Herter's Professional Open-Face Spinning Reel series. A popular series of reels for the company throughout the 1970s. 1973 Herter's catalog, p.191.

Herter’s products were generally high quality, but as was the company’s practice their products could also be had for a very competitive price. In “Herter’s Rods, Reels, Other Stuff” we’ll take a brief look at their rods and reels, as well as some of the items in Herter’s large fishing division. We’ll start with the “other stuff,” and specifically with Herter’s World Famous Fish Caller, which we mentioned and showed the patent for, in Part II of this series.

Other Stuff

The Fish Caller is one of the more unusual items – among a number of unusual items – Herter’s sold. The nearly half-page item description declares, in part, 

“With the cost of fishing trips what they are, why take a chance of spoiling them for a mere $2.97? Nothing more to buy. No batteries to go dead. No springs to break. Take this fish caller to a hatchery and prove to yourself that it will call fish. The only fish caller used and proven by commercial fishermen. A necessity for still fishing, spearing through the ice, or for shooting fish with a bow and arrow. Better than chumming when trolling.”

“We tried, for years, to produce sounds that would be attractive to fish and we have finally succeeded – completely!”

“We at Herter’s give all of our products a tough field test, and our Fish Caller  was given one of the most prolonged of all tests, since we were experimenting in a field little understood by man. We know, now, that you take no chances in buying a Herter Fish Caller.”

Immediately following the listing for the World Famous Fish Caller is a listing for Herter’s Fish Call. Unlike the World Famous Fish Caller this fish call operated on battery power, and claimed to use “sonic waves,” “ultra-sonic waves” and “light waves,”  as well as Fish Attractor Pellets. I guess you could buy this Fish Call if the previous proven-to-work Fish Caller…didn’t work?

Herter's World Famous Fish Caller. Basically a can on a rope with a little bell inside. 1973 Herter's catalog, pp.186-187.

Herter’s also sold popular sonar “fish finder” units, similar to the popular Lowrance Lo-K-Tor and Humminbird units of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Their Model 125D lidded box unit can still be found on eBay for around $100, reportedly in good working order. In 1973 it would have cost you about the same, but of course $100 back then was a lot more than $100 today. Herter’s Model 130 used the same circuitry as the Model 125D but was designed to be mounted on your boat like the old Humminbird units. I haven’t been able to uncover the manufacturer for Herter’s brand electronics, but it would be interesting to know what company made these units.

Herter's Model 125D Sonar Fish Finder, very much in the mold of the Lowrance Lo-K-Tor. 1973 Herter's catalog, p.187.

Speaking of boats, you could also buy a Herter’s World Famous Chrome Fiberglass Boat via the catalog as well. Herter’s sold boats, canoes, rubber rafts, trailers, motors and everything else you might need to get out on the water. By today’s standards their 14- to 16-foot boats were a model of simplicity, but were advertised as being “Years ahead in design, safety features, durability and performance.” You could get the 4-seat, 16-foot Yukon model for under $400. Speaking to the era, the catalog also sold the materials needed to cover a wooden boat with heavy duty fiberglass cloth to strengthen and protect. And they presented a page of how-to steps to apply the fiberglass cloth. Wooden boats might have been well on the road to extinction for most anglers, but apparently enough people still owned and used wood boats that the company spent catalog space telling the reader how they could preserve those boats.

It’s things like this that makes looking through these old catalogs fun and interesting, whether it be Herter’s, Arbogast, Bass Tracker or any other company. It’s a window into what items and practices were common at the time, and gives us some perspective on what anglers were thinking and using back then. It’s interesting to think that there was a time when updating your old wooden boat with a fiberglass cloth covering and installing a modest sonar unit was a big decision. Our current fully-loaded bass boats with multiple state of the art electronics, power poles and all the comforts of home might have seemed like spaceships to anglers just 50 or so years ago.

With that in mind, here’s another little item from the catalog that speaks to an earlier time: Herter’s No. 37FH Imported Frog Harness. This one caught my eye, because I’m old enough to remember when catching and fishing with frogs was common. Do you even read or hear of such a practice today? And using a harness to enclose and protect your frog while allowing it to move freely? The description of this frog harness is brilliant. In typical Herter’s fashion, they declare that “We have tried every frog harness on the market and found none of them any good at all.” Herter’s frog harness was handmade, with hooks “of the finest Sheffield steel,” and it should be noted, their “harness does not kill the frog.”

Herter's No. 37FH Imported Frog Harness. "We have tried every frog harness on the market and found none of them any good at all." 1973 Herter's catalog, p.85.
Rest of catalog entry for Herter's No. 37FH Imported Frog Harness. "We have our frog harness handmade." 1973 Herter's catalog, p.86. Ceramic Fish Hook and Knife Sharpener below.

