By Dave Ferrell
There’s no one triggering event that turns a big-game fisherman into a lure collector. That is, everyone gets into it in their own way. Certainly, just participating in the sport of big game marlin fishing makes you somewhat of a lure collector right from the get-go. Although the lures you seek may be more for catching than collecting, before long you’ll find all of your onboard storage filled to the brim with skirted lures and un-skirted heads that you’ve acquired from here and there.
You’ll develop favorites and soon have a stash that’s so important to you in one way or another that you’d never put them back in the spread…or only just during tournament time. Lures conjure memories of good times and can seemingly bring friends and experiences back to life. They connect us with each other, and with the most amazing fish in the sea; they are magical to most, and mythical to others.
The man behind the Miss Behavin operation, David Finkelstein of Houston, Texas has traveled the world in pursuit of billfish. Now, semi-retired from the marina business and with a new 71-foot Garlington bobbing at the dock in Costa Rica, he’s living the dream and still pulling lures in his spread.
“I’ve always loved lures,” Finkelstein says…and he’s not just saying that. His proof is what he calls his Yee wall. “I was sitting in my office one day and my daughter accidently knocked my sailfish off the wall,” he says. “So, I was sitting there with all these boxes of lures around, so I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to make myself a lure wall.’ So I called a builder and he sent over one of his trim carpenters. I told him, you remember when you went to the beach and you collected a bunch of shells and put them in a Pier One shadow box? That’s what I want to do with this wall. The picture box I had made was six feet wide and 13-feet long. So, I started filling it and then just kept on going. Started with a bunch of different lure guys and then decided I was going to fill it with Joe Yees. I love all lures but I really like collecting Yees. I’ve probably got 500. Most on the wall are Yees, and then I’ve got other stuff stacked up here and there.”
What’s crazy is that Finkelstein will probably end up adding to his already copious collection since Joe Yee is still hand turning lures at the ripe old age of 93. Finkelstein became friends with Yee after a fortuitous meeting while on vacation.
“I was over in Hawaii with my wife and we got tired of Kona after a while and decided to go over to Honolulu,” he says. “A mutual friend introduced me to Joe and we ended up going out to dinner. After dinner he invited me back to the house. I tell you, I was like a fat kid at the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory! Walking through his basement I saw things you’ve only heard about! It was unbelievable! He’s been making lures for 60 years…and it’s all right there! So I go back the next day and I’m just checking it all out and he says, ‘start pulling whatever you want.’ That’s when I uh…I mean I always collected, but it was a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I got a lot of Yees.”
Already a big fan of Joe Yee’s work, a subsequent trip to fish the HIBT with Yee solidified Finkelstein’s passion. “He kept asking me to come and fish the HIBT, so I said if I come, you have to give me a sack of lures and that’s what we are going to troll in the tournament. He agreed and we won it that first time…Top Boat, Most Releases, names on the Governor’s Cup…just awesome!”
As much as Finkelstein likes his Joe Yee’s, Capt. Jason “Tiny” Walcott likes old Bart Miller lures…pre mid-90s to be exact. “Everybody has their own favorites, but I’m an old Bart Miller, hand-turned guy,” Walcott says. “I love the old original lures with the lawn chair hair skirts. Bart as my mentor and I got to spend a good deal of time with him before he passed away. Sadly, he didn’t keep a lot of his older stuff. I got some of his koa wood lures he made for the Gulf of Mexico back in the 1970s and some of his what I call, ‘drippy head’ resin lures. They are a mixture of two or three colors stirred together as the resin was poured into the mold to create a marbled effect. I also got one of his old catalogs from the 1980s and I’m trying to collect one of every lure in the catalog…and I’m about 90 percent there!”
