Black Bass Fishing: Robert Page Lincoln – Part 1

Black Bass Fishing - Theory and Practice by Robert Page Lincoln. First printing April 1952 Stackpole Company.

Black Bass Fishing – Theory and Practice by Robert Page Lincoln. First printing April 1952 Stackpole Company.

A big part of the history of bass fishing is looking back at the old literature to see what the state of the sport was back in time. To date we’ve done a number of old book reviews and today, we continue on that path.

I received my copy of Black Bass Fishing – Theory and Practice from Bass Fishing Archives supporter and friend, Mr. William (Bill) Sonnett. Bill is not just a student of the sport’s history, he’s an authority when it comes to old bass tackle and literature and for years has written a column named Deconstructing Old Ads on Dr. Todd Larson’s website, Fishing for History. It’s nice to have Bill around when we have a question here with respect what happened in the old days.

Anyway, back to the subject of Robert Page Lincoln.

Lincoln was a noted angler and writer whose work could be seen in many of the outdoor magazines of the time, including Outdoor Life and Forest and Stream (predecessor to Field and Stream). He was born in 1891, 10 years after Henshall published the first book on bass fishing, and by the 1910s was a seasoned angler and outdoor writer.

Robert Page Lincoln and guide in Florida.

Robert Page Lincoln and guide in Florida.

Although he was a prolific writer on the subject, he’d never written a book solely on the subject of bass fishing until April, 1952. Sadly, Lincoln would die later that year, November 20, 1952, and never have the opportunity to add to the written word of bass fishing, which he said, “[L]agged far out of all proportion to the written word in the field of trout fishing….”

Unfortunately, books such as Lincolns’, Henshalls’ and Lucas’, books that laid the foundation of modern bass fishing, have been forgotten except for a few historians of the sport. It’s our hope to shed some light on these forefathers, writers – not only to give them credit but to introduce you to who they were and what they did.

In this first part of the review of Black Bass Fishing – Theory and Practice, we’re going to concentrate on the first eight chapters, including the Foreword and Introduction. In Part Two we’ll look at Chapters Nine through Seventeen and in Part Three we’ll finish with Chapters Eighteen through Twenty Four, including the Appendix (which is an amazing list of historical information in itself).

So, on with the review.

Contents Page of Black Bass Fishing - Theory and Practice.

Contents Page of Black Bass Fishing – Theory and Practice.

Black Bass Fishing – Theory and Practice was first published in April, 1952 by the Stackpole Company out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Its second printing was in March, 1955. The book was arranged in a way to give the reader an overall look on the species of black bass (and white bass), the tackle used, where and how to catch bass, casting mechanics, and the mechanics of the different types of rods and reels. It was a well thought out flow in that it first taught the reader what each species of bass was like and then in a concise manner taught the reader what they needed to know in order to catch their quarry.

Robert Page Lincoln portrait from the inside dust cover of the book. Courtesy of Bill Sonnett.

Robert Page Lincoln portrait from the inside dust cover of the book. Courtesy of Bill Sonnett.

Foreword – The Foreword of the book was written by well-known angler/writer Lou S. Caine – who was not only a friend but obviously impressed with Lincoln’s ability to not only catch bass but any other species of fish. An example of this is in the first sentence of the Foreword, which reads, “Back in the middle of the 17th Century, when the Patron Saint of all Anglers, Izaak Walton, dropped a fly in the River Trent, he noticed a ripple on the water above him. It was Robert Page Lincoln!”

Caine goes on to introduce Lincoln as the preeminent bass angler of the time having experienced the sport from each corner of the U.S. and Canada, with success. He also talks about Lincoln’s prolific writing career stating, “[H]e wrote 500 to 1200 words a day, every day for ten years without a break.”

I found this introduction to Lincoln interesting in the fact that Jason Lucas, at the time, was also considered one of the best at not only bass fishing but writing about the subject. Yes, I’m sure that Caine and Lincoln were close, which would be the obvious answer for him placing Lincoln on such a high pedestal, but one doesn’t get the full picture of these words until they get to the end of the book, the Appendix, where they find some possible friction between Lucas and other writers of the time. We’ll bring that up again in Part Three of this review.

