1940 ad for the Heddon River Runt.

Today in James Heddon’s Sons 1940 we’re going to continue on the track of looking back at old lures and tackle from the 1940s.  This tackle that we’ve been going over may seem way outdated to the 20- or 30-year-old reading this post, but to the anglers who have ventured past the half-century mark, these baits bring back memories – maybe memories of their first bass caught.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at what the Fred Arbogast Company had to offer, and now we’ll get into one of his biggest competitors.

The lead-in ad shown above was an expensive ad for the day.  A full page and full of color, Heddon wasn’t about to be outdone by their competitors when it came to ads.

The ad wasn’t just shown in one magazine, though, but two.  First it was featured in the May issue of Outdoorsman Hunter Trader Trapper and the following month it was placed in Hunting and Fishing.

The purpose of the ad was to show off Heddon’s classic, the River Runt Spook.  And what better way to show it off than with but there are also some impressive fish shown in the article, all caught on one of Heddon’s best baits of the day, the River Runt.

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.

In 1940, it came in six different models including jointed, floating, and sinking versions. Today it’s 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.

The material was clear and allowed Heddon to paint see-through patterns on the bait, or as Heddon said, “True Fish Flesh.”  This series of River Runts, and all other Heddon baits made from Tenite, were 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.  By coincidence, these were the same years the River Runt was first created and made into plastic.  Heddon was 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 Tenite 1 became brittle and baits would crack or all-together disintegrate in the tackle box.  The concept and the sales were good enough for Heddon to look further for a replacement.

Heddon didn’t have to look too far to find a replacement plastic to replace the Tenite 1.  Eastman Chemical had already developed Tenite 2.  In the early age of the plastics industry you didn’t have many options of companies producing polymer materials.

But let’s get back to the ad.

As stated above, Heddon prominently placed pictures of “award winning” fish caught on their lures in their ads.  In this case, the River Runt Spook.  At the top there’s a 16-pound Wall-Eye, below it and to the left a 36-pound Muskie, and finally what is said to be a 16-pound bass.  I believe the two fish together may go 16 pounds.  Truth in advertising ha always been a problem.  Then there was the ad to the right listing all the Sports Afield Annual Fishing Contest winners.  I’m sure the ads added to Heddon’s sales revenue, and rightfully so.

Heddon Ad featuring their 1939 Sports Afield winners and the River Runt Spook. June 1940 issue of Hunting and Fishing.

Next on the list of ads is the Crazy-Crawler, a bait that has had huge success over its life and recently spawned a resurgence of crawler-style baits.  Introduced in 1940, the Crazy Crawler 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.  Heddon announced the introduction of the Crazy Crawler in that catalog and here was the introduction.

“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 Crazy Crawler Ad. June 1940 issue of Hunting and Fishing.

Heddon also had several 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?  Here are a few of the reviews.

“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 still manufactured by PRADCO and there are even some Japanese and small U.S. companies that manufacture Crazy Crawler-like baits.  More so, there are some garage bait companies that are making them in giant sizes up to 6 inches in length and weights up to and beyond two ounces.  The design may not be one you hear the top tournament anglers swearing by but I guarantee you PRADCO or other companies wouldn’t be messing with it if it didn’t still work.

The last advertisement I’d like to share is for the Punkin-Seed.  Like the Crazy Crawler, the Punkin-Seed was introduced in 1940 and in two different models.  The 730 sinking version weighed either 5/8 ounce or 2/3 ounce, depending on if you read the ad or the catalog.

As a sinking bait, it dove only a few feet under the surface, assuming you started the retrieve when it hit the water.  In the ad it says the bait “travels in vertical position, sinks slowly with lively swimming action; a short jerk rolls bait, causing lifelike side flash and swirl.”

The floating model was also said to have floated in a vertical position and I assume they retrieved horizontally.  This version weighed 3/5 ounce according to the catalog and came in nine colors.  The sinking version came in six colors.

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!

Heddon Punkin-Seed Ad. June 1940 issue of Hunting and Fishing.

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.