Gerald Almy

Gerald Almy

Tossing the silver-bladed lure into a swirling eddy near the shoreline of the Shenandoah River, I closed the bail on the ultralight spinning reel. After two turns on the handle, I was rewarded with the sharp stabbing take of a hefty smallmouth bass.

The bass jumped wildly across the surface of the emerald river, but soon I was able to work the olive and brass-colored fish in close and twist the hooks free. With a flick of his caudal fin, the 14-inch smallmouth disappeared into the deep water near the middle of the river.

We have an amazing variety of artificial lures to turn to these days, thanks to computer designing, high-tech materials, and multi-coat, snazzy finishes. But sometimes lures that have been around for many years are just as productive as the new kids on the block. And if you like to collect things, some of these older lures are good investments, especially the rarer ones.

Personally I just like to fish with my lures, whether they’re old or new. But I particularly like the special thrill of catching bass on offerings that have been around for a long time. One such lure is the Mepps Spinner. This lure was first brought to the attention of fishermen in the United States by an angler and businessman who ran a sports shop in Antigo, Wisconsin. His name was Todd Sheldon.

Todd was managing his outdoor sports shop after World War II when a GI walked in and showed him a handful of Mepps spinners that he had picked up while on duty in Europe. The serviceman generously gave a bag of spinners to the tackle shop owner, who thanked him profusely.

Sheldon thought the lures looked interesting, but didn’t have the chance to try them for a while. Then one day when he was having poor luck with his usual offerings fishing the Wolf River, he remembered the spinners and tied one on. Tossing the lure towards a blowdown near shore, he reeled back steadily and was rewarded with the walloping strike of a large trout.

Casting again, he was soon hooked up to another trout, then another. Before long, he had his limit. And they were particularly large fish.

Sheldon was intrigued, to say the least. He traced the spinners back to their place of origin, France, where they had been used for a number of years. Andre Meulnart had invented them in 1938, and they were performing spectacularly for Europeans.

Todd ordered dozens of the lures from the company in France and began selling them in his tackle shop. Word began to get out soon about the wonderful fish-catching powers of the shiny new spinning lures.

Sheldon obtained North American distribution rights for Mepps lures in 1960. Twelve years later, he purchased the French company and began manufacturing them in his Wisconsin hometown. The company now offers a wide variety of spinners and several other lures. But the most famous and one of the best is still the Aglia Spinner. When Sports Afield magazine used to give out awards for trophy sized fish, the Aglia Mepps always garnered more than any other lure—even the plastic worm.

You can catch any gamefish that swims with a Mepps spinner. I’ve fooled bluegills smaller than the palm of your hand and pike up to three feet long with these lures. It’s important, however, to match the size of the lure to the species you’re going after.

For stream trout and panfish, use a size 0 or 1 spinner. For walleyes the best bet is size 2. Bass, steelhead, pickerel, and salmon will strike size 3 or 4 models. Leg-long pike and muskies gobble up size 5 spinners.

The great thing about traditional spinners like the Mepps, Shyster, Rooster Tail, and others is that they are easy for beginners to fish. The top tactic involves simple casting to likely areas and reeling back smoothly. Try different depths by letting the lure sink various times after it lands on the water following the cast. Try slow and deep presentations if the water is cold, faster if it’s warm.

Silver is the most popular color, which imitates most minnows and shad forage fish well. Gold, chartreuse and orange are also good. Black or copper can also be productive.

So yes, definitely use the latest high-tech lures on the market. But don’t overlook the humble spinner. It can catch fish right along with the most modern baits you can buy, and is especially productive on the Shenandoah River and local ponds and lakes.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.