Introduction – In the Introduction, written by Lincoln, he presses forth with his thought that literature with respect to bass fishing is lacking. In his words;

“There is hardly a trout book that does not engross the attention, but in bass fishing the punch seems lost; there is a crudity about it all as though the subject was not worth the superior treatment invoked in even minor trout fishing treatise. One might indeed ask oneself, in the light of this circumstance: is the subject really worth the effort; does the bass enjoy the peculiar eminence of the trout; is the fishing for it so matter-of-fact and so commonplace as to deserve nothing save inept and inconsequential treatment. The answer is, the bass offers unlimited opportunities for literary expansion, equal, in fact, to that of the trout. If we have failed to do justice to the subject in the past, it has been our fault, as writers, not that of the bass and its justly acclaimed gaminess. When we bring something of trout fishing prestige and distinction to bass fishing we will have ushered in the coming of age of the sport in this country.”

It’s obvious that Lincoln not only viewed the bass as equal to or superior to the trout but felt they had been playing second fiddle and all because writers hadn’t paid them the attention they deserved. It was people like Lincoln, Lucas, Fox and Jones who would literally open the world of bass fishing to the masses between the years 1940 and 1960 and beyond. Ray Scott may have created the competitive aspect of bass fishing but the aforementioned created the anglers who’d eventually fill Mr. Scott’s tournaments.

Lincoln continues with the Introduction by essentially labeling the bass as an educated fish, especially in hard-fished waters, and one that an angler couldn’t pursue by haphazard means.

“We like to think of fish more or less as dumb items of life that should pleasantly commit suicide one after another on any sort of garish dingus offered them. But nothing of the sort happens. Call it heightened or advanced instinct or call it the operation of a grain of intelligence; we know it to be a fact that the fishes, especially bass, inhabiting our waters, are becoming smarter and more shy. As I will indicate somewhere in this work, we have been able to harness the atom, but when we come to making a sure-fire killer on bass we still are a long way from our goal. It is doubtful if that day will ever come.”

Truer words have never been spoken – even today.

In order to combat the intelligence of the bass, Lincoln talks of light line, small lures and accurate, splashless entries. He talks of the new spinning gear and what it will do to the lightweight tackle industry that, at the time, was limited to those who waved the fly rod.

Lincoln also talks about his use of actual tackle names and makes an address that is still questioned today with the practice.

“No attempt has been made to conceal the name of a lure. It is one of those ironic misconceptions entertained by many that should you so much as identify, by name, any product, at once the suspicion becomes prevalent that you are being paid handsomely by the company whose product is named.”

Sound familiar?

There was another part of the Introduction that I found telling and that was Lincoln’s praise for Charles K. Fox’s 1950 book, Advanced Bait Casting. Although Fox’s book is without a doubt worthy of mention as one of the most comprehensive books about bass angling, his words, “No one writing on bass fishing has more truly evaluated the case for a new day in this branch of fishing than Charles K. Fox….,” makes you wonder if he’d ever read Lucas’ book. Again, when we get to the Appendix, a better light will be shown on the subject of Lincoln and Lucas.

Lead-in picture to Chapter One - Largemouth Bass.

Lead-in picture to Chapter One – Largemouth Bass.

Chapter 1 – The Largemouth Black Bass

As the title reads, the first chapter is dedicated to the largemouth. Lincoln describes its history, range and prominence as one of the best gamefish species in the country. It’s a good chapter to learn the basics of the species and how they were distributed from the Midwest throughout the U.S. and Canada.

He also talks about the life cycle of the largemouth, from fry to adulthood, its spawning rituals, and preferred habitat. He talks of bad fish laws, which allow anglers to fish during the spawn, thus affecting their population. Remember, catch-and-release wasn’t even a thought in those days and anglers, especially in the colder latitudes, could easily wipe out an entire year-class of fish in one spawning season.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter 2 - Smallmouth Bass.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter Two – Smallmouth Bass.

Chapter 2 – The Smallmouth Black Bass

Just like the first chapter is a tell-all about the largemouth, Chapter Two is all about the smallmouth. Lincoln describes its primary range, crediting Lake Erie with the probable birthplace of the species. He describes the fish of the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee River regions, specifically pointing out Dale Hollow as producing fish up to the 10-pound class. The rest of the chapter Lincoln talks about the spawning habits of the smallmouth along with rearing and stocking.

Although the chapter has a lot of great information, a lot of it parallels the above section on largemouth and would be redundant here.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter Three - Kentucky Bass.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter Three – Kentucky Bass.

