Tim Clancy is known locally for his work with the Knee Deep (Fishing) Club and the Antique Boat Club; now he’s known nationally for his fishing lure collection.

Tim Clancy ready to greet visitors to the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

Clancy returned from the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with the Best in Show award.

Clancy’s certificate from the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club convention. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

The core of his collection is an extensive grouping of Decker lures made at Lake Hopatcong. As the economy of the lake shifted from iron ore and ice harvesting to tourism, fishermen on the lake began making a living in two ways: catching fish for the hotel restaurants and acting as fishing guides for visitors.

In the years before World War II, Clancy pointed out, fishing – like golf and tennis – was a rich man’s sport. But it soon joined canoeing and swimming as pastimes on the lake. “A frivolous venture,” said Clancy. The average worker had neither the money nor the vacation time to indulge in a time-consuming pastime that required expensive equipment, he pointed out.

The visits by rich fishermen to the lake didn’t always coincide with an abundance of live bait, Clancy noted. So fishing guides began fashioning lures. Lake Hopatcong did not have a monopoly on lure making; many manufacturers sprouted up in the Midwest as well. The first lures were metal “spoons.” Later, wooden lures, mimicking minnows, came into vogue.

Morris Decker and his sons became noted fishing guides as well as suppliers of fish to the restaurants and hotels. “The Deckers were interested in catching fish – not fishermen,” Clancy said. Some lure makers used glass eyes and bright paint, although Clancy has never seen any scientific proof that fish can distinguish color. The Decker family lures were generally unpainted, but they did have good action, meaning the top spin created noise on top of the water – which may be what attracts fish. Many people fish at night and often the lures are deep in the water, so sound must be important, he noted.

Brightly painted lures just in case fish can see color. (Photo: Jane Primerano)
Some of the lures have more than one color. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

Whatever the reason, fishermen were happy with their catches and with the Deckers, who soon began selling the lures. Five or six Midwestern businesses dominated the market and the Deckers were not among the largest lure companies. But Ans Decker, the youngest of Morris’s four sons, was very good at marketing his lures.

“Fishermen lie,” Clancy said. It worked. At one point, Ans Decker was manufacturing lures in New York City and advertising in Field and Stream.

Although many fishermen claimed to have invented the first lure, Clancy’s research is inconclusive. He became interested in collecting and joined the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, but had not attended a national meet in years because they are usually too far to travel with heavy cases of lures. Deciding that Lancaster is close enough, he and his wife, Karen, traveled there. He was very surprised that he took best in show.

Clancy brought some of his collection, including rare Deckers and brightly painted lures from the late 19th century, to the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum on Friday, September 7. Since the museum always gets many visitors, Clancy doesn’t know how many people came for the purpose of seeing his lures. However, some visitors did bring items so that he could assess their value; unfortunately, most were not worth much. Reels get beaten up quickly from use and do not retain value, he said.

After World War II, items were produced for the mass market. As working people had a little disposable income and vacation time, fishing became a pastime less for the rich and more for the masses. And as equipment became mass produced, it also became less expensive.

Many people around Lake Hopatcong know Clancy for his affiliation with the Knee Deep Club, his involvement in Save the Lake 2000, and his work with water scouts who check for water chestnuts around the lake. He is also involved with the Antique Boat Club. He keeps his two old boats in his Prospect Point boathouse, which has an apartment upstairs that was once quite a party site on the lake. “Bud Abbott used to visit,” he said, noting that there was an upright piano in the room.

Clancy has always been a collector. In addition to the lures, he has binders full of Decker’s papers as well as newspaper and magazine articles about the Decker family. He plans to write a book now that he has retired from his fence business, although he is still busy with many other interests.

Clancy’s cat, Shtinky, watches the lures being opened. (Photo: Jane Primerano)