Amazing Fishing Tackle Museum in Branson
Time and history flow like the water of a fast moving river. Fishing has always been synonymous with survival for civilizations for many centuries. Since the Stone Age, innovators have tried to find better ways to trick fish into biting.
Fishing tackle was created from fish or animal bones and rocks with animal tendons or braided hair for fishing lines. Later kitchen spoons and other objects attracted the fish and soon the first lures appeared. Many of these early lures are now considered folk art due to their unique patterns and colors.
Sadly, most of those early tackle are gone and we can only imagine the evolution of modern tackle – until now.
The world’s largest private collection of antique fishing lures, rods, reels, boats, motors and everything related to fishing is now on display at the Museum of Fishing History in Branson, Missouri. The collection of over 40,000 pieces, valued at over $5 million, was put together entirely by a couple, Karl and Beverly White.
HOW IT STARTED: Karl started collecting at the age of 8 when he developed a keen interest in fishing tackle, the start of a 70 year passion. He saw a young fisherman casting a plastic lure with a unique action that caught his eye.
“The lure was a Heddon Crazy Crawler and as an accomplished angler he advised the owner of the lure to move the lure too quickly,” said Bill Bramsch, curator of the fishing history museum. “The young owner left his lure in the water a little longer and a fish hit the plug. This happened several times and Karl was hooked. It took him weeks to save enough of his one nickel allowance each week, to buy the dynamic lure for $1.10. This Heddon Crazy Crawler is still part of his collection today.
Throughout his school life, Karl occasionally caught a decoy, but the equipment cost him dearly. In 1961, he married Beverly Wright. Beverly learned her love of fishing tackle early on.
“I knew I was not just marrying a ‘husband’ but also marrying a ‘hobby,'” Beverly said. “On one of our first dates, he picked me up from work and I sat on a decoy in the front seat of his car. I had a very expensive woolen skirt that cost $120 in 1960 I told him he was going to have to cut the barbs off the hook. He said, no, we’ll cut the fabric off the dress. The lure is on display in our museum with the barbs cut off, one of the few fights that I never won with him.
Karl managed to fish for bass tournaments and saw many of his friends divorced from constantly being away from home. He decided that his children would not grow up in a broken home and stopped tournaments. He discovered a copy of Popular Mechanics magazine with an article about collecting antique lures. His desire to collect lures is reinforced.
But Karl learned at a young age that it takes money to develop a world-class collection. Karl graduated in biology and chemistry. It has manufactured and supplied basic equipment to major medical laboratories for the testing and treatment of allergies and asthma. In 2004 Karl sold his business and retired, came out of retirement and then retired again with resources to continue his passion for collecting fishing tackle. He visited trade fairs, garage sales and any other place where one could find antique material. Soon his collection grew to gigantic proportions.
The National Fishing Lure Collectors Club allowed Karl to research and purchase many complete and fantastic collections and helped find many unique items. His hobby went from $50 to over $100,000 for an article.
BUILD A MUSEUM: “I was upset when we started creating this museum, but Karl knew exactly where he wanted everything,” Bramsch said. “His collection was in four 53-foot-long tractor-trailers. We were lucky that few parts were broken, including some of our dinosaur bones. My wife typed all the labels for this museum.
A WORLD-CLASS COLLECTION: The Fishing History Museum’s collection is considered the most comprehensive and diverse collection of fishing tackle in the world. While many collectors specialize in one area such as ice fishing or a business, the Whites’ collection represents all that is “collectible” in antique fishing tackle and fishing accessories, including the first of many. lures, reels and other items.
“People who come here think they’re going to see a hundred objects like a garage,” Bramsch said. “They are shocked to see our 40,000 fishing tackle neatly arranged in crates and other displays. They will find the rod and reel of Zane Gray and the manufactured lures of Johnny Horton, Elvis and Johnny Cash.
Here is a sample of memorable items from White’s outstanding collection:
• Walnut Lures: Karl found the only existing set of bass lures made from walnut shells. The Dr. Haas collection, which has 23 lures, is part of the Karl collection. The decoys were made during World War II when metal was scarce, so the eye doctor melted old metal lip glasses onto each decoy.
• Spike reel from the 1730s, first known reel. Manufactured in Europe, these reels were used by American anglers.
• “The 1840 Snyder Reel is the first casting reel made in the United States by George Snyder of Paris, Kentucky, and one of our rarest pieces,” said Bramsch. “Mr. Synder, a watchmaker and goldsmith, made 12 reels for his family. Only four are known to exist today. Snyder reels were the world’s first precision baitcasting reels. When Karl White purchased the Snyder in 1997, his purchase price set a world record for the most expensive fishing tackle ever sold at a U.S. auction.Karl bought the reel for $1,000 20 years ago. offered him $150,000 for the same reel.
• Haskell Minnow made by Riley Haskell in 1859 is America’s first plug type bait. The imitation minnow with a metal body and a spinning tail has double hooks that point upwards. The lure was made in silver, copper, brass and bronze. Karl’s is the low waist in silver. The only Haskell found with the original box was a 10-inch copper musk size that sold in 2003 for $101,200 at auction.
• Comstock Flying Hellgrammite is the first wooden lure, made by Harry Comstock in 1883. Mr. Comstock presented his idea to Pflueger at the manufacturer. Pflueger copied the decoy and a lawsuit was soon filed. Karl’s grip was used in the trial. Look closely and you’ll see the beards have been trimmed to keep the judge from getting hooked.
• Skeeter Boat: Karl has the first Skeeter to come off the line. He has production hull #1, he also has #2, and fiberglass #3 and #5 in his collection.
• The oldest patented piece in the collection is a Buel trolling spoon which was patented in 1852, but the collection also includes fishing artifacts from pre-colonial, Native American and Eskimo times. Aquatic dinosaur bones and fish fossils have just been added to the extensive collection.
ANCIENT LURE JOURNALIST: Karl is the Antique Tackle consultant for Bassmaster Magazine, with a monthly column called “What’s it Worth?” He recently wrote a three-volume set of reference works introducing the collection. The set is over a thousand pages, representing over 12,000 unduplicated items. To view his books, go to www.HistoryOfFishingMuseum.org.
ULTIMATELY: The fishing history museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Adult admission is $17.75; Children $7.75. Groups of 15 or more are $11 each, with bus drivers and tour guides admitted free. Located just off US 76, you can find the Fisheries History Museum at 225 N. Wildwood Drive in Branson, or call 417-239-FISH.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoor writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Contact him at [email protected]