Back in April we posted a piece on rod technology from 1950 featuring Heddon Split bamboo rods. I only used about 5 pages from that 1950 Heddon catalog and since then I’ve been wanting to post another piece or two featuring the entire catalog and its contents. Well, today in Heddon 1950, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
If you’ve ever had an opportunity to look at these old catalogs from the big manufacturers of the day, it really gives you an idea just how big they were. It’s not just Heddon, but Shakespeare, Pflueger, and South Bend all had monstrous businesses covering anything and everything an angler would need from freshwater to saltwater fishing. It showed in their catalogs, which were masterpieces of marketing genius and top-notch information.
For example, the 1950 catalog that we’re going to start discussing today was 80 pages long, not including the covers. Within this Deluxe Catalog, Heddon provided pictures and descriptions of every bait they made as well as all the colors they came in. They also provided technical specifications of every rod they made, from split bamboo to solid glass to tubular steel. Their reels were given the same treatment as was their line and other fishing equipment an angler might have a need for.
But Heddon didn’t just provide tackle to the angler, they had repair and refurbish departments too. If you needed to have your split bamboo rod rewrapped or a couple guides replaced, you could send your rod back to them and they’d repair it for cost. Same with their reels.
And speaking of rods, Heddon dedicated a number of pages as well as space in each of their model descriptions telling you how their rods were made and why they were the best in the industry. Split Bamboo to them meant exactly that, split bamboo, not cut bamboo. For those of you out there that know anything about woodworking, this is a painstakingly laborious way to make something, but the results produce the strongest chairs, hand tools, axe handles, and in this case bamboo rods.
At the end of the catalog, Heddon dedicated 20 pages to the most popular sportfish of the day with renderings, their descriptions, range, as well as the world records, if recorded, of the day. Also, throughout the catalog you meet the Heddon employees of the time and see lots of pictures of happy Heddon customers with their big catches. A couple of those will probably leave you scratching your head.
The catalog is a wealth of information and provides a deep dive into the way a top-quality company did business back in the day. Because of the length of the catalog, we’re going to divide it up into a couple pieces, starting with their famed lures. Then we’ll get into their full line of rods, reels, and line. At the end we’ll post the renderings and descriptions of the most popular American sportfish of the day, put together by Heddon Vice President Lou S. Caine. After those pieces are posted, we’ll put the entire catalog in a gallery under Product Catalogs/Bass Tackle Catalogs.
Heddon 1950 – The First 27 Pages
Before we get into the main topic of this piece, I just wanted to share a couple of the lead-in pages with you all. On page 2, the catalog opens up with the pictures of the three generations of Heddon’s starting with James Heddon, his son Charles Heddon, and I suspect Charles’ son John Heddon, the president of Heddon at the time.
Below those pictures is a written description of how James Heddon started down the path of becoming the number-one name in the lure market. Over the years it’s been it’s been said that James Heddon got the idea of making wooden bait after he carved a piece of wood and threw it into to water, only to have a bass come up and eat it. That story is told in this writeup.
But the story has been questioned over the last quarter century by students of Heddon history. The reason being that the story wasn’t in any of the catalogs that pre-dated 1948 – the year Uncle Homer Circle signed on as Heddon’s advertising director. Still, the story, whether true or devised as a marketing ploy, is romantic and fitting of how the American Dream can be realized.
One thing is for certain in this foreword and that is James Heddon, by 1902, needed a factory to keep up with production and grow the fledgling bait company. Between 1902 and 1950, James Heddon and Sons built an empire, arguably the largest tackle company in the world.
Two pages later the Heddon company celebrated the well-known anglers who fished their products. Names that should be recognized from past articles here are Jason Lucas, Robert Page Lincoln and Ted Trueblood.
To lead off the parade of Heddon lures, on page 5 the company boasts a little about how many anglers have won the Field & Stream National Fishing Contests over the previous 38 years. Below that they’re introducing their new Spook-Ray finish, a fluorescent lacquer placed on some of their baits in 1950. Page 6 then teases the angler a little more with their complete color chart for the year.
