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updated: 10/3/2012 2:58 PM

Heddon plugs have earned their nostalgia

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Tournament casting pro and expert fly fisherman Paul Melchior never fails to amaze me.

Paul and I have stayed up very late on many of our trips and foreign expeditions. Our conversations have ranged from marriages, children, places we've experienced, and fish we've challenged to battles in streams big and small.

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Paul operates a top-notch fishing package outfit called Angling Escapes. He also teaches fly casting as well as the basics of tying flies, and he has helped me become a much better fly caster compared to those days when I was beating a river to a foamy froth.

Even though Paul and I have caught and released quite a few fresh and saltwater fish when we plied the waters together, it was and still is the heart-to-heart talks that drove us to stave off sleep and wait for the sun to arrive in the early hours.

We spoke the other day about the changes we've experienced in the sport we so dearly love. I always seem to take the lead when it comes to expressing an opinion, good or bad. In this case, the topic was the sense of mediocrity now prevalent in the fishing industry.

I've even spoken with some insiders who aren't afraid of telling me the mood in the fishing business leans slightly to the negative and that has been fostered by some industry people who may have forsaken the true needs of the average angler.

And then the topic of the old James Heddon and Sons Company came up.

My eyes opened as wide as possible and I let out a deep sigh.

Heddon was my very first national sponsor on my outdoor radio show, circa 1964, in Elkhart, Ind.

The company's headquarters was practically a good cast just over the Michigan border to the tiny hamlet of Dowagiac.

I told Melchior that, back in the early days when I would make the short drive to the headquarters to meet with the shakers and movers, I would often walk into the plant acting like a shy kid on a first date. It was the mystique of this fishing company giant that had me gasping for air when I sat down in one of the mahogany offices to talk about my youthful fishing exploits.

This was a company that had the world by the pectoral fins. This was the place where lure designers made their creations by hand and then tested them in long tanks to make sure they could cut the mustard.

Paul noted that fishing information was scarce in those days, but still with huge public appetite for something that held promise.

In the 1950s and '60s, the big outdoor shows we used to have at the exposition building next to the Chicago Stockyards were the venues to show the public what was coming in the spring.

There were a few tackle giants that gave Heddon a run for the money. South Bend and Creek Chub were solid contenders, but it appeared that Heddon captured the imagination of father and son alike when it came to rods and hand-made wooden lures.

And yes, Shakespeare and Pflueger were around back then cranking out excellent reels, but it just seemed Heddon captured the attention of a lot of people because of their world-famous lures.

These days, every once in a while, some lure company will send out news releases proclaiming they've re-invented wooden lure manufacturing, and what they offer is the real cure for the common cold, so to speak.

I doubt if any of us will ever experience the mystique again, and I suspect those days of the Basser and Lucky 13 will forever dwell in our minds -- just like that first date.

•Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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