GARRETT, Ind. (WANE) — Every spring, eager anglers look to dust off their tackle boxes and get on the water as many species of fish in Indiana begin their spawning periods.
While there are dozens of lures to choose from based on the time of year, time of day, water clarity and so on, arguably the most iconic lure of them all is a standard crankbait.
With two treble hooks, beady eyes and a wide selection of lipped and lipless variants, the crankbait has become one of the staples of fishing.
Although the crankbait is now a common artificial lure sold at many sporting goods store such as Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops, its roots can be traced back to Garrett, Indiana, with the beginning of Creek Chub Bait Company.
According to the Indiana Historical Bureau (IHB), three men founded Creek Chub Bait Company in 1916: Henry Dills, Carl Heinzerling and George Schulthess, and the company grew to be one of the country’s leading manufacturers of artificial fishing lures.
However, the lure that started it all for the company was the Creek Chub Wiggler, which is widely regarded as the pioneer of crankbaits.
Ronald Matthews, historian at the Garrett Historical Society, said the company’s name and lures were inspired by chub minnows, which were common baitfish found in local waters that anglers used to catch largemouth bass.
“[Dills] figured out what was catching the most fish was called a chub minnow, and he tried then making the chub minnow [lure],” Matthews said.
Dills filed a patent for the lure in December 1915, nearly five years before it would eventually be approved by the U.S. Patent Office on Sept. 7, 1920.
Matthews said the Creek Chub Wiggler became the first patented lure that had a metal lip and could dive underwater.
Another unique feature of the lure at the time included realistic scale patterns painted onto the body of the lure, Matthews said.
Some of its unique features compared to a modern crankbait include the lure’s bent metal lip and multiple places to tie a knot, which allowed the lure to move differently in the water and at different depths depending on where the knot is tied.
Although the Creek Chub Wiggler became the company’s first lure, Creek Chub Bait Company designed several other lures, eventually growing into one of the leading manufacturers of artificial lures that sold products all across the U.S. and even “numerous foreign countries,” according to the IHB.
However, Matthews said the very lures that led to Creek Chub Bait Company’s success partially led to its downfall as well.
Matthews said the company used cedar wood for all its lures, but by the 1970s, using wood had become less popular and competitors were resorting to cheaper alternatives made from plastic.
Because of that, LeRoy Schulthess, a company shareholder and relative of one of the company’s founding members, suggested the company should be sold before testing out plastic lures.
However, Matthews said the business that bought Creek Chub Bait Company, Lazy Ike Corporation, went bankrupt, and other financial issues with parent companies of Creek Chub Bait Company eventually forced the Garrett icon to close its doors in the late 1970s.
Although Creek Chub Bait Company has been out of business for over 40 years, Matthews said the company has had “two lives” and that it is currently living its second life through the world of collectibles.
“As they started to go out of business, these things got so popular that they’ve become collectibles,” Matthews said. “It’s still important to a lot of us.”
Matthews said he has seen Creek Chub Bait Company lures such as the Wiggler go for thousands of dollars in auctions.
“I’ve seen some of these things at an auction pop $5,000 and $10,000 for one fishing lure that some guy paid 49 cents for,” Matthews said.
Another way Matthews said the company has been living out its “second life” is through its place in the record books of fishing.
One of the company’s other lures is widely credited with being used to catch the largest largemouth bass on record.
“I think that does come into play,” Matthews said. “I’m sure that has some kind of an impact on people wanting to get their record.”
Although PRADCO Fishing still sells a few lures bearing the name “Creek Chub,” the lures will forever be known as a product of northeast Indiana and a pioneer of one of the most popular lures in fishing.
Matthews anticipates the lure and its company’s legacy will continue to shine in July when the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club hosts its 2023 national show in Fort Wayne.
Of all the lures that will undoubtedly be present, Matthews expects the lures from Creek Chub Bait Company to be “one of the greatest antique fishing lures there.”