For those who needed help deciding which of the 45 baits offered in this catalog, Heddon tried to make it easier by breaking the choice up into depths each bait operated at and when fish would be most likely at those depths. By today’s standards the Heddon theories are really basic but back in the day, would be anglers were starved for any information on how to catch fish.
Page 8 is where the magic all began – and of course they started with their number-one bait of all time, the River Runt. By 1950, all their River Runts were made from their “Spook” fish-flesh plastic. The River Runt came in six sinking models and one floating-diving model. All models except the jointed baits came in 13 colors. This bait holds a soft spot in my soul as it was the first lure that I caught what I considered a “real” bass on – a 3-pounder on what was probably a 9110 Series in Yellow Perch Scale finish.
Over the River Runt’s 50-year life span, it became the all-time best seller for Heddon. Produced from 1933 to the mid-80s, the bait sold in the millions, which is hard to grasp. The Zara Spook, which has been in production since 1939, comes nowhere near the River Runt’s popularity.
Flipping the page, we move onto more of the “Spook” baits, namely the Chugger, Vamp, Dowagiac, Wounded, Zara, and Darting Zara Spooks. Of these six baits, four of them are surface lures, with the Dowagiac and Vamp being of the minority.
The Chugger Spook as well as the Zara Spook are the only two baits in this lineup I have any experience with. But that Vamp was one heck of a popular bait back in the day. I have no desire to throw any of the others except for the Wounded Spook. That bait looks as if it would hunt.
Pages 12 and 13 feature just some of what past Field & Stream award anglers had caught with Heddon Tackle. No, that 551-pound Black Sea bass (Jewfish) on page 12 wasn’t caught on a Heddon Vamp, but it was caught on a Heddon rod.
The curious fish to me in this collage is located on Page 13. Charles Schreiner is seen holding a 14-pound largemouth caught from Round Valley Lake in northern California. I’d never heard of this lake prior to reading this catalog. Looking at the picture, it doesn’t appear as if Mr. Schreiner is holding the fish out much and it’s definitely a big bass. I may have to have some of my old California buddies make a trip there to see if the lake is still producing fish of this caliber.
Moving on we get to the standard wooden baits made by Heddon. Right at the top and mid-page are the “Spy Baits” of the early 20th Century. The Heddon 130 Series Torpedo and below it the 150 Series Original Dowagiac Minnow. From what I am able to determine, the Dowagiac Minnow was released in 1907 in three sizes, 100 (2-3/5ths inches long), 150 (3-3/8ths inches long), and 177 (3-3/8ths inches long). The difference in them was the number of hooks with the 100 and 177 having three hooks and the 150 having five! By 1950 they’d dropped the 100 and the 177 but the 150 was still present with its five trebles.
The 130 Series Torpedo has three hooks and they’re installed the way one would expect them to be on any contemporary bait.
These baits were all a huge success for Heddon, and some people have said that it was the 150 that put Heddon on the map. Designed as sinking baits, the angler would cast out, count down the bait and then slowly reel it back to the boat. Sound familiar?
Also on this page is the original River Runt 110 series in wood. This is the bait that started the River Runt Craze but from what I understand, the plastic bait worked and sold a heck of a lot better. At the bottom of the page is the ever famous, in collectors’ eye, the 9630 Punkinseed. I have always been intrigued with this bait but have to admit I never caught a fish on one. Of course, I probably never gave it much chance. Still, it’s a neat little bait.
Page 15 hosts the famous Vamp Series plugs along with one of the most famous Heddon baits, the Meadow Mouse. That little rodent, in it’s plastic form, caught me a few decent bass at the golf course ponds around my house as a teenager. So much so that one of then had the fur worn off of it by the time I was 16. It was just an awesome wake bait, skirted along the surface on a slow retrieve.