“One of the Holy Grails of Bart lures came up on the Vintage Trolling Lures, Identification, Discussion and History Facebook page recently,” Walcott says. “It’s black and yellow two tone. I actually had one just like and sold it in a batch because I didn’t realize it was one of Bart’s lures. It was long before I knew what it was. I’ve been chasing that lure now for about 25 years. Andy Moyes wants the same one.” With the mention of Moyes’ name, who is a tremendous lure maker and collector in his own right, Walcott says that when it comes to fishing, he likes to pull Andy’s lures. “I primarily only fish with Andy Moyes lures. I can’t seem to find lures that run as good as his lures. They are all balanced, they are all weighted right; he makes any color I want and he has so many molds he can make just about anything. His lures run better than the originals that he’s made molds off of…and they are consistent,” Walcott says.
Just like everything it seems, the price of vintage, hand-turned lures have increased dramatically. “Prices have gone through the roof,” says Walcott. “I’m more of a ‘barn find’ guy. I’d rather find a Joe Yee in a Kona garage sale. Because of the price increases, I’ve sold almost all of my Joe Yees. I’m not a big Joe Yee collector so I just recently doubled my money on a batch. And I think the prices are just going to go higher. I’ve seen $500 Super Plungers. Joe Yees are crazy…a rare, medium-sized Apollo can go as high as $400.”
“A lure is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it,” Finkelstein says. “The hand-poured and turned lures are far more desirable, and most of those are Hawaiian makers. It’s interesting, no two hand-turned lures are going to run the exact same. A lot depends on who is polishing the lure, and the way you put the skirts on, either with thread or glue, etc. If you take the head of a hand-turned lure in your hand and spin it in your shirt, you’ll feel a flat spot on the lure as you turn it. The lure will run differently depending on how large or flat that spot is…and that is determined by who is polishing the lure. Polishing is more important than pouring.”
“The first guys who really started to produce lures were Henry Chee and George Parker, Marlin Parker’s father,” Finkelstein says. “The story I heard was that Henry Chee, a charter boat captain in Kona, was getting something repaired on his boat when some guy left a glass half full of resin sitting overnight and it cured with a screwdriver stuck in it. Chee saw it and thought he might be able to use that shape for marlin fishing. So Chee started using a shot glass to make his lures. Jim Rizzuto, wrote a couple of books [Lure Making 101/102 and Lure Making 201/202] that have a lot of the early lure history and it’s pretty cool going through these books and seeing the matriculation, from using shower curtain rods from the Kona Hotel to make tubes, to making skirts out of lawn chair webbing, upholstery vinyl or rubber from inner tubes.”
“Henry Chee actually died at a young age and his son, Butch, continued making lures under the Chee name. So, you might have a Chee lure that’s not a Henry Chee…it could be made by his son,” Finkelstein says.
Sylvie Madison of Kona, Hawaii enjoys a unique perspective on the historical significance of lures and lure makers and it really came by total chance. Madison moved to Kona in 2018 and wanted to start an online business like the one she had in Thailand.
“I was selling some stuff on Ebay and I found some lures at a garage sale that people just went crazy over,” she says. “Then I met Bomboy Llanes at a garage sale and he told me that he’d give me new lures to sell, which was great because I always thought I’d run out of used lures if I set up a website. So, I just started learning as much as I could. I had several guys like Michael Marks and Jeremy van Bronckhorst who helped me identify lures. Once I set up Big Game Lures Hawaii people would send me requests and I just started learning how to identify all the differences and nuances between the lures. Rizzuto’s books are great for identification and now I’m pretty good at it…because when everybody else is out fishing, I’m reading about them.”
In addition to her online lure store, Madison started the popular Facebook page, Vintage Trolling Lures, Identification, Discussion and History, in November of 2020, and which now boasts over 1,700 members.
“The Facebook group started with just the same five or six guys I’d use to help identify lures for the store…I just invited them to the page and it took off from there. They invited their friends and now we have lure makers joining, with guys like Sadu Frehm, Marlin Parker, and Steve Coggin commenting and identifying lures. It just kind of blew up! All these bits and pieces about the history of all these lures kept coming out. And all these guys from all over the world would come out with this history and help identify the lures. It makes the price of people’s collection go up, because you have documentation…things like catalog pages from all over. The membership is all organic, they are all collectors or big game fishermen. It allows buyers to get direct access to the makers. A guy like Steve Coggin can verify that he made that lure.”
