What’s your old tackle worth?

The hobby of fishing collectibles has become a thriving business, one that has attracted its share of unscrupulous people. Sellers should seek out a legitimate appraiser before selling their potentially rare equipment. Rarity and quality are the two primary indicators of the equipment’s value.
You may have a gold mine hidden away in your closet – if you can stand to part with it.

I get more letters inquiring about the value of fishing gear than about any other subject:

“Dear Mr. Acerrano: I found an old bamboo flyrod in the at the other day and wonder if you ca tell me what it’s worth.”

“Dear Mr. Acenako: My grandfather died and left me a whole bunch of fishing tackle. Here’s a list of the stuff. Please tell me how much each item is worth and who I can sell it to.”

“Dear Fish Editor. I really enjoy your magazine. I bought a Rolley `Muskie’ reel at a yard sale the other day for $50. Did I get taken? what’s it real& worth?”

For a while I tried to answer each letter personally, though seldom could I provide precise answers. Few seem to realize how specialized the collectible-tackle field has become, and how much time and energy is required to gain a working knowledge of ever-fluctuating prices and values. It’s enough of a challenge to keep up with the flood and diversity of current tackle, much less stay in touch with the specialized and often fang-and-claw world of collecting. frankly, I don’t even try. I’d rather go fishing.


Nonetheless, my mail proves there is a large interest in, and a dearth of knowledge about, this subject of buying and selling old tackle.

Seller Beware

My research on the subject led me to an amiable and knowledgeable man named Brian McGrath. For seven years McGrath has been editor and publisher of Fishing Collectibles Magazine, a small, slick-paper quarterly devoted to news, history an valuations of interest to amateur an professional tackle collectors.

According to McGrath, the first thing to keep in mind before buying or selling old tackle is: Beware Tackle collecting can involve big bucks and quick profits, which guarantees the presence of crooks, hustlers tiers and other cheats. “Horror stories abound in this field,” said McGrath, and cited a brief, recent example of a financially stricken widow who, hoping to sell her late husband’s Dickerson bamboo flyrods for whatever profit they might bring, contacted a “tackle appraiser and dealer” listed in the want ads of her local newspaper. The dealer paid her $200 for the rods, knowing they were worth $4000.

“Just one story of many,” said McGrath. “I could tell you horror stories all day.”

Luckily, fair-minded McGrath offers a free appraisal service to anyone interested in buying or selling antique gear [see box]. For sellers, he also offers advice on the best avenue to take with particular items. “You can go the auction route,” McGrath said, “or the dealer route. Or in some cases I can put sellers in direct touch with a buyer who I know is looking for that exact item.”

According to McGrath, a direct line to a buyer usually yields the highest price. Selling collectibles at auction can also produce high prices-though McGrath warned that this route can be risky. Some items might be sold at low bids, simply to unload them. Or a blanket amount for an entire collection sold at auction might be far lower than what would be realized by simply selling the items individually. The third option is to work with a reputable dealer of antique tackle, though the dealer’s middleman profits have to be factored in, and generally result in a lower net profit for the seller.

Quality And Rarity

How do you know if you have a salable, perhaps highly profitable, bit of old tackle, something worth getting appraised?

“The indicators of value,” McGrath said, “are, one, quality; two, rarity.” Your father’s 40-year-old steel filigreed baitcasting reel may look like an antique, but be worth only $20 or $30 in the current collector’s market simply because there are so many of those particular reels around. If that same reel was never used, however – if it’s still in its original box, for instance-quality and rarity shoot up, as may the price.

McGrath gave as an example the Gold-Series Ambassador baitcasting reels from the 1960s and early 1970s. Two years ago these reels, if in mint condition, were selling for $ 1000 apiece to the Japanese market – despite the fact that baitcasting reels in general are not high-price items.

Rarity can also be determined by an item’s history or ownership. McGrath recently purchased a Granger bamboo flyrod that had belonged to Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It. This Granger rod would normally sell for $300. Maclean’s rod is worth $3000.

The Hot


Bamboo flyrods are among the hottest collectibles today – but only the good ones. Many of the factory-made or “production” rods – such as Montague, South Bend, and Horrocks-Ibbottson – are worth on $75 or less. A Garrison model in fine condition, on the other hand, can sell for $10,000, and all of the handmade rods from the “classic” bamboo period of 1930 to 1970 – including Leonard, Payne, Dickerson, Young – are eagerly sought.

“The antique fishing tackle market is getting bigger all the time,” said McGrath. “And broader.” It’s not just about rods and reels: Wooden fish decoys, once used for ice fishing, are bringing in big dollars. And much prized right now are turn-of-the-century fishing lures, especially those that originally cam in, and still include, wooden boxes. These Hedon and Winchester lures, if in mint condition, are currently commanding $700 to $1000 apiece.

From which we can deduce a final lesson: Hang on to your current fishing gear. Far enough down the road, it may become “collectible.” Someday it could even be worth a fortune.

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