Yesterday we showed a couple of ads taken from a June 1940 issue of Hunting and Fishing magazine and today we’re going to continue on that track. This time, though, we’re going to talk about another company, possibly the biggest tackle company with respect to bass fishing in the first half of the 20th century – James Heddon’s Sons.
First off we have a state-of-the-art rod ad featuring the Heddon Pal rod. Made entirely of steel this rod was compared with bamboo in lightness, balance and feel. Now although I’ve never cast one of these exact rods before, I have used a couple of bamboo rods and steel rods and the word light never crossed my mind. Also, neither of them were a joy to fish with. It’s times like these where I am grateful I wasn’t born in the 20s, 30s or 40s. These rods are an absolute beast to cast with and are about as sensitive as Archie Bunker.
Looking at this ad it should give good reason why casting rods of the day were 5- to 5 1/2-feet in length. Imagine a 7-foot steel casting rod and what it would do to you by the end of an hour.
The next two ads feature two of Heddon’s top lures of the day – the River Runt and the Crazy Crawler. Introduced in 1940, the Crazy Crawler was a new bait for Heddon’s lineup and would prove to be a hit. The ad shown has a bunch of flash and eye-catching verbiage like, “Craziest, Liveliest SURFACE BAIT I EVER SAW!” and, The Greatest Getter for BIG Fish!”
What caught my eye more, though, was the price. At $1.25 I’m sure you’d go out and buy a case. But that was 1940 dollars. Just for giggles, I ran an inflation calculator to see what $1.25 in 1940s dollars is worth today. The result was $24.43! It seems like bass fishing in the 1940s was a rich-man’s sport too.
For a deeper dive into the baits themselves, I looked at their 1940 catalog. Evidently, Heddon announced the introduction of the Crazy Crawler in that catalog. Here was the introduction, much like the ad. “New! No. 2100 Series Crazy-Crawler. Liveliest and most thrilling Surface Bait ever made.”
Then on the next line it said, “If you are easily startled by average smashes or have a ‘weak heart,’ DON’T use this Bait!”
Heddon also had a number of anglers reviews on the bait, which I found interesting since the bait was being introduced in this catalog. They either must have had a field staff of anglers throughout the country or sent prototypes to shops in certain areas – or maybe made the reviews up?
“It’s a killer and sure handles swell – and I know my baits.” C.A. Leitch, Chelsea, MI
“13 bass in an hour. Best bait I have had in 26 years.” Phillip Arnold, Chicago, IL
“7 bass in 30 minutes sold me.” E.B. Shaw, Roselle, NJ
The Crazy Crawler is actually still manufactured by PRADCO and there are even some Japanese and small U.S. companies that manufacture Crazy Crawler-like baits. The design may not be one you hear the top tournament anglers swearing by but I guarantee you PRADCO wouldn’t be messing with it if it didn’t sell.
The next lure, the River Runt, holds a warm spot in my heart as it was the first crankbait I caught a bass on. Ugly as heck, it was one of THE most popular crankbaits for over 50 years and boy did it catch fish. It came in a number of different sizes and even came in floating and sinking models. It’s also one of the most collectible baits out there.
The River Runt hasn’t been made since the mid-80s. First introduced in 1929, along with another Heddon favorite, the Meadow Mouse, the River Runt became one of the all-time best sellers for Heddon. initially made from wood, in 1932 Heddon started manufacturing the River Runt in a new material, Tenite 1, which was a new plastic of the day made by Eastman Chemical Company. This allowed for the baits to be clear, or as Heddon said, “True Fish Flesh.” This series of baits was known as the River Runt Spooks for their transparent appearance and is the subject of the ad shown.
A little bit of history about the Tenite 1. As stated above, the plastic was created by Eastman Chemical Company of Kingsport, TN in 1929 and patented in 1932, the same years the River Runt was created and made into plastic. What I found amazing was Heddon was that on top of the technology of the day and willing to move away from the tried and true wooden lure body.
Unfortunately they jumped the gun with the new material and the Tenite 1 became brittle and baits would crack or all-together disintegrate in the tackle box. The concept was good enough for Heddon to look further for a replacement.
This next bit of information gave me a good chuckle.
Heddon found the replacement plastic to replace the Tenite 1 in what was known as Tenite 2. I guess in the early age of the plastics industry you didn’t have many companies to go to for your materials.
In the ad, Heddon has placed prominently pictures of “award winning” fish caught on their lures, in this case the River Runt Spook. You have a 16-pound Wall-Eye, 36-pound Muskie and what is said to be a 16-pound bass – I believe the two fish together may go 16 pounds. Still, I’m sure the ads added to Heddon’s sales revenue, and rightfully so.
I hope you enjoyed this lookback at some baits and their companies from the early days of bass fishing. If you have any suggestions for future articles, please drop us a comment at the bottom of this post and we’ll try to get it done!
I would like to note the historical portions of this article were aided by the book Heddon Catalogs 1902-1953 Over 50 Years of Great Fishing written by Clyde A. Harbin and Russell E. Lewis.