The Ted Smallwood Plug

9 Mar


I took another trip to the Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee Florida to try to digest all the history, and I am still overwhelmed! The most important discovery on the second trip was the Ted Smallwood Plug that was designed by Ted Smallwood Jr. Ted Jr. was an avid fisherman and guide in the Everglades, and ran the Small Boat Dock Marina and RV Resort in Everglades City. After guiding for snook, redfish, and tarpon, Ted Jr. knew he needed a special lure to tempt these gamefish. He went to the Porter Bait Co out of Daytona with his design for a “meatier” darter with a different mouth than the standard Creek Chub bait. Ted was quoted in Fisherman’s Digest on the finer techniques of Darter fishing: “ If you gurgle a darter, fish try to eat it. If you pop it, they just smack it for fun”. The design of Ted’s darter has a wider mouth than other models, and this helps give it the “gurgling” action.

smallwood lure 001

Ted had the lures painted in three fish catching colors, yellow spotted, silver flash, and a black back lure. These lures can be identified quite easy since the back is stenciled with his name on the back. There are not many of these left as they were sold only in the 1950’s at the store, and not mass produced. Also, they were saltwater lures, and didn’t last long with all the toothy creatures in the glades. No lure boxes are known, so it is unlikely they marketed with a lure box.

The framed picture shows the 3 different darter lures that Ted Jr had made by the Porter Bait Co. The Yellow Spotted is the easiest to find, the Silver Flash second easiest, and the Black back lure is almost impossible to find!

smallwood 001

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In order to understand the story of the Smallwood Plug, it is necessary to take a step back in time to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when Charles Ted Smallwood Sr. came to Chokoloskee Fl, and opened a post office and trading post. Ted and his wife Mamie traded with the Seminole Indians, and early settlers to the area. Charlie Tigertail was a famous Seminole chief and posed for a picture with Ted Smallwood here.

Ted Sr. died in 1951 and Ted Jr went started his quest at guiding and ownership of the Small Boat Dock Marina in Everglades City.

smallwood dock 001

There were several interesting characters that came from the Chokoloskee area, and one of them was Totch Brown. Totch lived on the land and was so popular in the area a song was written about him. Another character from the early 1900’s was Edgar Watson who was a known outlaw and farm owner. Edgar hired other outlaws to run the farm and hung out at the Smallwood store. Edgar was thought to have been killing his workers, and legend has it that the townspeople of Chokoloskee shot and killed him in the Smallwood store!

The store is now owned by the granddaughter of Ted Smallwood, and is kept just as it was in the 1950’s with all the original merchandise of the 50’s.

THE MET: The Metropolitan Miami Fishing Tournament

15 Jun

 The MET as it was called by the regulars was largest fishing tournament of its kind for many years in South Florida, and some of the greatest legends of the sport participated. We have to go all the way back to 1936 to document the first tournament that was put together by the H.H. Hyman and the Miami Rod and Reel Club .

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With Frank Obrien, legendary founder of Tycoon Tackle, as the MET’s first major sponsor, the tournament was on it’s way. The draw was huge, and in 1938 the tournament was drawing over 100,000 contestants!

1938 MET 001

To celebrate the events, the Miami Rod and Reel Club put out a yearbook at the end of each tournament, with all the recognition awards and pictures from the tournament. It was also a running history of the award winners by category, so everyone could see what weight they were shooting for in the next event. There were prizes for just about every fish imaginable and classes for each such as Fly, Spin, Plug Casting, and Big Game. Men were not the only ones to participate as woman had their own category for awards as well. Take a look at some the prizes, no wonder this was such a prestigious event!

fish camps florida 002met winners 1954

Here are some of the winners and the awards that were presented. These awards presentations were quite elaborate!

Metropolitan miami awards 1959 miami metro prizes fish camps 024

As mentioned above, there were many rich and famous that participated in the tournaments over the years. Curt Gowdy, Ted Williams, Al Pflueger Jr, Frank Obrien, and many more. Al Pflueger Jr was the son of the legendary taxidermist in Miami Al Pflueger. Al Sr had a big influence in the tournament, and was the weighmaster in some of the tournaments. He also sponsored the tournament for many years. His son, Al Jr had many awards and has been inducted in the IGFA Hall of Fame.

The Tournament lasted into the 1960’s and in my opinion, is a piece of Florida Fishing History, and will never be duplicated.

Al Pflueger picAl Pflueger Jr

Smallwood Store, Chokoloskee Fl

24 Mar

The Smallwood Store, was originally  trading post established in 1906 by Ted Smallwood for settlers to trade fur, and farm produce, in exchange for basic necessities to survive the harsh environment of the everglades.

Store was closed in 1982, and in 1990 Ted’s granddaughter, Lynn Smallwood McMillin, reopened the store as a museum with the goods that were left on the shelf in the store. A step back in time for sure! Many of the goods and décor date back to the early 1900’s.

