Pictured: Lake Bomoseen in Vermont was the birthplace of an iconic lure design.
The young man powered his boat by the strength of his arms and shoulders, out to the depths of Lake Bomoseen located along the western border of Vermont. On that day in 1824, Julio Buel had no way of knowing that he was on his way to revolutionizing the sport of fishing.
While fishing in the deep, clear waters of Lake Bomoseen, the largest lake within the confines of Vermont, he paused for lunch. At some point during his meal, Buel inadvertently dropped a silver spoon over the side of the boat and watched as it twisted, sparkling into the water’s depths. He looked on in disbelief as a huge lake trout appeared and inhaled the dinnerware.
The lesson wasn’t lost on the 18-year-old Vermonter. Buel rushed home, sawed the handle off one of his mother’s spoons, soldered on a hook, cut an opening in the other end, and tied it to his line. With that, the modern era of fishing tackle was born.
Despite all the advances made in the development of fishing tackle, no one has since taken the broad step Buel took when he made his spectacular discovery almost 200 years ago.
Buel was born in Poultney, Vermont, but his family moved just across the town line to Castleton, Vermont, when he was still a boy. He discovered a love of fishing on Lake Bomoseen and became an avid angler. And, thanks to his ingenuity and imagination, Buel became a fishing legend in his lifetime.
According to an obituary that appeared in the Whitehall Times on May 22, 1886, Buel quickly made major improvements on his lure. It turned out to be deadly for bass, lake trout, and northern pike found in area waters—particularly in nearby lakes George, Champlain, and Bomoseen.
Written in his obituary was, “The idea was then developed in his mind to use such an attachment to his line in fishing, and the spoon shape with flanges was adopted in order to produce a turning and a flashing of the bright metal attachment as the line was drawn through the water.” It went on to describe Buel Fishing Tackle’s worldwide reputation, with orders coming from across the US, England, and Europe. As the obituary continued, “He improved and developed it until it was the most perfect fishing arrangement on the market.”
Twenty-four years after the fish ran away with the spoon, Buel went into the fishing lure business in Whitehall, New York. It was a business that served him well for the rest of his life.
Buel took out his first patent in 1864, according to a report that appeared in the Glens Falls, New York, Post Star on January 21, 1927.
“The general demand for the spoon became such that he engaged in this manufacture in a small plant on Broad Street in Whitehall.”
According to another story, this one in the New York Sun, Buel “… was probably better known through his fishing tackle to the lovers of the piscatorial art than any other man in this country for trolling and spinning bait and was the first to engage in its manufacture.”
How big an impact did Buel have on the fishing industry?
Karen Eppinger is the owner of Eppinger Manufacturing in Dearborn, Michigan, the company that makes the world-renowned “Daredevle” spoon—that familiar red-and-white spoon just about every angler has in his or her tackle box. She said she believes anglers owe a huge debt to Buel and his invention. “I think most any metal spoon has evolved from something Buel originally designed,” she said in an interview.
Eppinger described Buel as a man of vision and imagination who patented enough spoons to fill a catalog. Her great uncle, Lou Eppinger, bought out the Buel company in the early 1960s.
Just about every month, Eppinger said with a laugh, two or three inventors send her samples of their work. “They claim they’ve invented the newest thing,” Eppinger commented. “I look at it and it’s nothing different than what Buel invented. Then I send them a photograph of one of the lures in Buel’s catalog they “invented” but is dated from 1800-something.”
Eppinger proudly pointed out that while Buel perfected the spoon for trolling from a boat, her company designed the first spoons for casting and retrieving.
“We make 17,000 different lures and his catalog was also very extensive, as far as shapes and sizes go,” she said.
Eppinger, meanwhile, has in her possession a collection of what can only be described as exceptionally valuable antiques. “I have his original hand presses in my barn.”
Not only did Buel develop the first known fishing spoon, but he is also credited with developing the first weedless hook, allowing an angler to drag an offering through thick weeds, both above and below the surface of the water, without a snag.
According to James Barrows of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame out of Hayward, Wisconsin, Buel took out the first patent for a weedless hook.
“On April 11, 1864, just days after his historic patent, Buel was issued yet another patent for the weed guard for the lure’s hooks, plus a quick detachment device to permit the easy changing of hooks. As far as I know, this is the first use of a conventional weed guard as we know it today,” Barrows said.
Buel died in 1886 in Whitehall at the age of 80. According to his lengthy obituary, he died a successful, prosperous and well-loved man.
One hot morning last summer, I slipped my old canoe into a heavily-weeded pond in western Vermont. I tied a simple silver spoon on my 8-pound-test line, then slabbed a glittered pork rind onto the weedless hook.
The combination of rind and spoon was a tempting offering, imitating the glimmer of a wounded shiner with the allure of the dangling legs of a small frog. It glided through the lily pads and milfoil with a sweet delectability of its own.
Despite a bright sun sitting high in the sky by 10 a.m., a largemouth bass hit that tempting rig on my third cast. Over the next hour, I caught five largemouth, released three, and kept two young bass for dinner.
Almost 200 years later, Buel’s stunning discovery still serves this angler as well as millions of other fishermen around the world.