Lore of the Lure

Collectors hooked on Garrett's Creek Chub

Lure collection, photography by Neal Bruns

Lure collection, photography by Neal Bruns

If you like to fish, it’s a fair bet you also have at least one fish tale to share. Most common are: “The biggest (insert any fish name here) I ever saw!” “There were so many they were jumping in the boat!” And “I stuck my arm through the hole in the ice and grabbed it.” (True. A perch.)

Fishing lore and lie is widespread. But what about a grand story or two you might not have heard? Like the $4,000 fishing line? Or the lure worth $5,000? 

No storytelling here. Both are true, and both arise from a one-time world-renowned fishing lure company in Garrett: Creek Chub.

The company produced its first lure, the Wiggler, in 1916 under the direction of a railroad conductor, a future mayor and a Garrett businessman.

B&O Railroad employee Henry Dills, inventor and chief lure designer, already had prototypes and used local cedar to create the first designs. Seeking another partner, Dills introduced his newfangled lure to George Schulthess, an entrepreneur who would become mayor of Garrett.

As in any good fish story, Dills is said to have had Schulthess do some fishing with the new lure at Lake Wawasee. After pulling in a few lunkers, Schulthess wanted in. 

In a matter of months, Carl Heinzerling, a local hardware store owner, joined the business. He would become well known for his management skills within the organization.

From 1916 to 1927, Dills was president, Schulthess was vice president and Heinzerling served as both secretary and treasurer.

Joining the original Wiggler in 1919, The Pikie Minnow was the next introduction. It would become the company’s most successful lure.

The inventive Dills kept busy creating new ideas and innovations. In 1920 the company was issued a patent on a metal diving lip and within a year had pioneered another advancement with realistic-looking scales.

According to Ron Matthews, better referred to as Historian, Keeper and Promoter of all things Creek Chub, “The women would drape wedding veil material over the body, apply paint and you had scales.”

It was such an overall commitment to detail and realism, including tiny glass eyes, that Creek Chub used the slogan: “True-to-nature lures.”

Born in Muncie, Matthews resides in Garrett, where he is a real estate appraiser and businessman. He and a dedicated group of aficionados and collectors do more than cite history in their desire to ensure the Creek Chub legacy.

Vintage fishing lures such as Creek Chub have a devoted group of collectors. The hobby has been widespread for years, and hobbyists created the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, or NFLCC, in 1976.

The NFLCC supports the preservation and history of fishing tackle as well as promoting collecting as a hobby. The organization helps members locate and identify vintage fishing equipment and sponsors annual events to bring collectors together.

One area collector, David Saalfrank, was the lead man when the NFLCC picked Fort Wayne as the home for the 2014 national convention.

Saalfrank is a fisherman as well, and his favorite Creek Chub lure is a Jigger.

“I collect anything made in Indiana,” he said. “At one time four of the top five lure makers were within 70 miles of Fort Wayne.” His many finds include a number of Indiana-style reels and vintage bamboo fishing poles.

According to Saalfrank, the Indiana-style reels were made in various places in Indiana and Michigan. One Fort Wayne company, National Specialties, also made bamboo fly rods. Another Fort Wayne company, OK Machine, made the Monarch reel. Creek Chub private-labeled its reel and called it The Wawasee.

Prices for Creek Chub lures are as varied as the color schemes anglers could choose. In fact, the company was so easy to work with back in the day that you could order a dozen lures and have each one painted differently. That’s 12 custom-painted lures for less than $10.

Some very well-known anglers in the early ’50s, Bing Crosby and President Harry Truman, would order directly from the factory, Matthews said.

One area collector, who prefers to remain anonymous, has some serious fishing hardware in the tackle box. While this collector looks mostly for Dingbats, which came in various styles including frogs, he also seeks out the more rare Saltwater Pikies, which have sold for $5,000 and more.

For a number of years, Creek Chub delved into saltwater baits, but the manufacturing technology they used for freshwater did not hold up against the much tougher and corrosive saltwater.

According to the collector, Creek Chub introduced a steel rod so hooks could be firmly attached. The new lure was able to take on the rigors of saltwater and big fish, and sales took off.

Another rarity is Black Chub casting line. Matthews said a double spool with box sold for $4,000 at a past auction.

Yes, they also catch fish.
Today’s collectors and historians are all about rarity, condition, colors and other factors that create the lore of this lure.

But what about catching fish? What kind of fish catching stories can be tracked to Creek Chub?

It’s a sure bet many thousands of fish have been caught and many an angler can tell his own story. Standing above all is one extraordinary catch that still stands today: the World Record Largemouth Bass.*

Fishing at Georgia’s Montgomery Lake on June 2, 1932, 19-year old George W. Perry landed a 22-lb., 4-oz. largemouth bass. Perry had one lure in his tackle box: a Creek Chub Perch Scale Wigglefish.

*Technically a largemouth bass weighing 22 lbs. 4.97 oz. was caught in Japan in July 2009 by Manabu Kurita. The International Game Fish Association recognized it as a tie with Perry because IGFA rules state to set a new record his fish had to weigh at least 2 ounces more.

Garrett native Dr. Harold Smith writes third book on Creek Chub history
You can find Creek Chub info all over the web. Lots of collectors and sellers are out there, with pictures galore. But if you really want in-depth history and research, you will want to read one of Dr. Harold Smith’s three books.

The Garrett native had an ER practice in Tennessee for many years and lives in Nashville. Currently, he is a professor at Lipscomb University. His books include Collector’s Guide to Creek Chub, Collector’s Encyclopedia of Creek Chub and in the spring of 2015, A Field Guide to Creek Chub Lures.

“I got my first vintage lure at an antique store in Michigan.” Smith said. “I came to find out there was a lot of information out there floating around that was confusing, and I wanted to help preserve the company’s history accurately.” 

His favorite Creek Chub lure is the Tiny Tim, a stubby little bait with some ferocious hooks. This #6400 series bait came in nine catalogue colors and was made from 1941 to 1954.

First appeared in the July 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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