There is arguably more product turn-over in the fishing lure business than in almost any other business. Lures come and go with a frequency seemingly only rivaled by products in the tech industry. Companies are built and companies die on the altar of new fishing lure innovation (or reissues of old fishing lures with minor tweaks). But some lures have proven to stand the test of time, and have remained largely unchanged practically since their creation. The Eppinger Dardevle is one of those lures.
The Dardevle has such an enduring legacy and is such an iconic fishing lure that the name Dardevle has come to signify just about any and every teardrop-shaped metal spoon, often with a red or black colored body with a curved white stripe down the middle. “Dardevle” has become the generic term for countless imitators in much the same way that Band-Aid has come to signify any small adhesive bandage or ChapStick substitutes for any brand of lip balm. There are a lot of great brands of Dardevle-like spoons on the market, and almost all of them are effective fish catchers to varying degrees. But frankly, in my opinion, there’s really only one true Dardevle, with the heft, precision and specifications that make it the number one reliable, go-to spoon that consistently outfishes every other spoon on the market, and that would be the original Eppinger Dardevle.
The Dardevle story has been expertly documented by Terry McBurney in his June, 2007 article, “Lou J. Eppinger,” for the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club Magazine. McBurney covers just about every base of the Eppinger story, from Lou’s growing into and taking over a taxidermy studio at the age of 18, to him taking $25 to purchase some fishing supplies to sell when the taxidermy business was seasonally slow. As it specifically concerns the development of the famous Dardevle lure, McBurney offers four potential origin stories.
The first, writes McBurney, comes from Harvey W. Thompson’s 1979 book, The Spooners, wherein Thompson recounts that in 1906, a 29-year old Lou Eppinger took a vacation in the wilds of Ontario, where he caught a number of fish on a lure of his own design. Upon his return home, Eppinger continued to work on the lure and once he had it where he wanted it he named it “after the best fisherman I ever saw, soaring high above those northern lakes – the Osprey.” The Osprey would eventually change its name to Dardevle, allegedly in honor of the fierce fighting ability of the Marines against the Germans in the Battle of Belleau Woods in 1918.
The second origin story came from Eppinger himself in 1956. Writing in The History of the Dardevle, Eppinger stated that he spent many years in developing the spoon before finally introducing it in his taxidermy/sporting goods shop in 1917 or 1918. At that time he priced the Osprey at 75¢.
The third story comes from the text of the first print ads that Eppinger ran in Field & Stream in 1919 and 1920. In short, Eppinger discovered that one of his longtime customers had developed a spoon and was, along with his customer’s friends, secretly catching a lot of fish with it. Eppinger bought the rights to the spoon and immediately put it on the market.
The fourth and final version of the story came from Leslie Eppinger, one of Lou’s children. In 1995 a 90-year old Leslie wrote a letter to Karen Eppinger, Lou’s grandniece and the current President of Eppinger Manufacturing Company. When Leslie was 12, in 1917, he said that he went to visit a friend one day. In the backyard of his friend’s house were three or four men standing around a blacksmith’s anvil, hammering a piece of oval-shaped brass. The men told Leslie that they were working on a spoon. Leslie thought it odd that they were making an eating utensil and went about his business.
Jump ahead a couple years when Leslie had a job working in his father Lou’s shop. Lou showed his son the Dardevle spoon which Leslie immediately recognized as the spoon the men were hammering on the anvil in his friend’s backyard. Lou told his son that he had purchased the rights to the spoon from a Mr. Simonsen.
It’s all a little cloudy and vague, but that’s what makes for an interesting origin story, yes? I messaged Jennifer Bustamante, Controller of Eppinger Manufacturing Company and daughter of Karen Eppinger, President of Eppinger Manufacturing. Karen is the daughter of previous President, Ed Eppinger, and Ed was the nephew of Lou Eppinger – so Eppinger Manufacturing is truly a family business, running several generations.
I asked Jennifer which of the stories she believed to be the most accurate, and she replied, “After asking my mother Karen this question, we believe that it was a mix of all of the stories. We believe that Lou did go out and try to create and perfect a spoon, while in the bush, to create the Osprey later to be known as the Dardevle. But we also know that Buel was the first inventor of the spoon itself. We know that Lou did buy the rights to something but there is no documentation of what that spoon was. I wish we had more knowledge as to what actually happened back then but, unfortunately, we don’t.”
Regardless, it’s a great history and story of a supremely successful company. The Dardevle is an all-species lure, no doubt about it. For every fish that swims there’s a Dardevle model, size, and color pattern that will attract and hook that fish. And as the Dardevle initially made its bones as a northern pike lure, it’s impossible to separate the lure from the water wolf in the minds of many anglers. But as Jennifer told me, the Dardevle has seen plenty of success for bass anglers as well.
Jennifer says that she’s received “countless stories of bass catches.” I can personally attest to their effectiveness.
I recall fishing with my Dad when I was younger and, often as not, he would cast a Dardevle with either a Crackle Frog or yellow Five-of-Diamonds pattern when fishing for largemouth. Those were his preferred largemouth Dardevle color schemes, with the occasional Black-&-White or Red-&-White patterns to round out his arsenal. It’s little wonder they’ve become my own confidence color patterns for bigmouth bass. For smallmouth I prefer a traditional Dardevle spoon with some yellow or chartreuse, or a ¼- to ½- ounce brass or copper Red Eye Wiggler in Fire Tiger or Five-of-Diamonds pattern.