Rods

As we discussed in Herter’s DIY Source – Part II, we think that Herter’s may have sourced their rod blanks from Fenwick. That’s an assumption based on the color of the blanks and the associated text from Herter’s. We could be wrong about that assumption. But nevertheless, Herter’s rods were high quality handmade glass rods. They sold all of the most popular rod models of the day, with beautiful red and black windings, cork or wood handles, and chrome guides. These ran from, on average, around $12 to $15 and sometimes $20 or so. Accounting for inflation, that would translate to around $80 upwards of $100 to $140 in today’s money. That’s not bad for a top-of-the-line rod. You can find Herter’s rods in good condition on places like eBay with prices of between $100 and $200. 

In 1973 their Perfection 100 Series was their budget line of baitcast, spinning and fly rods. These were still handmade, hollow glass rods but with perhaps cheaper components. They cost $7.98 apiece, which adjusts for inflation at $55 today.

Looking through the 1973 catalog I especially covet the travel-pack sets. These were 3- and 4-piece rods, excluding the handle section, and came in a zippered vinyl padded carrying case. They sold for around $20. The 4-in-1 Grand Deluxe All Purpose Rod Travel Pack was gorgeous. It had four sections – three rod sections and three handle sections, which would combine to create an 8-foot spinning, casting or fly rod, all in a zippered, padded carrying case. This package sold for $30 (around $205 in today’s money).

George Herter was a fly fisherman, and fly rods held a special place in his heart. The company offered a Grand Deluxe Imported St. Albans Split Bamboo Fly Rod. Handmade in England, Herter’s declared that “We are able to make only a very limited supply of these extremely high quality rods due to the difficulty in obtaining only the best of bamboos.” Describing the steps in manufacture and the components used, Herter repeatedly emphasized the superiority of these 2-piece, 8-foot or 3-piece, 9-foot rods. The 9-foot rod was recommended for bass, salmon and steelhead. “If you are the kind of fly fisherman who likes to use nothing but the finest obtainable, order out one of these fly rods.” The 8-footer sold for $32.67 (~$227 today) and the 9-footer for $34.87 (~$242 today). 

Herter's casting rods, with different rod handles to choose from. 1973 Herter's catalog, p.175.
Herter's spincast and baitcast rod Travel-Pack, with three different rod handles to choose from. 1973 Herter's catalog, p.176.

Reels

Herter’s sold many of the popular reels of the day, including the Johnson spincast line, Quick spinning reels, Pflueger baitcast, spincast and spinning reels, Zebco, Shakespeare and Daiwa. But the pictures in the 1973 catalog of the non-Herter brand reels are black and white while the photographs of the Herter reels are color. When we were fishing Lake Michigan salmon and trout back in the 1970s we used a variety of big spinning reels, one of which was the Herter’s Model 950 Professional Spinning Reel. I still have mine and it still runs. It’s a little clunky, but it’s a solid reel. I recently cleaned and oiled the 950 for a video on my YouTube channel, that you can watch here. Herter’s really promoted their Professional line of spinning reels, and they were popular in the Midwest. There were five models, with the ultralight 910 selling for $7 and the largest 950 going for $11. Similar in appearance to the Mitchell spinning reels, the Professional series was made in Japan in the familiar Herter’s brown color.

Interestingly, Herter’s didn’t market a baitcast reel targeted to bass anglers in the 1970s, at least not that I’m aware of. Their baitcast reels were either saltwater/surf reels or were marketed to muskie and big northern pike anglers. It seems odd to me that they didn’t manufacture a couple of baitcasters for bass anglers specifically, as their lure production was clearly bass-centric. The Ambassadeur 5000 had been around for a while and was clearly the favorite of a lot of bass anglers. And given George Herter’s penchant for latching onto whatever was popular I can’t figure this one out.  

An interesting change occurred sometime between 1973 and 1978. One of the reels Herter marketed in 1973 was the Hudson Bay Mark 8 Spin Casting Reel. By 1978 they had eliminated all of their baitcast models and only carried their International Fly reel and the still-popular Professional Spinning Reel series. But 1973’s Hudson Bay Mark 8 spincast reel had, by 1978, become the Berkley Spin Casting Reel, with the same photo and much of the same text in both catalogs. Make of that what you will.

Herter's Professional Open-Face Spinning Reel features text. 1973 Herter's catalog, p.190.

By the late 1970s Herter’s had become a shell of its former glory. There are probably a number of factors that led to its ultimate declaration of bankruptcy in 1981. Sometime in the mid-70s Herter’s was sold to a Chicago company, and George Herter clearly stepped out of the picture. Mail order fulfillment and customer service took a dive, and inventory was drastically cut. Gone were the unique, one-of-a-kind items, gone were the gigantic catalogs filled with everything an outdoors person could ever dream of, gone was the endearing, bombastic sales pitch. And in 1994 gone was the eccentric genius behind it all, when George L. Herter passed away at age 83.

We hope you enjoyed this three-part series on the Herter’s company, but we only scratched the surface here. For a time Herter’s was a very significant source of gear for anglers, putting out good quality copies of popular bass lures (how they got away with it is one of life’s mysteries); high quality lure and rod building materials; solid Herter’s rods, reels, and fishing accessories…and a catalog that remains unmatched today.

Click on the links to read Part 1 and Part 2.