Black Bass Fishing: Robert Page Lincoln – Part Three

Black Bass Fishing CoverBack in late 2014 I started the review of this book, Black Bass Fishing by Robert Page Lincoln and never finished the last part. I want to apologize for that upfront (especially to Bill Sonnett). But now that the book has been glaring at me for nearly six months, I can’t ignore it any longer and today we have Part Three of the review of this must-read book.

Over the course of Part One and Part Two we covered chapters one through 17 along with the Foreword and Introduction. Today we’ll finish with Chapters 18 through 24 and the Appendix. For those of you who missed the first two parts of this book and want to read them (and I highly suggest you do) you can find the posts at the links presented in the first sentence of this paragraph.

So, let’s move on to the final part of this review.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln's Clack Bass Fishing, Chapter 18.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln’s Clack Bass Fishing, Chapter 18.

Chapter 18 – The Gentle Art of Spinning

Most anglers today have no clue when the spinning reel was invented let alone when it became popular. Those that have an interest have heard that the reel was invented in Europe and imported in the early part of the 20th Century. Some of that is true, but some of it is false as Lincoln confirms in the first paragraphs of this chapter.

“It has been stated that one Thomas D. Whistler and a Thomas Winans took out a patent on a type of spinning reel on March 23, 1875 in this country, obtaining for the same, Patent Number 161,314. On this reel the spool was stationary during the process of the line going out. That nothing was done about this reel, or if a specimen, or several, of this pattern were put out we have no record.”

Whistler and Winan's 1875 patent on the spinning reel. Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office Vol VII Jan 5-June 29 Inclusive 1875.

Whistler and Winan’s 1875 patent on the spinning reel. Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office Vol VII Jan 5-June 29 Inclusive 1875.

Being a bit of a cynic, I searched for the patent stated above and was pleased to see Lincoln was right. Although hard to read, the patent clearly states that the reel was designed so the spool was stationary but it appeared more like what we’d call a spincast reel that would later be developed by watchmaker R.D. Hull and sold to the Zero Hour Bomb Company in 1949. Still, the concept is there and I’ll take that as a win for the U.S. as being the first to develop the spinning reel.

Lincoln then goes on to talk about how the concept didn’t take hold in the U.S. and it wouldn’t be until 1900 that an English company by the name of Illingsworth would develop another reel of the same design. It wouldn’t be until 1935 when Bache H. Brown would bring to the U.S. “a number of Luxor rods and reels and these he distributed among his angling friends both in this country and Canada.”

The reel was so popular that Brown started his own company manufacturing the Mastereel. Then World War II hit and all manufacturing stopped due to the need of metals. Brown would pick back up in 1946, having Airex manufacture the reels. Airex was a division of the Lionel Corporation.

Lincoln then talks about the difficulty of spinning gear to gain prominence and how certain salesmen were touting the gear as the next coming. The way Lincoln tells it, it’s pretty comical and worth the read. Here’s a short exerpt:

“The Choicest story that has gone the rounds with regard to the effectiveness of spinning as a method is the one which states that there is a movement a-foot to outlaw spinning and spinning tackle for the simple and adequate reason (?) that it is too deadly, that it will wipe out all the fish in our lakes and streams.”

I guess spinning gear was the GPS/Downscanning/Sidescanning of the mid-20th Century.

Talk then moves on to how lure manufacturers started catering to spinning enthusiasts by downsizing baits and an interview with Bache Brown himself and what makes spinning gear effective. Brown stated:

“The ease of cast, the astonishing distance obtained with even the lightest of baits, place it in a class by itself and not permit the angler to cover all that field between the fly and heavy plug.”

Brown was absolutely right and good on Lincoln for recognizing the importance of spinning gear at such an early time in its life.

Lincoln not only talks about the reel, he also discusses in depth the rods used and the difference between them and standard casting rods of the day along with typical spinning lures. Honestly, this one chapter on spinning tackle is worth the price of the book. It’s without a doubt the most thorough historical view on spinning gear I have ever read.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln's Black Bass Fishing Chapter 19.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing Chapter 19.

Chapter 19 – Bass of the Reservoir Lakes

Chapter 19 takes a different turn from talking about the gear used in bass fishing to the actual art of catching bass in reservoirs. Reservoir fishing was becoming a big deal in the U.S. at the time with the TVA projects of the east and the other dam projects of the west. Lincoln talks about the benefit of the dams and subsequent reservoirs, not just from a fishing perspective but flood control and power generation.

One thing that struck me in this section was the number of people against the dams due to the “fact” that they were nearly all silted in. Lincoln mentions these anti-dam people mentioning lakes such as Taneycomo, Elephant Butte and Lake Mead. Funny how these lakes are all still around – over 60 years later.

Back to the fishing.

Lincoln then goes on to talk about the boom of fishing at the early age of a reservoir and why this happens – pretty much the same you hear today. He talks about the fish factories of the Midwest such as Norfork in Missouri and Dale Hollow in Tennessee. He also talks about how reservoir bass tend to be deeper than natural lake bass – preferring the 10- to 15-foot depths.