Chapter 3 – The Kentucky Bass

To my knowledge, and what Lincoln actually stated in the Introduction, he was the first person to dedicate a chapter to the relatively new species, the Kentucky Bass, in a book. The species was first identified in 1927 and Lincoln goes on in detail in this chapter on why it’s different and how to tell the difference between it and the other two species.

Lincoln describes the natural range of the species; Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, with consideration of plantings in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas.

He also notes of the recent discovery of a second sub-species of spotted bass, the Alabama and of another possible sub-species found in Florida.

The most interesting sentence that Lincoln wrote on the Kentucky, though, didn’t come in this chapter but in Chapter One, where he said; “In Henshall’s time no difference apparently was made between the Kentucky bass and its cousin, but it is now thought by some that it was this third species that inspired this authority on the black bass to name it, ‘Inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.’”

Again, Lincoln goes to great lengths to talk about the species and its spawning rituals and how it is the smallest of the three species – “I would consider a five pound Kentucky bass a large bass for the species.” I wonder what he’d think if he saw some of the records that have come out of California over the last 20 years – of course those were all Alabama spots.

Chapter 4 – White Bass

Of course at the time Lincoln was writing about all freshwater bass, therefore he had to include the only real bass in the group, the white bass. Although I read the chapter, I feel it doesn’t represent what we today call bass fishing and therefore, I’m going to browse over it in this review.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter Five - Rods and Reels.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter Five – Rods and Reels.

Chapter 5 – The Bait Casting Rod and Reel

For the person who likes the history of rods and reels, this chapter is definitely one you don’t want to gloss over. Lincoln goes into detail the history of the baitcasting rod – from its original length of 10 feet or more down to four or even three feet in length. Made mostly of wood or split bamboo, the original rods left a lot to be desired with respect to flexibility – often being called broomsticks. It wouldn’t be until J. M. Clark would craft the first contemporary baitcasting rod, 6-feet 3-inches in length, in 1885, that baitcasting rods would finally be seen as useful tools.

Lincoln talks about the casting techniques utilized at the time, predominantly the sidearm casts used with the ultra-long and ultra-short rods.

“It remained for the 5 1/2-foot rod to usher in the overhead cast and this cast of course is more or less dominant in the bait casting field today.

“Obviously it is impossible to manage the overhead cast with a short rod. It can be done with a 5 1/2-foot rod, but less well with a 5-foot rod. Twirling their waxed mustaches contemptuously and watching the 5 1/2-foot casting rod exponents with scorn is the 6 foot rod devote who will contend, against all comers, that it is impossible to cast any kind of lure save with a 6 foot rod. To this coterie, there is no hope in the hereafter for anyone using a 5 to 5 1/2 foot rod. And that rod, mind you, must be a split bamboo rod. Nothing else will fill the bill.”

He talks about seemed, seemless, solid and tubular steel rods and their popularity. In fact, Lincoln talks of a solid steel rod that was given him by none other than Fred Arbogast – then a national casting champion.

He then goes into the birth of the “glass fiber” rod and how it took over the industry, wiping out steel and bamboo. Shortly after the fiberglass boom came the advent of the copper-beryllium rods.

The next part of the chapter deals with baitcasting reels and their history to that point. Lincoln credits Kentucky watch maker George Snyder as the inventor of the baitcasting reel with fellow watchmakers Meek, Hardman and Milam adding improvements thereafter.

He talks of the first free-spool reels being developed in the 20s but not catching on. Then a resurgence about the time the book was printed. He continues on talking about the weight of reels being decreased as time went on.

Another interesting comment he made was that 9-pound test line and lighter were the preferred lines of the day and, “will do for any manner of bass fishing that you are likely to find anywhere in the country.” Later in the book he’d recant that idea.

Chapter Six engraving - Plug Lures and Their Kind.

Chapter Six engraving – Plug Lures and Their Kind.

Chapter 6 – Plug Lures and Their Kind

This chapter starts out with Lincoln describing the state of bass fishing in the 40s and 50s. As stated prior, he was a writer for a newspaper, having a daily fishing column. At the time it was believed the trout was the king of freshwater sportfish in the U.S. But read what he had to say regarding his column.

“Certainly I have found no subject fishermen like to read more than about bass fishing, in fact they soak up all possible information anent the same as a sponge soaks up water………As one of my well-wishers remarked, ‘You can’t give us too much on bass fishing!’ What is a person to do in a case of the sort. If I wrote on trout fishing a silence deep and glum would invade the scene and no letters would come to hand.”

