Opening an Angling Time Capsule

Vintage Tackle Box Reels

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Vintage Tackle Box Scale

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Vintage Tackle Box Center Compartments

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Vintage Tackle Box Flies and Stringer

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Published on: Aug. 16, 2011

A person’s interest in history probably is directly proportional to the amount of history they have seen. That would explain why my interest-o-meter pegged out recently when a friend brought me a historical present, an old steel fishing tackle box that clearly had spent several decades in her attic. A workman discovered the angling time capsule in the course of renovation work. The box’s rusty exterior made me think its fishing career might parallel my own.

My mind raced back through time as I imagined its contents. I reminded myself that the box could be a big disappointment, containing nothing more than rusty hooks or bailing wire. On the other hand, it might contain dozens of hand-carved plugs from the dawn of America’s century-long love affair with sport fishing. I could be rich…well, my friend might be rich.

Holding my breath, I flipped the two spring-loaded side latches, slid down the release on the central lock and slowly lifted the lid. It was one of those boxes with two hinged trays that fold up and back as you lift the lid, revealing the box’s entire contents in one motion. My preparation for disappointment was wasted effort.

I will end the suspense by telling you that neither my friend nor I need worry about how to spend all the money we will make auctioning the box’s contents on eBay. Nevertheless, the artifacts inside paid enormous dividends of fun as I sorted and cleaned them and reminisced about using many of the very same items as a kid.

For instance, there was an automatic fishing reel made by the Martin Co. of Mohawk, N.Y. I owned a later, cheaper version with a plastic face, instead of the embossed aluminum this one has. I lost track of mine 30 years ago or so in one of many moves. Now I have a classy replacement.

Right next to the fly reel was an oddball Johnson Model 80 fishing reel. I was sure it must be at least as old as I am, because I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it. It turns out these “sidewinder” reels were introduced in the mid-1950s, when I was still playing with worms rather than fishing with them.

My favorite item from the trove is a 3.5-inch fisherman’s scale. It consists of two telescoping brass cylinders that house a steel coil spring. A hook at each end allows you to suspend a fish from the bottom. As the fish’s weight pulls out the inner cylinder, it reveals graduations up to 15 pounds. Much of the original nickel plating is worn away, but the inscription, “Sportsmans, Pat. Feb. 18, 1913, Made in USA,” is still clearly legible. It is marvelously engineered and now occupies a place of honor in my office.

The bottom of the box is seriously rusty, thanks to a bottle of pork-rind frogs. The bottle was intact, but the brine used to preserve the lures rusted through the metal cap and leaked out into the bottom of the box long ago. Luckily, the process was gradual and spared everything except items in direct content with the bottom of the box. The line on the reels is still in good condition, and their mechanisms work like new. The steel spring in the Sportsman’s scale is strong and resilient…a minor miracle.

There is other stuff—a Chug Ike fishing lure still in its box, a Fly-rod Flatfish and a miniature Jitterbug just like the ones I fished with circa 1966, Silicote fly-line dressing, a jelly jar full of hand-tied flies, a couple of fish scalers, dozens of assorted spinners, spoons, sinkers, swivels and hooks and an ingeniously made metal stringer with sliding clips. An hour online revealed that no item in the box is worth more than its sentimental value to me.

The box also contains a mystery. What created the time warp that resulted in my getting the box full of memories? Did the angler die of a heart attack after storing the box in the attic? Did his wife hide it there to keep him close to home? I will never know, but I intend to have fun inventing more possible scenarios.

Maybe you would like to suggest one.

Jim Low

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On August 17th, 2011 at 8:30am lowj said:

Indeed, I did. Thanks for catching my slip! - Jim Low

On August 16th, 2011 at 5:26pm Anonymous said:

I would assume u meant several decades in her ATTIC???
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