Lure collectors hooked on rare finds

Erin Wood

Hundreds of fish. Several mice. And a firecracker.

No, not some weird booby trap. Just a few of the wacky widgets in Buddy Parsons' tackle box.

"Fishing lures aren't designed to catch the attention of the fish," he said, with a laugh. "They're designed to catch the attention of the fisherman."

The National Fishing Lure Collectors Club doesn't have a motto. But if it did, that might be the winner. From average lures worth no more than a buck to rare treasures with six-digit price tags, fishermen-gone-antique-collectors are showing, selling and trading a little bit of everything this weekend.

For the second time, the Civic Center is hosting the annual NFLCC convention, and lure enthusiasts from just about every state, as well as Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan, have flocked to Peoria to show their stuff.

"Almost all of them have a story," said Parsons, a police officer from Birmingham, Ala., as he explained the significance of several of his favorite lures. It's not the perfect ones that garner attention, he pointed out. The lures accidentally painted green instead of blue, for example, are the ones that bring in the bucks because of their rarity, just like any antique.

"This is the biggest lure show in the country," said Parsons, who has been collecting the miniature moneymakers for about five years. "We seem crazy to people. They just don't get us."

The highest Parsons is asking for one of his lures is $800. Pricey, he admits, but nothing compared to what Gibby Gibson of Nashville, Tenn., wants for his "Holy Grail" of fishing lures.

"That's a Heddon 730 Rainbow Punkinseed," said Gibson of his prized possession, a small, multicolored lure sitting alone in its own case. "There are only three of these known to be out there."

The price: $10,000. And it's not just there for bragging rights, Gibson said. "It's for sale right now."

Also on display is an 1859 copper minnow made by Riley Haskell of Painesville, Ohio. The 10-inch Haskell creation fetched $101,200 at an auction in 2003.

That was the most ever paid for a fishing lure until Kerry Chatham of Guntersville, Ala., later acquired the rare minnow. Chatham would not say how much he paid for the one-of-a-kind bait, though he has reportedly turned down an offer of $500,000.

"It's more than just a fishing lure, it's a work of art," Chatham said.

Aside from setting up about 600 display tables at the Civic Center, some of the roughly 1,500 collectors do plenty of trading in their hotel rooms to get better bargains.

"All these guys are scurrying around here to find something to add to their collections," said Gary Baze of Kewanee, who helped bring the convention to Peoria. Each collector is different, he said, with a variety of careers and an even larger variety of lure collections.

"We have college professors to gas station clerks," he said. "The only thing we all have in common is we enjoy fishing lures."

Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or