By Jonathan Manteuffel
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: This is part 2 of a 2-part story. To read part 1, click here.)
I mentioned in part 1 of this story that I first encountered Bagley lures not while fishing or in a tackle store, but while searching for a collectible lure that wouldn’t cost me a large wad of cash to put together a decent collection. That has been part of the appeal for many who started Bagley lure collections, along with the excitement of getting in on a new trend.
From around the year 2000, quiet interest was growing among a small group. That interest exploded in the years following the December 2002 release of Johnny Garland’s first book, “The Collector’s Guide for the Bagley Fanatic." Garland provided the definitive reference guide to models, colors, and availability of each based on his extensive research. With that baseline, collectors had a common ground for establishing pricing for trading among each other.
As popularity rose and the number of Bagley lure collectors increased, so did prices. Certain models, such as the DB3, rose faster than others as collectors competed to assemble “color collections” of the over 300 different colors those lures were produced in. Other collectors tried to gather one example of each of the 44-lure series the company had produced. Some of these consisted of only one model, others spanned several body styles, and the Bang-O-Lure had 41 configurations.
Jim Bagley's creations left their mark on angling not only in the U.S., but around the world.
Prices in general peaked several years ago and have since declined overall with the economy. The more rare models and colors, though, are still commanding stout figures. Many lures are traded on eBay, and a growing number are showing up at antique tackle shows.
Despite more lures coming out of hiding as popularity grows, there are still thousands of tough colors and models hiding undiscovered that collectors happen upon in some odd places. For instance, recently a man who had closed a tackle store in the late 1970s in Guntersville, Ala. and moved his remaining merchandise to storage, cleaned out the building and listed on eBay a surprising number of the early Bagley plastic worms and eels. Garage sales can also turn up some gems, and out-of-the-way tackle stores still have some of the 1980s-era lures on the racks.
Unlike with Heddon, Creek Chub and the older and better-known collectible lures, many Bagley lures pass by unnoticed in the “just for fishing” piles of lures at the antique tackle shows. The “old timers” often haven’t tuned in to Bagleys as collectible lures, and some even express a bit of disgust at this newcomer – they find it unbelievable that some Bagley lures have sold for over $1,000 each. Those would be the rarest models like the prototype Meer Cat, which never went into production.
Be advised, though, that not all Bagley baits are considered collectible by all Bagley fanatics. Some collect only the lures made while the company was located in Winter Haven, Fla. from 1960 through 1995 (before the company filed for bankruptcy). After that, the lures were made more cheaply in the Dominican Republic. Some collectors still pursue some models of these lures, but others do not consider them “true” Bagleys.
Also there were some marked “OFT Original” that were made in Winter Haven for the Japanese market. Again, some were made in the USA and some were produced offshore, and collectors make a distinction. Some collect some of the OFT lures, others will not. The best thing to do before starting your own Bagley collection is to talk with knowledgeable collectors and obtain a copy of Garland’s first book, or his augmented second volume, “Bagley Collector’s Guide."
A Bagley Meer Cat sold for more than $1,000 on eBay in 2008.
I have met a good number of Bagley collectors over the last decade, and most of them are good people to know. I somehow didn’t realize the hobby of gathering lures would round up new friends. I now know folks from Illinois to Massachusetts to Florida to Texas who collect Bagleys, and we help each other build our collections.
One collector I know, Craig Comjean of Massachusetts, even hopes to open a Bagley museum as a tribute to the legacy and contributions that the Bagley Bait Company made to angling in America and around the world. Comjean has met several times with Jim Bagley’s widow, Vera, and second company owner Bill Stuart, Jr. to learn all he could about this remarkable man and the groundbreaking company he founded. Comjean has pledged to preserve and display all of Bagley’s personal fishing gear, company papers and other memorabilia.
He will also include his own extensive Bagley lure collection. Along with Marty Dinges (see part 1), Comjean has also been lobbying the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (FFHOF) to induct Jim Bagley, and has provided information and materials to enhance the Hall’s memorialization plans.
Not all of us have the time, money and passion to pursue the hobby to that degree, but whether it’s a small set of various Fat Cats, a large DB3 color collection or a museum full of Bagley lures, the Bagley Bait company and its founder have left a lasting mark on angling in America, in Japan, and literally around the world.
> Under Jim Bagley, the company made pork frogs, plastic worms, crankbaits, topwater plugs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, tailspinners, spoons and a few specialty and promotional items.
> Copies of Johnny Garland’s Bagley Collector’s Guide may still be available at www.OldFloridaLures.com/Books.htm
> Former B.A.S.S. emcee Fish Fishburne has also been bitten by the Bagley lures collecting bug, which he mentions on his website.
> Bagley baits have figured prominently in four Bassmaster Classic wins: 1974, Balsa B3; 1976, Diving Honey B; 2000, Kill’r B2; 2004, Balsa B2.
> In 1998, Hiro Naito persuaded Bagley to import Florida largemouths to Japan. Bagley bought 10,000 fingerlings, Naito shipped them, OFT paid the freight, and a Japanese fishing club picked them up and stocked them in Lake Ikehara. They were then spread to other waters, such as Lake Biwa.
> Bill Dance’s favorite Bagley lure was the DB3.
> Vera Bagley, Jim’s fifth wife and widow, wrote a book about him in 2012 called “Bagley Tale.”