Mepps 1974 Fishing Guide, front cover.

In “Mepps 50 Years Ago and Today” we’ll look at the iconic company’s 1974 catalog and see how it compares with the Mepps company of today, 50 years later. Mepps spinners have been around since 1938, when Frenchman Andre Meulnart created the MEPPS inline spinner (MEPPS is a French acronym for Precision Equipment for Sport Fishing). Long story short, Todd Sheldon began selling the spinners around 1951 in his small retail tackle shop in Antigo, Wisconsin. Sheldon acquired his spinners via a WWII GI, Frank Velek, who bartered with a French woman who worked at the Mepps factory, trading nylon stockings for the lures. Demand for the lures soon exceeded the French woman’s ability to wear so many nylon stockings. Sheldon then formed a partnership with a man who was licensed as the sole importer of Mepps spinners, while Sheldon became the U.S. distributor of the lures.

Then, in 1956, Sheldon closed his tackle store, formed Sheldon’s Inc., bought out his partner in 1960, and became the sole licensed importer and distributor of Mepps spinners. In 1973, he purchased the French part of the business from Meulnart. Sheldon now had complete control over the manufacture and selling of Mepps spinners. Eventually Todd Sheldon retired and passed the business onto his sons, Bill and Mike. Mike Sheldon is the current President of Mepps, and he plans to pass the business onto his children as well. 

Mepps President Mike Sheldon holding the very first hand-made sample case, made in 1953 by Mepps first sales rep, Bob Grashorn.
The original hand-made sample case, made by Bob Grashorn. Grashorn worked as the Mepps sales rep for at least 20 years, from 1953-1973. The text above Grashorn's business card reads, "This case was hand made in 1953 by Bob Grashorn, the first representative to carry the Mepps line in the United States. Bob covered only Wisconsin and the case represents the entire line of Original Mepps French Spinners at that time."

That was the super-abbreviated version of Mepps history. Now, onto the 1974 Mepps Fisherman’s Guide, and that title is really the first thing I noticed about the difference between 1974 and 2024: Mepps no longer calls their catalog a Fisherman’s Guide. These days it’s simply called the Master Catalog. At the top header of the 1974 Fisherman’s Guide are the words, 

Let’s go fishin!
with T. Layton “Shep” Shepherd, The Mepps Man

Below that is a painted illustration of the mysterious Mr. Shepherd, and the guide is full of Shep’s tips on fish species, their biology and habits, which Mepps spinners to use for each species, how to use them, and more. The guide even includes a couple of Shep’s favorite fish recipes.

The old Mepps catalogs were a combination of fishing how-to and tips, stories and opinions, wonderfully wordy sales pitches, photos of successful anglers and their catches, and a dip net full of charm. It was like having a fishing magazine that doubled as a product catalog. The modern catalog has, in my opinion, lost a lot of that charm. Current catalogs are very colorful and show hundreds of color variations of available lures. The old fishing guides didn’t have nearly the amount of lure color variations. They displayed photos on each basic spinner configuration, while listing the available colors in the text below the image. Personally, I prefer the old images. A page with 2 to 5 images of different lures seems more powerful and gives the individual lure more gravitas, as opposed to a page with 30-60 color variations of the same lure. But that’s just one man’s opinion. I suppose that’s also the difference between a fishing guide and a strict catalog.

Both catalog eras – the 1970s and the 2020s – thankfully pepper their pages with angler photos. Seeing what other anglers caught on Mepps spinners makes for some fun browsing, and is a great selling point. In fact, this year’s 2024 catalog was extra fun for me because it contains a photo of my daughter, Cheyenne, holding her 20-inch PB bass (photo below). She received a Trophy Fish patch award and a letter from Mike Sheldon congratulating her on the catch. That’s a proud daddy moment for sure.

2024 Mepps Master Catalog front cover.
Page 8 of the 2024 Mepps Master Catalog.
My daughter, Cheyenne Smith, in the 2024 Mepps Master Catalog with her Trophy Angler Award Largemouth Bass, p.8.

Now, I hate to sound like I’m only criticizing the modern Mepps catalog, because I thoroughly enjoy the new catalogs, but the text accompanying the photos in each era is starkly different. In the 2024 catalog only the angler’s name accompanies the photo. In 1974 there’s a little story and some colorful writing. For example, here’s the text that accompanies a photo on page 21 of a pith helmet-wearing angler holding a fat largemouth:

Black Fury Strikes Again
Doctor R.L. Mitchell of 11 West Stege Road, Steger, Illinois,
battled the 8-pound, 2-ounce Largemouth to a stand still in Lake Okeechobee, Florida.
The lunker slurped down a #4 Black Fury that came skipping across his weedbed.
Bass that size sure put up a terrific battle.

The Anglers Award program is something that Mepps has continued for decades, although I believe they didn’t start the Master Anglers Awards program with the individual species chevron patches until 1976. That’s the first catalog I found that had a page dedicated to the Master Angler patches and awards program. Prior to that the company had a Distinguished Anglers Award certificate and various patches you could earn by submitting photos or other proof of “nice fish taken on our spinners.” Once the Master Anglers Award program was instituted anglers were required to meet minimum size requirements for each species.

Mepps 1974 Fishing Guide, p21. The Mepps Black Fury - text says that dressing the treble with a strip of Uncle Josh pork makes it "irresistible to bass." You could also get a patriotic Mepps Killer patch for .25 cents and free accounts of Todd Sheldon's hunting trips.
Mepps 1974 Fishing Guide, back cover. With a list of Mepps records, including 4 world records, a couple of great angler photos, and the famous Mepps squirrel tails sign outside the corporate factory in Antigo, Wisconsn.

In the center of the 1974 catalog is a mailer and entry form encouraging anglers to submit their Mepps catches to the annual Field & Stream Fishing Contest. This was a fantastic promotion that brought a lot of attention to the company, because for many years Mepps spinners outpaced every other lure manufacturer for top honors in the contest. More F&S winners used Mepps lures to win than any other lure. The Field & Stream entry form was a staple in every catalog until 1991, which was the last year it appeared.

Sales of Mepps spinners rose pretty consistently since the lures first arrived in the United States. In 1960, the year Sheldon bought out his partner and became the sole importer of Mepps, sales reached 500,000 lures. In 1974, the year of this catalog, that number hit 7,250,000 lures sold. In 1982 Mepps purchased Mister Twister, and when you order the Mepps catalog (they’re one of the very few fishing tackle companies to still release a hard copy catalog, and it’s free!) you automatically get the Mister Twister catalog as well. That’s pretty cool.

In a press release Mepps declares that their catalog is “one of a very few catalogs that’s genuinely fun to read.” That was especially true in 1974 (because there was a lot more and varied material in the 1974 Fishing Guide), but it’s also true today. With the recent move to embrace vintage lures, tackle and paraphernalia by the fishing public, wouldn’t it be great if Mepps would release a retro-style catalog, complete with fishing tips from Shep? And maybe even resurrect some old packaging and even a lure or two? Mepps Lusox or Bass Killer spinnerbait anyone?

The discontinued deep running Mepps Lusox spinner. Looks similar to the old Paul Bunyan "66" spinner. From a Mepps sales rep binder of samples.
Mepps 1974 Fishing Guide, p29, showing the discontinued Aglia Mino Spin, a precursor to the short-lived skirted Mepps Bass Killer spinnerbait of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

The entire Mepps 1974 Fishing Guide is displayed in the gallery below. Just click on the first image and use the arrows to scroll through the guide.