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Reel old

Antique gear from Florida's rich history of fishing keeps rising in value.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


Ron Gast lives in a house any angler would envy.

"I have one room in my house devoted exclusively to tackle," said Gast, of Kissimmee. "My wife calls it the "Reel Room.' "

Gast is an engineer by trade, so perhaps that is why he is intrigued by the delicate balance of old fishing reels.

"They are really works of art," said Gast, who is in town this weekend for the Florida Antique Tackle Collectors Show. "It is quite exciting when you find something that is rare or one of a kind."

Among Gast's most prized possessions are the reels of Otto Zwarg, a native of Berlin who moved to St. Petersburg in 1947 and began making custom fishing reels.

"I specialize in collecting Florida fishing tackle," Gast said. "This area is rich in history for both lure and reel manufacturers."

Zwarg, a dentist by trade, moved to the United States because the economy was bad in post-World War I Germany. He took a "temporary" job in New York with Edward Vom Hofe, one of the world's leading reel manufacturers. Zwarg loved his new work and forgot about practicing dentistry in America.

The reels Zwarg made for Vom Hofe are valuable but not as valuable as the reels he made under his name in St. Petersburg. The most common of the Zwarg reels is the Model 600 "Maximo," named for Maximo Point, but the most desirable are his fly reels.

"But Zwarg is not the only manufacturer with local ties," Gast said. "Florida had dozens of companies, some large, some small, mom & pop operations run from the trunk of a car.

"There was a large demand. A lot of companies stayed busy keeping up with the needs of all the visitors coming down from up north."

To be considered truly collectable, a lure must have been manufactured before the 1960s.

"There are a three factors to consider: age, rarity and condition," Gast said. "Most people don't know what they have or how much it is worth."

Gast has seen antique lures sell for a few dollars and for $3,000. "It varies," he said. "It all depends on how much somebody wants it and how much they are willing to pay."

According to legend, the first wooden plug was made by James Heddon, who was whittling by a Michigan lake and inadvertently launched an industry. As the story goes, Heddon tossed the piece of wood into the water when he was finished and watched in amazement as the plug was swallowed by a large bass. The rest is history.

Heddon and rival Pflueger dominated the market from the turn of the century until World War II. After the war, companies started popping up in Florida to service anglers flocking to the state to catch largemouth bass.

"Florida had its share of companies," Gast said. "Florida Fishing Tackle Co.made lures under the Barracuda brand in St. Petersburg for more than 40 years. Other names to look for are Bender & Flynn, Chase and Earl Gresh."

If you have old tackle you don't know what to do with, don't throw it away.

"Bring it by the show, and we'll appraise it for free," Gast said.

Florida Antique Tackle Collectors, in its 12th year, has about 600 members. If you would like more information, check out Gast's Web site at http://www.magicnet.net/rkgast, or call him at (407) 933-7435.

The Florida Antique Tackle Collectors Show is 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg (535 4th. Ave. N). Admission is $2 for adults; children get in free.

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