Antique lures at Riverfest will feature one manufactured in Niles in 1897

Published 5:40 pm Friday, July 27, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Doug Bucha and Ric Ladonski, both of Niles, will have award winning historical displays of old fishing tackle set up for the public's enjoyment at this year's Niles Riverfest, which takes place Aug. 2-5.
You can view these unique displays on Saturday, Aug. 4, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This year is the 17th that the pair have been displaying lures at a variety of venues. The antique lures date back as far as 100 years.
"My love for collecting these started in the 1970s when my favorite fishing lure for muskee fishing was no longer being made. The only people who had them were collectors, so I started collecting them as well," Bucha said.
Ladonski became interested in fishing while he was student-teaching for Bucha The two would often talking about fishing and eventually became fishing buddies.
Of the many pieces that will be on display, one unique lure will include the Harris Cork Frog, which was first manufactured in Niles in 1897.
Some historians believe that this lure may have been one if the very first wooden lures made in the United States.
Bucha actually wrote a very interesting story that dates back to a man named Charles Harris, who many believed is the inventor of the fishing lure.
In his story, Bucha tells about Harris, who was a conductor for the Michigan Central Railroad. He loved fishing and was known to strike up many conversations with fisherman aboard the train. During these times, there were no automobiles and the big city fishermen had to use the railroads to get to their favorite fishing holes.
At some point during the conversation, Harris would pull a pasteboard box from his pocket which had a picture of a frog printed on the cover. On the box was also the date, 1897 Niles, Michigan. Inside the box was a beautifully hand-made example of one of his frogs. Often times, Harris would simply give the lure away as a method of getting the work out about the catching powers of his lure.
Harris is also credited with invented the Harris Feather Bone Minnow, a lure manufactured while he was stationed our of Chicago, Ill. in the early 1890s.
Harris would often vacation at Barron Lake, as it was known as a hot bed for black bass fishing at the time. Harris spent time with the Peak family, a famous Vaudeville team that traveled throughout the United States before the turn of the century. They had a summer residence on the lake and Louis Peak and Harris would often spend days fishing together.
Harris was also quite the musician and, according to Bucha, would often perform with the Peak family next to the Chaplin Mansion.
"It's really amazing how much history lies behind something as small as fishing tackle. We (Bucha and Ladonski) enjoy being able to show these pieces to the public and hope people come down to see us," Bucha added.
Bucha encourages anyone with old fishing tackle to bring it down for a free, (no obligation) antique fishing tackle appraisals. Bucha and Ladonski are also hoping to purchase old, unwanted tackle to add to their collections.
Both Buchan and Ladonski are members of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, Michigan Lure Collectors Club and Old Reel Collectors Association.
Each exhibitor will display antique fishing tackle from their own area of expertise. Many items on display will be from famous major lure manufactures such as Heddon Tackle Co., (Dowagiac), South Bend Bait and Tackle Company (South Bend, Ind.), Paw Paw Tackle Co., (Paw Paw) and Shakespeare Tackle Co., (Kalamazoo). In addition, there will be lures on display from other companies from the Niles, Buchanan and Berrien Spring area.