Back to plugs.

This chapter is a phenomenal historical review with respect to plugs – as they were called back then. The classification really included a number of subsets of baits we call topwater, cranksbaits and even spybaits today. Essentially a plug was any lure carved out of wood (or soon after molded from plastic).

Lincoln credits both the popularization of contemporary baitcasting and James Heddon with the start of the plug revolution. If not for the ability to cast effectively, Heddon may not have carved more pieces of wood to be used with baitcasting gear.

He states that the first ever wooden bait carved and sold by Heddon was the Dowagiac Minnow, “[Which] were underwater lures having propeller spinners fore and aft. The only action they promoted was by the revolving spinners, the flash and gleam of which caught and held the attention of the fish.”

Spybaiting is not a new concept folks. It’s an old forgotten technique that stems back to the beginning of the hardbait era. Couple this with his earlier comment of using 9-pound line and lighter and you have the exact same thing.

Lincoln then goes into the evolution of plugs – from having five sets of trebles to only two or three – and the advent of the surface plug by Heddon, the 210 and the Zaragossa (the original version of today’s Zara Spook).

He then goes on to describe of the various plug lures – surface, floating/diving, slow sinking and lastly fast sinking – and how to effectively fish each lure. Amongst the text are a couple of great fish stories and also the credit to Fred Arbogast for developing what we know as the rubber skirt today.

The one paragraph that really hit home with me, though, was one he wrote at the beginning of the chapter. It reads:

“After Heddon, came a host of other plug manufacturers until today it would seem that about every design and manner of plug wiggle, bounce, flop, plop, dip and dive has been visioned and acted upon. Indeed one wonders if the saturation point in likely ideas has not been reached.”

I wonder what Mr. Lincoln would think if he opened today’s Bass Pro Shop catalog.

Chapter Seven engraving - Metal Lures and Attractors.

Chapter Seven engraving – Metal Lures and Other Attractors.

Chapter 7 – Metal Lures and Other Attractors

In this chapter Lincoln goes into detail on lures made of metal – spoons and the early spinnerbaits and buzzbaits of the time. Names like Louis Johnson (Johnson Silver Minnow) Al Foss (Shimmy Wiggler) and Fred Arbogast (Hawaiian Wiggler) amongst other big names in the tackle industry are fully discussed.

These metal lures, as Lincoln referred to them, all had some sort of weed guard associated with them, which allowed anglers to finally “fish the obstructions.” In the chapter Lincoln talks about one of his trips with leading bass angler of the time, Hank Werner, and their ability to catch bass from a lake that wasn’t producing, by fishing deep in cover. It’s a great story that not only talks about fishing heavy cover but ties in with it the importance of casting accuracy. Something today’s anglers take for granted.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter Eight - The Pork Chunk.

Lead-in engraving to Chapter Eight – The Pork Chunk and Pork Rind Category.

Chapter 8 – The Pork Chunk and Pork Rind Category

This chapter was made for our dear friend Stan Fagerstrom – a student and professor of all things pigskin. Lincoln goes into detail about the use of pork rind as a bait, although he readily admits he has no clue why the material was first used and what it was supposed to imitate – and remember, this book was written in 1952 by a guy who’d been bass fishing since the turn of the 19th century.

He talks about how pork is manufactured and what styles it came in, first the pork chunk that Stan’s talked about a lot here, and then on to the pork frog and other patterns. He then discusses the lures specifically made for pork, such as the Arbogast Sputterfuss and ones developed by Al Foss that “[took] more fish than all other lures combined.”

At the end of the chapter Lincoln discusses the use of pork in deeper water and actually quotes Jason Lucas, who said that pork is much more reliable in deeper water than in shallow water or near the surface. Lincoln agrees with Lucas on its use in deep water but then takes issue with his opinion that pork lures are not favorable as surface baits. Between this and the points made earlier, it seems to me that there was some sort of rift between Lucas and Lincoln. Again, we’ll talk about that more when we get to the Appendix.

This concludes Part One of this review on Black Bass Fishing – Techniques and Practice. Next week we’ll look at the midsection of the book.

  • William Sonnett

    Jones’ book was written in the 1920’s not in the 1940’s. He was way ahead of his time, especially when you compare his book with other Bass fishing books from the 1920s.