Today on the Bass Fishing Archives we’ll be looking at the entire Mepps Catalog 1971-1972. I live fairly close to the Mepps factory in Antigo, Wisconsin, and every so often I stop by the company for one of their factory tours. It’s always interesting, but the last time I was there I was fortunate to have a conversation with the front office gatekeeper, a lovely woman named Bev. This visit was especially exciting, as I got to visit a tiny room where they have a number of items on display from the company’s history. Included in this room, underneath a table, were several cardboard boxes with dates written on them in black marker. I asked Bev what was in them and was told that they contained every catalog – or Fisherman’s Guide, as Mepps calls them – from the company’s history. This got me pretty fired up, and for the next half hour Bev and I sat on the carpet and leafed through each box, looking at catalogs from 1969 through the early 2000’s.
Welcome to the Mepps Fisherman’s Guide/Catalog from 1971-72. It’s 36 pages, including the covers, highlighting the top in-line spinner lures of the day, fishing tips for various species, pictures and stories of successful anglers, and even an entry form for the annual Field and Stream Fishing Contest, as well as an appeal for squirrel tails!
But first, let’s give a very quick overview of the history of Mepps. It began in France with a fellow by the name of Andre Meulnart, an engineer by trade and an angler and inventor by passion. In 1938 Meulnart perfected a fishing lure, a simple albeit beautifully designed single blade in-line spinner he called the “Mepps Shimmy.” The word Mepps, by the way, is a French acronym for Manufacturier D’Engins De Precision Pour Peches Sportives or, in English, Precision Equipment for Sport Fishing. It has since come to mean, in modern parlance, just about any high quality in-line spinner.
In 1951, Wisconsin sporting goods store owner Todd Sheldon was introduced to Meulnart’s Shimmy spinner by a former WWII GI who picked up a few of the lures while stationed in Europe. Sheldon used the lure and was blown away by its fish-catching ability. So, he started selling the Mepps Shimmy in his store, but eventually sales of the lure compelled Sheldon to form a new import company to focus on the in-line spinner. The company was soon selling millions of spinners. They expanded the line-up by developing new lures in the series, and eventually the spinner became what Mepps proudly declares the “World’s #1 Lure.”
That’s a brief synopsis of Mepps’ history, but we’ll flesh the story out more in an upcoming story where I interview Todd Sheldon’s son and current Mepps President Mike Sheldon. For now, let’s get back to this early catalog.
The Mepps fishing guide of course shows the lures that were in production in 1971, and it’s interesting to note that there really weren’t that many. The Mepps Aglia is the original and most famous of the series, and all succeeding lures are basically variations on the Aglia theme. But the Comet, Aglia Long, Giant Killer, Mino, and others have important distinctions that make them unique or substantively different from the original Aglia format. Each lure series is designed to fish for different fish species and different conditions on the water. But compared to the catalogs Mepps puts out today, depicting hundreds of lure colors and variations, this early 1970s edition is much more of an actual Fisherman’s Guide. Other than the Mepps kits of multiple lures, it shows less than 50 individual in-line spinner lures. Most of the lures could be had, in 1971, for under $2. But $2 in 1971 is equivalent to around $15 in today’s economy.
A good chunk of the guide focuses on different fish species behavior and biology, as well as tips on how to catch those species using specific Mepps lures. The largemouth and smallmouth bass take up two succeeding pages, including photos and stories of successful anglers.
And just in case you weren’t convinced that Mepps spinners are fish catchers of the highest order, page 7 has the list of both Field & Stream and Sports Afield national fishing contest winners for 1970, using Mepps lures to catch their winning fish. Sixteen Field & Stream winners and 30 Sports Afield winners – that’s right, 46 winners of these annual national fishing contests caught their big fish on a Mepps spinner! That’s pretty darn impressive. Mepps says that their lures “have been the biggest winner for several years and the biggest all-time winner.” With sales numbers in the millions and hundreds of contest winning fish, I guess there’s evidence to support their claim to be the “World’s #1 Lure.” Success always seems to be the best marketing tool.
The middle section of the catalog has a tear-out insert, with rules and an affidavit form, that encouraged anglers to submit their catches to the 1972, 62nd annual Field & Stream fishing contest.
Additionally, on the largemouth and smallmouth pages, the Mepps company records for each fish are listed. In 1971 the biggest registered largemouth bass to date caught on a Mepps spinner weighed 14 lbs, 8 oz and came out of Florida. The Mepps record smallmouth was caught in Nebish Lake, Wisconsin only three years earlier, in 1968, and weighed 7 lbs, 4 oz. The smallie was caught on a Mepps dressed with a nightcrawler.
Two full pages are dedicated to the Mepps Super Meca spinning reel, one of the reels that Mepps marketed for several years. The Meca was, by the accounts I heard, an impressive, high quality reel. Its features are listed, including a 3.5 to 1 gear ratio, the first skirted spool, and an unusual folding reel stem. The text also touts the “patented Sulfinuz process” treatment for all working parts of the real. This word intrigued me so I looked it up. A science research site indicated that Sulfinuz process is:
A salt bath treatment has been developed which is operated at 500–600 ° C and confers on ferrous materials a surface layer rich in sulphur and nitrogen and, in some cases, carbon. It was originally developed in France and is called the “Sulfinuz” process.
It says that the process tremendously improves resistance to scuffing and wear, and that:
The process is being used in 20 different countries for a large variety of engineering parts. These include drop hammer slides, diecasting die parts, nuts and bolts, plastic extruder screws, machine tool parts, gears and gear type couplings, automobile tappets, diesel engine valve guides and various types of crankshafts.
Now you probably know as much about the Sulfinuz process as anybody, which is a lot more than most of us need or wanted to know. But it’s pretty cool that a fishing reel would employ and herald stuff like this in the description. Most of us would probably just skim over that, thinking “Wow, I bet this is the kind of fishing reel astronauts use!”
The Meca could be had for only $45, which sounds mighty affordable…until you convert 1971 dollars to 2023 dollars. Today, accounting for inflation, the Super Meca would cost $340.
But if you happened to be a Field & Stream contest winner, a Mepps records winner or a state record winner, Mepps would award you a Super Meca reel, a lure kit of your choice and a patch for your fishing jacket.
A final word on the Fisherman’s Guide has to go to arguably one of the most unusual novelties in the fishing lure industry: squirrel tails. Every year Mepps puts out the call for hunters to send in their squirrel tails so that the company can use them to dress the treble hooks on their spinners. I did it myself as a kid. You can get paid for your squirrel tails in money or lures. In 1971 squirrel tails were worth 8 – 12¢ apiece. These days they command 25¢ each (or double the value if you choose lures over cash). Mepps uses hundreds of thousands of tails each year. The Mepps squirrel tail program is one of those old school things that just makes me smile.
By the way, here’s an article by Terry Battisti where Terry talks about an old Mepps spinnerbait (click the link). You would think that a spinnerbait would be a perfect development for a company like Mepps, but this one didn’t survive the cut. It’s worth the read.
Below is the entire Mepps 1971-1972 Fisherman’s Guide. Click on the first image and scroll though the whole catalog. It’s definitely worth it. And stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Mepps President Mike Sheldon.