The Red Eye Wiggler is one of the other lures that Eppinger produces. It is a well-known spoon with two red bead eyes wired into the body of the lure. It was created in 1928 by Rochester, New York dentist and inventor Dr. Frederick Hofschneider. The Red-Eye Lures company was purchased by Eppinger Manufacturing in 1992.
Eppinger sells a number of other fishing lures besides their famous Dardevle spoon. These include, in addition to the Red Eye Wiggler, the Dardevle Klicker, the Rex Spoon, Buzz’N Rex, Spin’N Rex, Devle Dog, Evil Eye, NoTangle Spinners, the Sparkle Tail and more. At one time they even made a series of wood fishing lures, that included the Osprey Pencil Plug, the Little Louis Wobbler and the ⅜ oz. Osprey Bass Plug. If only they’d re-release the Bass Plug! This little beauty was reminiscent of South Bend’s Babe-Oreno. I swear, I alone would account for a good deal of the sales of this wonderful-looking lure. Unfortunately, Jennifer says that the company has no plans, at this time, to re-release any of the vintage lures.
But Dardevles have been such reliable bass lures that Eppinger also purposefully marketed to bass anglers in some of their print ads. Their ads featured a number of fish species, especially northern pike, but they also intermittently highlighted smallmouth and largemouth bass.
And of course we all know how effective the combination of a spoon and pork can be. Early lure box inserts included text ostensibly written by Lou Eppinger that explain the red & white and black & white color schemes: “The white strip represents a pork strip, and the white chunk a chunk of pork, and in addition has a wiggle which cannot be produced with the real article. Neither are you getting yourself all mussed with grease, and the hook being hung on the end of the bait, makes it the deadliest of all baits.” Grease in pork rind baits?
Presently, Eppinger has a “Lure recommendations for Bass” flier on their website. Along with various color patterns for Dardevles and Red Eye Wigglers it also recommends several Buzz’N Rex and Spin’N Rex lures, as well as what appear to be Rex Spoons with rubber skirts.
Jennifer says, “The most common sizes we would use [for bass] are…the 2/5 oz. as well as the ¾ oz. for the northern regions. We also recommend the ¼ oz. as that is one of the most versatile sizes that we sell.”
Bustamante continued with the following unusual account, “I have also heard from customers in Kentucky that they use our large Husky or Husky Jr., which are 3¼ oz. and 2 oz., for bass, and only in the classic Red/White stripe. I’ll never forget the first-time hearing that, I was in complete shock, but these customers swore by it.” The Husky Dardevles are traditionally considered to be big pike and musky lures, so it is, I agree, a little shocking to hear of anglers using them in bass fishing…make that BIG bass fishing.
The Eppinger Dardevle spoon can be fished in any number of ways, depending on situation and conditions, which is one of the reasons it’s been such a longstanding successful lure. For example, you can fish it fast or slow while pretty much maintaining a consistent depth. If you need it to go deep, once it hits the water, count down to the desired depth and start reeling, using either a straight retrieve or a jerk and flutter pattern, alternately jerking and stopping to let the lure flutter down a foot or so. You can speed retrieve it too, keeping it practically on the surface. Like a jerkbait, varying the retrieve can produce impulse strikes. It’s the spoon’s ability to flash and turn during the retrieve without making complete revolutions – revolutions that would otherwise cause line twist – that makes it unique.
The Eppinger Manufacturing Company is located in Dearborn, Michigan. Just this year Karen Eppinger was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Karen joining her great-uncle, Ed, and her father, Lou, to become the third generation of the Eppinger family inducted into the Hall of Fame. Eppinger Manufacturing is also one of the few American fishing lure companies to make their lures entirely in the United States. I’ve got a set of Devil Bugs – small hair fly lures used in fly fishing for bass and trout that were once offered by the Eppinger Company – that were hand-tied by Karen Eppinger. They’re treasured keepsakes.
For well over a century, Eppinger Dardevles have pulled in big bass, northern pike, muskies and just about every fish that swims. At one time, the lure was credited with catching more world record fish than any other bait. But, just like millions of other bass anglers, I’ve got several Dardevles in red & white, crackle frog and black & white in my tackle box. I doubt I’ll hook into a world record, but I know every year that I’ll be holding up at least a few nice bass for the camera thanks to a Dardevle.
Attached to this article are a number of scanned images of a 75th Anniversary edition of the 1981 Eppinger Dardevle catalog. In it you will find their complete lure line-up as it was in 1981, including a number of pages with how-to information for various species. In 1981 Dardevles were making their mark in the Great Lakes with salmon fishing, and there is a special section dedicated to that style of fishing. Other catalogs highlight fishing for other species such as largemouth bass, and if anyone has one of those old catalogs please consider sharing it with Bass Fishing Archives so that we can in turn share it with our readers.
If you want to scroll through the catalog, click on the first image in the gallery below, then use the side arrows to scroll through.