A Milwaukee classic for lure collectors, Anglers are January 14-15

Here’s a universal truth offered by the outdoor world: if you’re an angler, you’re a lure collector too.

The proof is in our tackle boxes, gear bags and fishing vests.

My collection dates from the first Arbogast Jitterbug I bought as a kid in the 1970s. I climbed trees to retrieve this snag lure.

It’s still with me with the oily rubber worms from the early models and the slightly tarnished Little Cleo spoons from the same era.

They don’t get used much on the water anymore. But who can throw away old fishing tackle?

They still prove their worth every winter when I take out the old tackle boxes and storage bins and sort the items. The memories they evoke are priceless.

Chris Slusar from Evansville knows exactly where I’m from.

“I love taking inventory of my decoys,” said Slusar, 54. “And I don’t know of a fisherman who doesn’t have a ridiculous number of lures beyond what they can use.”

It’s a compliment, by the way. The fraternity of fishermen encourages the acquisition, conservation, maintenance and conservation of fishing equipment. Sharing too.

Slusar, in fact, took his hobby to a whole different level.

He became addicted to collecting lures in his late teens and now spends much of his free time researching and collecting fishing gear. His specialty is equipment made in Wisconsin.

And once a year, he serves as the decoy collecting ambassador when he hosts the Great Milwaukee Classic.

The 41st annual show, which allows the public to view, buy, sell and trade a wide assortment of fishing lures and other fishing gear, is scheduled for January 14-15 in Brookfield. Free assessments are also available.

The show is sponsored by the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, the world’s largest organization dedicated to the hobby.

Fishing gear is almost as old as mankind. Bone and wood hooks are commonly found in archaeological sites around the world.

As fishing shifted from survival to recreation, gear manufacturing increased dramatically.

Most of the collectibles in circulation today were made from the 1800s, Slusar said, the vast majority dating from the 1930s to the present day.

A native of Milwaukee, Slusar began fishing in his youth in the 1970s. His lure collection dates back to the late 1970s, when his uncle Joe took him on a muskellunge fishing trip to the Chippewa Flowage.

This is where Slusar was introduced to the Frenchy LeLures made by Vern “Frenchy” LeMay, a fishing guide and lure designer who worked at Indian Trail Resort on the stream.

An assortment of Frency LeLures, musk baits made by Wisconsin lure designer Vern "French" LeMay.

“I was completely taken by the musky mystique and fascinated by these decoys,” Slusar said. “It got me started and there was no going back.”

As he began to dig into his new passion, Slusar discovered the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about lure collecting.

Slusar joined the club in 1986 and is now a life member. It has hosted or co-hosted the Great Milwaukee Classic for the past 20 years.

Learning the history of lures, especially those made in Wisconsin, has helped increase his appreciation for fishing and anglers, Slusar said.

The story of one of the first patented wooden fishing lures – from Ashland – helps illustrate this point.

The bait was designed by Charles Dunbar (a painter) and David Huard (a shoemaker) in the early 1870s.

It featured a minnow shaped wooden body with a spring hook that could be retracted or released. The basic intention was to keep the hook close to the body to make it relatively weed-free when retrieving, and then to allow the hook to be more exposed when struck by a fish.

In 1874, when Ashland was an isolated outpost in the northern forest accessible to most only by boat, Dunbar and Huard obtained a US patent for the decoy.

“It’s mind boggling to think that about 150 years ago, when Ashland was essentially a Wild West town, these two fishermen got a patent for a lure,” Slusar said.

The decoy did not bring fame or fortune to men. But their work is forever etched into the rich history of lure-making.

A selection of fishing lures made in the 1900s.

Over the past 150 years in Wisconsin, there has likely been at least one decoy maker in every city.

It’s a bit like breweries and bakeries. They are signs of life.

Slusar can unearth dozens of places in Wisconsin where collectible lures have been made, including Antigo, Chetek, Fremont, Ladysmith, Land O ‘Lakes, Maple, Medford, Packwaukee, Richland Center, Saynor, Two Rivers, and West Bend.

The list goes on.

“It has been very rewarding to learn more about the past, the places and the people who made these decoys,” Slusar said. “Knowledge also translates into the possibility of collecting objects. “

Which brings us to another universal truth: Collecting can be a lifelong hobby.

“It’s endlessly educational and fun,” Slusar said. “There are a lot of unique stories and I love to share them and learn new ones.”

Fishing tackle show

The 41st edition of the Great Milwaukee Classic will be held January 14-15 at the Sheraton Milwaukee-Brookfield, 375 S. Moorland Road, Brookfield.

The event, billed as one of the nation’s largest antique fishing tackle shows, is sanctioned by the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. It will feature displays and vendors from over 20 states. Items can be bought, sold or traded.

Products on display will include lures, reels, rods, minnow buckets, paper catalogs and mayflies.

Free evaluations are available. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on January 14 and 9 a.m. to noon on January 15.

Admission is $ 10 per person, which can be applied towards membership in the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. Military veterans and children are admitted free. For more information contact Larry Fonk at [email protected] or (262) 945-7139 or Chris Slusar at [email protected] or (262) 960-2230.

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