and they will grow as passionate about this as I was at their age.” Only time will tell, just like the many stories being told through his age-old angling memorabilia.