Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Saturday, September 28, 2013

More Reconstructed History as 19th Century Baitquest Continues

         My adventure into mid-19th century artificial baits continues with a focus on critters that hop.  In his 1849 edition of "The American Angler's Guide or Complete Fisher's Manual for the United States", John J. Brown makes several references to the use of artificial frogs and grasshoppers as bait. He even  kindly provided engravings of said baits in his book.  Brown was also an established  tackle dealer in New York and advertised that he carried faux frogs and hoppers so their availability is not in doubt.

Brown's Artificial Frog Bait
from 1849
Note the position of the two hooks

     To my eye though, Brown's depictions seem closer to nature than what the actual baits might have looked like.  I thought it would be a good challenge to reconstruct these baits using period materials and from what I could gather, period techniques.

Brown's Grasshopper Bait
Note the one hook and how the line
exits the head

      While researching this subject I discovered the work of Louis Rhead,  a successful and well respected artist in the late 1800's and early 20th century.  What caught my attention was his work as a devoted and published angler. Late in life he wrote the "Fisherman's Lures and Game Fish Food" which has oodles of info on his work as a tackle maker.

Frog "How-to-do" from Rhead's
"Fisherman's Lures and Game Fish Food"
Image Courtesy Chest of Books

      In this book Rhead kindly shares details of how he made many of his nature baits, including frogs and grasshoppers. His complete descriptions including materials, sketches and photographs encouraged me to consider this resource as the best chance for my project to proceed.

Original Rhead Frog
Image Courtesy Lang's Auctions

      Although of a later period, the handmade nature of Rhead's baits continued the crafting tradition, so evident in surviving early tackle. Besides, I haven't been able to locate any documented artificial frogs or grasshoppers from the mid 1800's so this reconstruction will have to stand on its own merits.

     For my version of Brown's 1849 Frog Bait, I chose cork as my material and Rhead's technique of wrapping the body parts with brass wire.  Aware of the fact that an actual bait should survive numerous strikes, I made sure my design was literally "wired together". For hands and feet, I used hemp cord, wrapped with fine copper wire.

    Here you have the first parts coming together with the two hooks imbedded in the thighs and anchored to the front loop (barely visible).

    More parts are added and it starts to look like something.

    Underbelly view showing the front legs in place before lower body was wired on.

     Finished, painted and ready for Mr. Bass' last meal. I think today's collectors might call this a "Folk Art" frog.

     Part two of this project, the reconstruction of a mid-19th century artificial grasshopper bait, started with research. Some time ago I had discovered several "vintage" hoppers that caught my attention as nicely crafted deceivers.  Built around a single hook, they all appeared to have wrapped cork or wooden bodies and quill wings and legs.

Vintage Grasshopper Bait

Image Courtesy Online Auction

    Two of these vintage grasshopper lures used a bent feather spline to suggest both back legs and antennas, which is pretty sweet (see above). In contrast, Louis Rhead tied his rear leg splines to the bend in the hook for a more realistic pose (see below). Who knows what mid-19th century tackle-crafters used or did exactly, so for my recreations I decided to try both ways.

Louis Rhead Grasshopper Baits

Image Courtesy Lang's Auctions

A Very Green Circa 1900 Hopper
from the UK

Image Courtesy Online Auction

      One exceptional turn-of-the century hopper showed up on an online auction from the UK. It appears to have legs (at least in part) made of green painted cordage. Maybe I'll try that on the next example I fabricate.

My Take on a Mid-19th Century Grasshopper Bait

Upper version built around a spade-end hook I made
tied to a plaited horsehair snood.

Lower version ala Rhead with a horsehair eye tied on
an antique #26 Mustad blind eye hook. 
Grouse wing quills and tips used on both.

Thanks for looking !


  1. These are awesome Jim! What did you use for the bodies?

    1. Thanks for your comment. Most of the bodies are cork, I sourced from wine bottles. After enjoying the wine of course.