The summer is definitely here! Heat, humidity, mosquitoes…well, there are a lot of good things, too! The rain we’ve had means everything is very, very green. The flowering trees and lilacs were spectacular this year. And it’s fishing season!
I learned to fish from my Uncle Jerry, my Mother’s oldest sibling. As a part of learning to fish, I learned how to catch nightcrawlers, cast a line, and remove a hook from a fish’s mouth. We caught crappies, lake trout, walleyes and northerns. The best part was that after my uncle filleted them (something I never wanted to learn how to do, although I would watch him do it) my Mother would fix them and those fresh fish were so delicious.
Full disclosure: I have not fished in several decades. But I have never forgotten the excitement of watching a bobber start bouncing and then plummet under the surface or watching the fishing rod bend in a graceful arch.
What to use to entice a fish to bite is always an interesting topic for discussion. I remember the blue or pink flies that we were particularly fond of for catching crappies. There were minnows that often challenged my ability to get them on the hook but did attract walleyes. And the variety of lures seemed endless and even confusing. Over the years I have collected a number of wooden fishing lures that I display and enjoy looking at, even if I don’t fish any more.
The following is an article by Doug Asp who wrote for the Mesabi Daily News. I couldn’t locate the exact date the article was published, but I think the year was 1993. Thanks to Mary Marincel Peterson at the Virginia Area Historical Society for her help as I spent time looking through the archives.
The old fishing lures are as simple as an adaptation of a deer hunter’s discarded shell casing or as elaborate as a gold-or silver-plated airplane jig.
What they all have in common, however, is that they represent an era of lure making on the Iron Range that, for the most part, ended many years ago.
At that time, some of the descendants of Bill Walden were frustrated in their attempt to continue a lure-making business that had been started by Walden’s adoptive grandfather, Jonas Walden, shortly after he came to the United States from Finland around the beginning of the 20th Century.
“We’d been hoping to keep the business in the family after Bill died,” said Gerald Walden from Makinen, who is Bill Walden’s grandnephew. However, other family members intervened at the last minute and all the presses and other lure-making equipment and tools were lost.
“That was quite a business,” Gerald Walden said. “And there were quite a few other types of lures being made by local craftsmen. But I suppose the interest in them died out with their makers.”
One of the local lure manufacturers from that era is still around. Arnold Ness of Virginia, 85, crafted his own lures from 1955 to 1985.
“In the early days, the lures were all made from wood,” Ness explained. “Then some friends of mine brought up the idea of airplane jigs, from a design that came from Canada.” In an early trial of the airplane jigs, so-called because the jig flies in a semi-circle when dropped into the water, Ness and some of his fishing partners tested them in an area of Burntside Lake on a day when several other anglers had been frustrated in a part of the lake known to produce lake trout.
“My partners and I caught a couple of fish,” Ness said. “After that we were sold on them.”
Ness, who had worked part-time as a guide on Snowbank Lake since 1938, changed his approach to fishing as a result of his introduction to the new lures.
“From 1958 until 1971, I fished Basswood Lake. I left my trolling outfit at home and just did deep jigging.” Fishing deep paid off over the years for Ness, particularly on one trip in 1964, when he landed a pair of lake trout which weighed 25 and 27 pounds.
Although very impressed with airplane jigs, Ness says a spoon was a surer method of making sure a fish would not get away. “The trouble with jigs is they’re lighter and fish will grip on them, then spit the jig out right away. A spoon is a lot better for that situation.”
However, that didn’t mean that Ness downplayed the effectiveness of the airplane jig.
“They’re a good bait,” he said. “I’ve caught every kind of fish there is around here on an airplane jig.”