The author’s father shows off a string of bass caught in 1954. He used lures from the famous magic tackle box! Photo by LaDonne Kieser
By Kenneth L. Kieser
April 20, 2011
Dad’s 1948 Chevrolet pickup bounced across his pasture made rough by generations of feeding cows. Our destination was an old farm pond built with the use of a team of mules during World War II.
I pinned my short legs against the long dash board while grasping the faded black leather seat. Dad laughed when we hit a particularly big bump. I took a delightful bounce and dropped down to see him looking at the big grin on my face. He was grinning, too.
We finally arrived at the pond where my five-year-old body slipped out of the truck on grass still wet from the morning dew. Dad picked up his old Johnson rod and reel and my cane pole, long and limber with a sharp hook, adorned by a plastic red and white bobber. He carried a box of treasures, at least to a five-year old boy, a genuine Sears and Roebuck tackle box filled with the most remarkable items. I walked behind him through damp weeds to the most cherished of destinations, our favorite fishing spot.
Dad sat the box down on the pond bank and started preparing our fishing rods. I took the liberty of flipping down two shiny metal catches that secured the lid and opened the box to feast my eyes on rows of compartments made to hold lures. I could smell the licorice dad used to entice bass, a trick he learned from another Marine on their long ship ride home from Korea.
Dad really wanted to fish, but knew better while I was focusing on the box of lures. I felt him slide down beside me on the pond bank to once again explain each item in his tackle box.
I was getting bold while touching and studying his colorful lures, especially the orange one with black spots when he said in a gruff voice, “Don’t you get a hook in your finger, your mother will never let me hear the end of it.” I flashed him another grin and continued looking, but not touching. My eyes took in an array of colors from Heddon, Lazy Ike and Arbogast. A small, round tin box held dozens of different sized hooks. I suddenly noticed a small, plastic box in the bottom section of his tackle box.
“What’s this daddy?” I inquired. “Those are my special lures that I don’t use,” he said while reaching for the box. He opened the black lid and I stared at a bunch of unusual lures, different from the rest.
He picked out two lures from the box. The first was a gray mouse with two black, beady eyes, a shiny silver plate under his chin and two silver treble hooks. The second was an Arbogast Hula Popper, a remarkable frog imitation. “A buddy and I purchased these lures while on leave from the Marines,” he said. “We planned to go fishing after the war. We returned to Korea and he didn’t make it home.”
The next lure he picked up was strange looking. “Grandpa Roberts gave me this one after I returned, an old whitefish covered by layers of lacquer before plastic was invented. This is the only fishing lure grandpa ever owned. Your great grandpa fished with cane poles like you use. I doubt if he ever used the lure, but I know an old man gave it to him many years ago for some work he did. No one had money in those days and he probably accepted the lure to catch fish for feeding his family. I have no way of knowing details about this lure. It’s just an old, dead fish that is well preserved.”
I reached for the last item in the box that reminded me of a Christmas candy cane, an old fashion bobber with a stick in the middle and small red, green and white stripes around the bobber’s base.
“That belonged to my mother, your grandmother,” he said in a sad voice. “She only fished with worms and a hook, topped off by that bobber she bought in town with egg money. I will never use it, but somehow I can’t take it out of my tackle box. It just belongs there. She died when you were one year old, but she would have loved to take you fishing.”
Dad closed the box and helped me start fishing before walking away. I soon sat and studied my bobber that occasionally tipped in the waves. He stood silently down the shoreline, no doubt thinking about the plastic box’s contents while making cast after cast. We never talked about the plastic box and its contents again.
I forgot about the old tackle box as years passed by. I graduated to cars, girls and spinning rods with plastic tackle boxes filled with many lures, most I never used and none with deep meaning like those in dad’s tackle box. Dad passed on several years ago and suddenly the man who had always been there was only around in my best memories.
Son, I placed this letter in the box after learning that cancer would soon end my life. I knew you would eventually find this old tackle box and open it for another look. This old box and its contents are yours now. Just don’t get a hook in your finger, your mother would never let me hear the end of it. Take this old box fishing one more time and know that if possible, I will be with you. Dad.
I was leaving for a Canadian outpost the following week. This treasured of all lakes was famous for big northern pike and walleye. I received several strange looks from other fishermen when I brought out the old Sears and Roebuck metal tackle box.
I tied on the old green frog Arbogast Hula Popper the following morning. I decided to catch one fish on the lure for dad and that Marine who didn’t make it back, then never use it again. My guide gave me a long, serious look and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this man, but we don’t have bullfrogs this far north.” I assured him that I would only make a couple of casts.
Soon the old lure sailed through space and landed just short of a big mossy strip that included a few standing reeds. The Hula popper made a satisfying popping noise and then a second. I saw a reed move and then the lure disappeared in a whirlpool of power.
I set the hook and fought hard to catch the fish and save dad’s lure. I really did not expect anything would hit it. Craftsmanship of the 1950s lure held and soon we landed and released the 15-pound northern pike. I looked at the lure and found tooth marks had scratched through paint that had lasted over 50 years. Most of the paint was faded but still in great shape. The once skeptical guide offered to buy the lure from me, but I thanked him and gently laid the lure back in the plastic box where it still remains today.
Today the Sears and Roebuck metal tackle box sits under my computer table. Sometimes I open it to look at the treasures that will eventually belong to my daughter. I plan to take out the plastic box and show her each special lure and explain the dedication of a Marine who wanted to fish again but died for our freedom, the struggles her great-great-grandfather faced in feeding his family by doing a days work for very little when food was precious and of the absolute affection of her great-grandmother who would have loved to take her fishing.
Dad’s letter is tucked neatly behind this plastic box full of special lures where I can find it to remember the days when dad took the time to take me fishing, golden days I will never forget.