This is another must stop in South Florida just like my previous blog about the Rod and Gun Club. There are so many historical “Old Florida” things here, it is almost impossible to absorb it all, including lots of vintage Florida Fishing History.

To take a stroll through the store is walk back in time, and I will try to share this trip with you some great photos my wife Sharon shot throughout the store.

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Old Pflueger store display

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More store décor, keep in mind this was not added, this is original store stuff!

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A nice catch!

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A wax sculpture of Ted Smallwood

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A few parting shots

As wonderful as the store is, it is presently going through some hard times right now. The store and the owner Lynn Smallwwod-McMillin, are involved in a legal battle with a developer over the access of the only road that leads to the store. The store/museum was actually shut down for 6 months back in 2011. The legal fight continues, and hopefully this wonderful piece of Florida history will be saved.

You can read about the history and the legal woes here in this NY Times article form July of 2014.

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Frozen in Time!

11 Mar

If you ever get to South Florida, and you enjoy the way it used to be, you need to schedule a trip to Everglades City to see the Rod & Gun Club.  Nestled at the end of the road, it is like you are traveling back in time as you drive south on highway 29 until you can’t drive anymore…..

Originally constructed in 1864 by the first settlers here, it was purchased by the wealthy Barron Collier, Florida land baron, in 1922. The lodge survived Hurricane Donna in 1960, and a fire in 1969. In 1974 it was rescued by the current owners, the Bowen family, who have kept it as it was, a thriving club for the wealthy hunters and fisherman from the 20’s through the 60’s.

Here are a few views of the outside, wait until you see inside!

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It has been visited by 5 presidents, and many other rich and famous guests like Ernest Hemmingway, John Wayne, Bert Reynolds, Sean Connery, Mick Jaggar and many others.

If you are looking for what the locals call “Old Florida”, nothing can compare to this! As a fishing tackle collector, this is our Disney World!

Take a peek inside!

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Now if you love antique tackle, you have to see this!

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Take a look at the panther and the marlin!

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The old newspaper articles capture the history.

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A few more parting shots. If you enjoy “Old Florida”, make sure you put this on your bucket list.

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1933 Leesburg National Bass Tournament

4 Aug

Down to the wire! The 1933 Leesburg National Bass Tournament

You can’t beat Shick!

That was most likely the thoughts of a lot of the contestants in the annual Leesburg Florida National Bass Tournament of 1933. J.B. Schick was the dominant player in the early years of the event, capturing the largest fish to date. However in 1933, things would change.

In that year, some the rules had changed from previous tournaments.  Now, Florida residents could participate in certain categories and win prizes as well.

first nat 1

The categories were:

  1.  Largest Bass on artificial lures (non-residents)
  2. Largest Bass on live bait (non-residents)
  3. Largest Bass trolling (open to all)
  4. Largest Bass casting artificial or live bait (residents)
  5. Largest Bass woman (resident)
  6. Pickerel (non-resident)
  7. Catfish (open to all)
  8. Perch (non-resident)
  9. Junior Bass (all up to 16 years)

RL Stevens from the fire department was the official weigh-master, and all fish had to be weighed on the fire department scales to keep it fair. The tournament had some major sponsors in 1933 as well. The sponsor list included: The Builders of Leesburg, First national Bank, the Magnolia Hotel, Lakeview Hotel, and Harris Hardware.

Harris Hardware Window Display

Harris Hardware Window Display

Magnolia Hotel Brochure that promoted tournament

Magnolia Hotel Brochure that promoted tournament

The tournament lasted 2 months, from January 15th through March 13th, and contestants could fish as much as they liked, but were contained to the lakes that resided in Leesburg; Harris, Griffin, and Silver Lake.  Charles Abele was a longtime Leesburg wintering resident, and did most of the promotion for the tournament. Mr. Abele got national attention, and pulled the best anglers from all over the Northeast and Midwest. J.B. Shick was one of the “big name” fisherman from LaPorte Indiana. Shick had caught the largest bass in the in the history of the tournament, a 12 pound 8 ounce gorilla in 1928. Schick competed every year and was well known amongst all the anglers competing.

The grand prize for the tournament was the envy of all the participants and local enthusiasts……the infamous “Silver Cup”.  Shick had his cup, and another noteworthy angler named T.H. Farmer from Martin Tennessee, was hungry for his. Farmer had fished all 5 of the events since the tournaments inception in 1928, and came within 6 ounces in 1932 when he was edged out by George Miller on the last day.

