RACINE, Wis. (MCT) - There's an adage: To be successful, a lure must first hook a fisherman. And it doesn't end at the first catch. Some of the most alluring tackle keeps on hooking - collectors, that is - for as long as 150 years or more.
One of the most sought after lure series was made before the Civil War.
That's a testament to the lasting power of sharp steel. And well-carved wood. And exquisitely tied deer hair.
"I can't say what a fish feels, but I know I find some lures irresistible," said John Collen of Racine, an avid fishing tackle collector for the last 25 years.
Collectors from 24 states and Japan are expected to attend the Great Milwaukee Classic later this month in Brookfield, Wis. An annual event of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, it will feature about 200 table displays of fishing tackle and other outdoor sporting collectibles.
In addition to displays, the show will offer free appraisals on lures and other collectibles, auctions of lures and other goods and after-hours trading of items.
"It's an alternate universe," said Slusar, 41, and a serious collector for the last decade.
Collen and Chris Slusar were preparing displays for the show recently at Collen's Racine home.
Among the assembled items were dozens of Turbulent Fishing Lures made by Oscar C. Schaefer in Racine; boxes of Creek Chub lures made in Indiana; a Guy-Ra-Tory fishing reel (circa 1908) made by J.H. Birkett of Racine; a case of lures made by Biff Bait Co. of Milwaukee; and a display of lures and promotional literature for Puls and Wencka Bait Company of Milwaukee, including an endorsement by Don Kojis, a basketball star at Notre Dame High School and Marquette University who went on to play professionally in the 1960s.
The collections of club members are as varied as the individuals. One member has narrowed his interest to items that state "As seen on TV" on the box, said Collen.
Others focus just on bamboo fly rods or musky baits.
"It's whatever floats your boat," said Collen, 52, and regional club vice president.
Collen has long had a penchant for Creek Chub lures; his collection runs into the thousands of these wooden plugs.
More recently he began researching and acquiring fishing tackle made in Racine.
Slusar, 41, is focusing his collection on Wisconsin-made products. There were many dozens of lure manufacturers in the Milwaukee area alone, said Slusar.
Lure collecting combines elements of history, investing and one of America's favorite pastimes.
"It's a mental break," said Slusar. "This hobby makes it really easy to disengage from work."
Collen said he was introduced to lure collecting by a fellow angler. Within months, he was fully involved.
"It was a disease at first," said Collen. "Outside of work, it was almost all I did."
He has now managed to balance his passion for collecting with his outdoor pursuits like duck hunting. But over the weekend of the show, it will be all about the lures.
He'll be joined by legions of like-minded collectors, including at least two club members who will travel from Florida to Brookfield for the show.
"Nothing else could get them to Wisconsin in the middle of January, I guarantee you," said Slusar.
The club offers free appraisals at the show. It also offers to sell items in a silent auction.
"For someone who wants to get rid of some old items and be sure they are getting a fair deal, this is the way to go," said Collen. "They have multiple people bidding for the items. And the seller can set a minimum sale price."
The organization charges a 10 percent fee for the auction service; funds raised through the silent auction help pay for the show.
Last year's show featured a special attraction. A seller came forward with a rare 6-inch Haskell Minnow. Patented Sept. 20, 1859 in New York, you can count on one hand the number of such lures known to exist.
The auction started at $20,000 and went up from there. The sale price was not disclosed, but Collen said it would buy a "very, very, nice new car."
A 10-inch Haskell Minnow, the only one of its type known, reportedly sold for more than $100,000 at an auction in another state.
With the economy in recession, the prospect of deriving monetary value from lures and other old sporting collectibles that have been gathering dust is especially attractive.
"What is really fun is to have someone come in with an old bag of lures and see their eyes light up when they learn they have something very collectible," said Collen.
Last year a Milwaukee resident came to the show with just such an assortment of old lures. Collen suggested the man put the lures in the silent auction. The result? The man exchanged the lures for $1,600.
But most old lures are worth far less at auction. Indeed, most have more sentimental than collectible value.
"That's one of the decisions people have to make," said Collen. "How much is the lure worth to their family history? How much do they want to sell it?"
Collen and Slusar recommend that people interested in lure collecting attend a show or two to learn more about what's worth collecting.
"It's a jump start," said Slusar. "At this show, you'll see $1 baits and $10,000 baits."
If you get hooked, it's important to know the difference.
© 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.