The saltwater fishing lure industry was pretty much invented here. Anchor Lee Sausley recently visited with a local lure collector who knows quite a bit about that history.
Dr. David McKee recently retired after a 30-year career as a marine biology professor at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
McKee is an avid fisherman and a passionate collector of old fishing tackle and artificial lures in particular.
It’s a passion that dates back to his boyhood in Sinton.
“I’ve still got lures that I had when I was a teenager,” McKee said. “I loved fishing lures. I took very good care of them. I polished them and just started adding to my collection.”
Today, McKee’s collection numbers in the thousands.
And the vast majority of these lures were made by companies from right here in Corpus Christi.
“I’m a bit of a historian,” McKee said. “I think my interest in the lures has a lot do with the history of our area.”
McKee says Corpus Christi really played a big role in promoting the use of artificial lures for saltwater fishing.
In fact, there were as many as seven different lure companies here in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
“Several of the manufacturers that went on to produce plastic baits, when they became available after World War II, started out by carving their lures at night out of pieces of wood. Cedar was kind of a preferred wood to work with.”
Several of those companies went on to become national brands.
“One of those was Fred Nichols, who had the Fred Nichols lure company that later on became Pico. Padre Island Company which became a flourishing company around the country, both coasts.”
“Plugging Shorty” was a well-known local lure maker. His real name was Anton Stetner, a Fuller Brush salesman who visited here and liked it so much he moved here.
Back then, fish was 3 cents a pound and he made a good living with a road and reel and his own handmade lures.
“And he was making these … his lures and using them,” McKee said. “Made from cedar — his lures — and there was no colors available at that time. Maybe you could put a little glitter on it or maybe some red fingernail on it. But he made his living with his own lures.”
Later, when plastics and colors became available, he collaborated with Doug English, who started the Bingo Bait Company.
McKee says that took some convincing.
“His first response was ‘I will not do it, because if there were more of my lures available to people. They would be catching more fish and the price of fish would be driven down below 3 cents a pound.’
“But after he thought about the money he could make, he changed his mind.”
And that’s just one of dozens of stories that McKee can tell you.
If you collect lures and like to talk about them, or if you are curious about what’s in Grandpa’s old tackle box, McKee would love to hear from you.
You can contact him at David.Mckee@tamucc.edu.