The next page hosts a bait that I thought had died on the vine until about five years ago when I discovered garage bait makers were making it in big sizes and targeting big fish. The Heddon Crazy Crawler for a long time was one of the most prolific topwater baits on the market. It competed with the Arbogast Jitterbug and competed well.
Below it are two other baits I’m unfamiliar with, the 210 Series Super Surface and the 7000 Series Flaptail. The Flaptail has my attention as a number of hardbait manufacturers are coming out with blades attached to topwaters these days. Of course Heddon introduced it in 1935.
The top bait on the next page should look a little familiar. To me it looks a lot like the Jamison Coaxer we talked about yesterday. The body shape, the upturned hook and the feather or deer hair tail. Minus the two wire weed guards I’d say Heddon thought highly of Jamison’s bait. If you read the description of the Weedless Widow Jr., it sounds exactly like how Jamison described his coaxer and what he did to Decker that fateful day in June of 1910.
The next two baits are the SOS Wounded Minnow and the Old Zaragosa. Of course the Zara Spook is a spinoff of the Zaragosa.
Page 18 has two baits that are near and dear to my heart, and not because I fished them much. The top bait, the Lucky 13 was my mentor Dave’s favorite bait to start out with each morning. He’d work it like a Spook and he’d just straight crank it in. And in the 80s he was still using old wooden ones from the 60s and catching fish on them.
The Basser below it was a favorite of my buddy Stan Fagerstrom. Fagerstrom wore the fish out in Washington state on the basser in the days people in Washington didn’t know what a black bass was.
The next page and bottom of both pages are some weedless hooks and baits by the name of Stanley. I assume these were OEMd for Heddon. If someone out there knows anything about them, please let us know in the comment section below.
Starting on Page 20 Heddon touts their saltwater and large freshwater baits. These are just grown-up sizes for some of their other bass baits including the Vamp, Flaptail, Basser, and Torpedo.
Then on Page 24, Heddon gets with the fly-rod crowd. Fly fishing for bass used to be as popular as baitcasting for bass. This ended when Ray Scott made it mandatory that anglers use only spinning, spincast or casting reels in tournaments. But before Ray, a high percentage of bass anglers carried a fly rod with them.
The bass bugs presented on the first two pages are of interest to me in that they’re made with Heddon’s Spook plastic. I have never seen nor heard of these before. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see some of these as some point when I get to an NFLCC meet. Then on the following pages, more traditional cork bodies were shown.
Going through the entire line of Heddon baits for 1950 really shows just how big Heddon was back in the mid-20th century. People who think bass fishing didn’t start until the late 1960s should get a good feel that bass fishing may not have been as organized as it was post Ray Scott, but it was hugely popular. And Heddon wasn’t the only game in town, as mentioned at the start of this article.
What kills me is Heddon today. It’s a mere shadow of what it once was. Today the only true Heddon baits offered by Pradco are the Zara Spook, Crazy Crawler, Tiny Torpedo, Sonar, and Lucky 13. Six baits from 45 offered in 1950.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some garage-based tackle company looked back at some of these designs and stated making them again. What once worked will still work. You know the fish, and the fishing craowd, haven’t seen these baits in years.
Next we’ll move on to Heddon’s full line of rods, reels and miscellaneous gear.
References used for this article include:
- Heddon Deluxe Catalog, James Heddon’s Sons, 1950
- James Heddon’s Sons Dowagiac Mich. Catalogs, Clyde Harbin 1977
- Heddon Catalogs 1902 to 1953, Clyde Harbin and Russell E. Lewis 2004
Man-oh-man, I LOVE these old catalogs. Back when catalog perusing was better than television. Reminds me of the old Herters catalog, which we got every year, only better because these Heddon (and other companies) catalogs has color. These things were so wonderful for sparking the imagination and daydreaming.
David, speaking of Herters, I need to work on some of those. Unless you have some in your collections?
Indeed I do. I’ll get right on it after I finish a short piece I’m working on right now. Love Herter’s…such an I threshing company. Might be a multi-part piece though.
LOL. I thought that might grab your attention David. Thanks!