Farmer was determined this year, and fished 14 hours a day 6 days a week, only taking off on Sundays. He had a respectable 9 pounder, but nowhere near the 12 pound 2 ounce fish that was in the lead. In fact, the lead was shared by two gentleman,  both from Florida, P.B. Alsobrook and L.P. Fussell. The Leesburg Commercial from the day before the close of the tournament read:

“Tournament This Year a Walkover, It Seems, for Natives”

Most believed that headline, since no one had come within 2 pounds of the two Floridians that were in the lead. Farmer was more determined than ever on that final day. He was at his boathouse at 5 AM and was ready to give it one more try. But…… as fate would have it, his outboard would not start……. He called the local mechanic and finally got the motor started at 10:30 and was off to give it his best shot.

Farmer did the impossible that afternoon. He came to the Fire Department scales with a behemoth fish of 12 pounds 15 ounces, eclipsing Shick’s record, and taking the Silver Cup!

Farmer indeed proved that when stricken with adversity, and with pressure on the line, that all you can control is the lure on your line…… and having patience and determination will win out in the end!

The “Father” of Fishing Lures

3 Jun

Father Lawrence Zakrevski should be considered the “True Father” of antique fishing tackle. Born in 1884, in Asian Russia, he came to the US in 1903 as a Consulate Secretary. He made his way to Pensyvania from Sioux City Iowa, and became a Catholic Priest. In 1914 two parishoners asked him to go fishing, and after that he was hooked!

He started acquiring lures in the teens, and by 1939 he had over 10,000 lures and hooks! Can you image, the type of collection he must have had at that time with his newest plug being late 30’s! What a treat it would be to go back in time to 1939 and to view Father Z’s collection with today’s knowledge.


From an article in the July Fishing Special Edition of the 1939 Outdoor Life Magazine, we can gain a little insight into his collection in 1939. His collection was well know at the time, and 1300 people traveled hundreds of miles to see his lures in a spring open house. Lures were scattered about his house in Mt. Carmel Pa, and kept in moth proof containers and boxes. He kept a record book of all his lures, and cleaned and cataloged them. Sound familiar to today’s collectors? He was a man well ahead of his time.

His collection included mice, wood, lures, metal baits, and lures from almost every state and Canada. About half of his collection came to him by donations, and the rest he picked up on his own. He was offered $2500 for his collection in 1939, and turned it down.

Father Z was not only a huge collector of fishing lures, but also a great fisherman. From an article in December 1967 Pensyvania Angler, we find out that he has been fishing for 50 years and still at 84 he was fishing as much as he could on Lake Carey.

If you are a collector of fishing lures or tackle, I think it is important to pay homage to Father Z for having the passion to pursue a hobby that did not exist at the time, and give us the inspiration to collect and hold on to our fishing heritage! Way to go Father Z!


Shur Strike Darters II

25 May

I posted earlier on these under-rated lures, and thought I would add a little bit to my previous post to give you a better understanding on how and why these lures were not as prevalent as their Creek Chub mainline brothers. Let’s take a peek at the production records from the Creek Chub archives, to see how many were produced.


The Shur Strike Darter was produced from 1939-1944, and came back in the 50’s for Montgomery Wards, but just the Frog color from catalogs I have seen. I have production records from 1940-1944, so lets take a look at what was produced during that time span by color.

Color                             Amount

0 Pikie                          451

1 Peanut Butter            448

1YP Perch                    922

2 Red White                 263

5 Red Side                   33

6 Shiner Scale             79

8 Rainbow                   189

11 Black White            18          

14 Chain Perch           255

18 Silver Flash            1174

19 Frog                       14163

Yellow Spotted            40

Total                            18035

Not surprising, Frog was the dominate color, just like the main Creek Chub line. Keep in mind Frog was available in two shades, a dark green, and a light green frog. The Dark Frog was earlier and the light Frog was later, and was used when they started selling to Wards in the 50’s.


You may wonder why these totals were so low, when Creek Chub produced hundreds of thousands during this span of the main line Darter. I think the biggest reason would be that they did not want to compete against such a successful lure. Most of the catalog companies that Creek Chub sold the Shur Strike line, did not offer the Darter. I would assume it was a marketing decision by Creek Chub to sell some of the other styles. The Bass Oreno and River Runt styles did not compete against the main line, and were almost always sold to the retailers and wholesalers. Another reason may be that the Shur Strike style did not work as well, but that discussion will be tabled for a later day.

I also wanted to point out that Red and White is really a scarce model to find when you consider that it was very popular in the main line. Perch is also difficult to find, along with Chain Perch, and Red Side. Black and White and Yellow Spotted are listed above, but I have never seen them cataloged.


I addressed  some of the body style differences in my previous post, but I did want to mention that the flat part of the head can vary somewhat. I have two lures that I have found with a more rounded head and have less of the V point head as you can see in the picture below.


If you find a Darter in a color that is not listed above, you will have found a real jewel! Keep on the look out, as these are not always properly identified! Here’s a Green Scale I found that I have never seen listed!