Do you remember the year 2000? Although I’ve killed quite a few brain cells since then, I do recall it was an exciting year. B.A.S.S. introduced World Championship Fishing, a boat racing/bass tournament combination that was exciting, although short-lived. Bass fishing legend Denny Brauer was in his heyday, as was Hall of Famer Davy Hite. The Classic was held in Chicago and the weigh-ins were conducted on Soldier Field. Again, an idea that sounded really good but didn’t exactly work out. Of course, the world was worried about the Y2K computer glitch, which amounted to absolutely nothing. And in May of that year, Bassmaster debuted a column called “What’s It Worth,” with author and antique tackle expert Karl White offering readers select vintage fishing gear alongside estimations of value. That column, in some form or fashion, has been in every issue of Bassmaster to this day.
So, it was a sad morning when I received a phone call from White telling me that he was hanging up his consultant hat, retiring from writing the column. “It’s a difficult decision for me,” he said. “But, my eyesight has been failing for quite some time, and it is very difficult for me to do the research on lures.”
White, now 81, has been conducting this research for a very long time. “I remember saving dimes for 11 weeks to buy my first lure, a Heddon Crazy Crawler, when I was 8 years old. I was fascinated with artificial lures from that day on. My dad took me to see the J.M. Davis Gun Museum several years later, and I vowed to have a museum of my own one day filled with only fishing items.”
From that point on, White collected old fishing gear, scouring the nation’s antique stores and swap shops. As his collection grew so did his reputation as the go-to source for antique fishing tackle. In 1976, White became a founding member of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, which fosters awareness of tackle collecting as a hobby and helps members find and identify vintage gear. His collection soon became the largest of its kind and in 2003, went on display at the Oklahoma Aquarium. White then produced a three-volume set of reference books for collectors called Fishing Tackle Antiques and Collectibles. And in 2015, White’s childhood dream became a reality, as he and his wife Beverly opened the History of Fishing Museum in Branson, Mo. The museum features more than 40,000 pieces and has an estimated value of $5 million. Yes, million. Visitors refer to White’s museum as the “world’s largest tacklebox,” and it features exhibits from prehistoric through 1960.
“Fishing tackle is the only collectible which involves the artistic, the mechanical and craft. And a true collector obtains items for the love of the subject. I can only hope that I have inspired some readers to love collecting tackle as much as I do. Leaving Bassmaster is extremely difficult for me, as I will miss the calls and letters from readers. I have made so many friends through my work with the magazine, and I hope they will come visit me at the museum.”
Although White is retiring from his consultant duties, that doesn’t mean he has lost his passion for collecting. “My eyesight may not be good,” he concluded, “but I’m still looking for that one thing I don’t have.”