Madison throws in a warning about finding too much about the history of certain lures, “Like Michael Marks, one of our group members says, ‘Once you learn just a little bit about the history it can really be a slippery slope on your way to collecting them.’ And he’s right. You truly start to appreciate the early lure makers and what they had to do to figure out how to make them work. Every lure that is made today has a bit of history in it, because it all started with those early lure makers.”
While everyone likes different things, there’s no doubt that certain lures are more desirable than others in the collection world. In an effort to narrow down the field a bit I put up a post on Madison’s Facebook page asking for everyone’s top 10 most collectible lures and the response was overwhelming. Unfortunately, with over 75 responses and counting there was no way I could sort through more than 750 lures for Master Top 10! Which is probably a good thing because no such thing should really exist.
Lure collecting is a personal journey and just like there’s an ass for every seat in the car business, you can certainly find someone who’s willing to buy almost any lure. “Just don’t sell anything without checking it on the Facebook page first!” Madison says. “If you have an old box of lures or something, post up a bunch of pictures on the page and see what you have first.”
You can check out what the expert’s quoted in the article felt were their most collectible or desirable lures in the Top 10 sidebar.
“One thing I have figured out,” Finkelstein says, “is you can’t collect them all. And I can guarantee you that I’m not going to go broke buying lures. It’s just fun.”
Top 10 Collectibles
Several Top 10 lists of the most desirable collectible lures from our experts and Richard Creed, another notable big game lure collector.
Capt. Jason “Tiny” Walcott
Rare lures for collecting:
- Henry Chee
- Butch Chee
- Bart Marble heads
- Vintage Sadus
- Joe Paulicat (LSD Lunger)
- Yozuri bullets
- Joe Yee
- Randy Llanes
- Any lure with Natural fish heads
- Scott Crampton
David Finkelstein – A Yee Man
- Joe Yee super plunger
- Joe Yee Apollo
- Joe Yee 501
- Aloha smash bait
- Joe Yee med plunger
- Koya poi dog
- Koya plunger
- Moyes J boy
- Moyes Argus
- Crampton 1/4 toner
Capt. Richard Creed
- Older J Yee Medium and Super Plungers
- Polu Kai Shaka Plunger
- Koya Salt n pepper Poi Dog and 861
- Crampton Red and Black Tubes
- Purple and Black Crampton anything
- Makaira Dr O Specials, any head
- Big Island Lures Maximus
- Bart Bazilliano
- Moyes 1305
- Koya and Yee Collaborated Fish heads, any of them!
- Original Joe Yee
- Randy Llanes
- Rick Rose of Hawaii
- Old Yozuri glitter head
- Scott Crampton Tubes
- Henry or Butch Chee
- Old Black Bart Millers, with the etching not the label
- Old Marlin Magic Ahi P
- Chester Kaita
With over 60 years in the big game fishing business, Tommy Green has seen some things! He was one of the first guys to fish in Venezuela and gaffed the first blue marlin ever caught in San Salvador. He opened a store in Deerfield Beach, which eventually moved to Lighthouse Point in 1976. This became Custom Rod and Reel. He’s also known to have one of the largest collections of big game lures and antique heavy tackle on the planet. “Tommy Green has filing cabinets full of lures,” Walcott says. “My jaw would just drop every time I went in there. It was always an expensive day for me. I still have them all. I got maybe 20 marble head Barts that were never skirted, 20 for $500!”
While Green does have a lot of lures, his great passion seems to be vintage reels. “I still have over $200,000 worth of fishing lures, but I put my money in fishing reels. I have over a million dollars’ worth of reels. There are two or three reels that you really want. The Fin Nor wedding cake fly reel is one of them. They made them in a one, two, three and four size. Four was the same exact size as the three with a wider spool. The list price for that number four was $169.95 when it was new; I sold one to a Japanese collector for $25,000,” Green says.
“Fin Nor Trolling reels up to 15/0 are the most desirable…they were the reels that Hemingway and those guys used to catch big blue marlin and bluefin tuna. At one time I had about 15 or 20 of those and some of the first ones, made in 1934 with the double handles, were worth $10,000 to $15,000 depending on condition.”