Louis Johnson, a retired Chicago foundry operator, was frustrated by the abundance of weeds that kept fouling the hooks on his lures in his favorite fishing lake. Eager to overcome the problem, he began tinkering with some household items, including a dinner spoon.
After cutting the handle off, he soldered a hook to it, and a weed guard to catch the vegetation that was frustrating his fishing efforts. The silver plating on the spoon was brighter than the chrome or the polished steel lures available at the time. And the stiff weed guard was firm enough to ward off the abundant weeds, yet flexible so it bent down when a fish struck the lure.
The year was 1920. And it marks the birth of one of the best lures ever invented for fishing in vegetation -- the Johnson Silver Minnow. While Louis' first effort caught fish, he knew it needed more work and fine-tuning.
After many experiments, Johnson eventually forged a spoon out of a copper-zinc alloy that was thicker in the middle than on the edges. This concentrated the weight in the center and made the spoon ride with the hook up, reducing snags further. It also made the lure rock back and forth on the retrieve, instead of spinning and causing line twist.
Today in 2014, nearly a century later, the Johnson Silver Minnow still stands as one of the greatest lures for fishing in weeds ever invented. A wide variety of sizes are available that will catch anything from bluegills to muskies, flounder to tarpon. Colors range from black to fluorescent orange and chartreuse, but silver is still the top seller.
Anyone who plans a day of fishing where there are weeds without a few Johnson Silver Minnows in their box is handicapping themselves severely. Sure there are new, more modern lures that will also work well. But this tried and proven old standby still deserves a few trays in your weedy-water tackle box.
Tactics: Cast right into thick weeds, or work pockets on the outer edge of weed beds. Also try casting parallel to the edge where vegetation joins open water. Many strikes will come as the lure flutters down seductively after the cast. Slithering the lure over the top of weeds also produces. This lure also shines in stump fields and areas with standing timber. Wobble it past the cover and hang on tight.
For skittish fish, use the lure by itself. Often, however, a pork dressing or plastic trailer adds to the number of strikes. Don't just think of these lures as bass baits, though. They'll catch trout in high mountain lakes, jumbo crappies, pike, pickerel, muskies and plenty of feisty saltwater gamefish. Many northern anglers even swear by them for ice fishing, especially when tipped with live bait or a pork trailer.
Jitterbug -- Born in Akron, Ohio in 1893, Fred Arbogast won several world titles as a competitive caster. But it was in lure making that he left his biggest mark. He created the famous Hula Popper and also the Hawaiian Wiggler. His most enduring invention of all, however, is the Jitterbug. This is a wobbling surface plug with a wide metal lip named after the dance craze of the time.
Introduced in 1938, the Jitterbug creates a hypnotic, gurgling sound on the retrieve that drives largemouths wild as a topwater offering. Smashing strikes are typical and the lure remains a staple item today in the tackle boxes of serious fishermen. It works especially well at dusk and dawn, on calm waters and at night.
Tactics: You can jerk or twitch the lure, but it seems to work best with a slow, steady retrieve. Use yellow or frog versions during the day, black at night, so the lure shows up against the light sky background. Right before dark this lure can fool some outsized smallmouths on the Shenandoah.
Photography: If you're interested in improving your outdoor and scenic photography, check out Bill and Linda Lane's hands-on field workshops. They last three to six days and are held at locations such as Bermuda, West Virginia, North Carolina and Chincoteague. Go to lanephotoworkshops.com for more details.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.