Again, if you want to look at some early views on reservoir fishing that are still valid, I highly suggest this chapter.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln's Black Bass Fishing Chapter 20.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing Chapter 20.

Chapter 20 – The Fishing Prognosticators

The title of this chapter had me when I read the Table of Contents. The first few sentences hooked me even deeper. Here they are:

“Just as there are persons who would rather fish than eat, there is also a very comfortable cross-section of our fishing population who are consecrated to the belief that somewhere along the line one can pick up little crumbs of knowledge which will lead him right as to when fish will or will not strike, providing thereby a short-cut to fishing success without the use of much brain power or muscular activity.”

How true Mr. Lincoln, how true. And that thought still is present today!

He then goes on to say:

“There has to be knowledge of fishing, knowledge of fish habits, knowledge of tackle and use and knowledge of the right lures to offer each species.”

Those words could have come out of any top bass pro today.

Lincolns’ knowledge of bass and their habits really takes the stage here. Much of what he writes in this chapter could be placed in Bassmaster Magazine today with only a change in the style of English it was written.

He talks of the effects of the moon phase, temperature and how heavy feeding times can affect why the fish won’t bite for some time after. He introduces Grady W. Coble of North Carolina (I wonder if this is any relation to Jeff Coble) as the first to introduce the Fisherman’s Calendar, a tool that used the moon phase and copious notes he’d taken from talking with American Indians and observances he’d made over the years. The Calendar was first developed and printed in 1926. From what Lincoln says, the Calendar was highly accurate.

Lincoln also goes on to talk about Coble’s competitor, John Alden Knight – the man who invented the Solunar Tables that we still use today.

Another interesting concept discussed at length is the barometric pressure and its effect on fish. Any angler worth his topwater box knows that atmospheric pressure can dictate a good or bad bite. Well, that concept was being figured out in the 40s and 50s. Again, Lincoln really hits the nail on the head here, discussing what we would consider today, scientific angling.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln's Black Bass Fishing Chapter 21.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing Chapter 21.

Chapter 21 – Florida Bass Fishing

Florida bass fishing, even in the 20s, 30s and 40s, was beyond famous. Pictures of teen-class bass lined the fishing magazines of the day and lure manufacturers such as Heddon, Creek Chub and South Bend placed ads with these Florida giants in the same. By looking at the ads, it seemed like the only bass Florida had to offer were over 10 pounds. It’s no wonder why the state became the bass capital of the world.

Then Robert Page Lincoln came around and disposed of that semi-fallacy – somewhat. It’s true that Florida offers some of the best big bass fishing in the world. There’s no denying that. But, as Lincoln correctly points out, “take it or leave it, the truth of the matter is that your average run of bass in Florida is just about the same for size as you take anywhere else in the country…”

Lincoln talks of George W. Perry’s “long-standing” world record bass and another caught by a woman in the Brookville area that weighed 20 pounds after it had been cleaned.

This chapter mainly talks about the ever-famous shiner fishing the state is known for. But Lincoln also delves into the plug arena – topwater baits in particular. He names the Hula Popper, the Jitterbug, the Zaragossa, the Darter and Dalton Special among others.

But topwater isn’t all he talks about. Due to the mass of vegetation, Lincoln talks about the weedless lures of the day such as the Hawaiian Wiggler. For open water he recommends the Heddon River Runt, and the South Band Fish-Obite.

Bodies of water mentioned include the St. Johns River, Lake Okeechobee and other still-famous locations. And, as Lincoln does in nearly chapter within the book, tells a number of stories about his forays in Florida.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln's Black Bass Fishing Chapter 22.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing Chapter 22.

Chapter 22 – Fishing Craft

In 1952 the bass boat still hadn’t been invented – although those fans of Skeeter may argue that statement. Back then, boats were for fishing or pleasure, and called as such. It wouldn’t be until the 60s where you’d start to see the descriptor, bass boat come about on the market.

Prior to this, not much was ever written on what made a good fishing boat. Lincoln decided to change that with this chapter – although Jason Lucas had written about how to set up a boat for efficient bass fishing around the same time.

Where this chapter really shines, though, is in the description of boats of the day – and believe me when I say I’m thankful or the modern boat and trailer. Lincoln talks about trailering boats and having to slide them off the trailer down to the shore to get them in the water. No wonder more people didn’t own boats back then. He also discusses car-top boats – and says they’re more easily launched than the trailered version. Having not lived in that era, I may be missing something but I can’t for the life of me figure out why he didn’t feel that lowering a trailer in the water and letting the boat float off the trailer was so difficult. Maybe it was a lack of cement launch ramps?

Boats discussed are primarily aluminum, canvas and inflatable car-top boats, but he also talks a lot about the use of canoes. He goes into depth what each should provide with respect to weight, depth and beam.

The subject of outboard motors and electric motors is also found in this chapter. At the time, pretty much all that was available were gas motors in the 2.5 to 5 horsepower range. Lincoln recommends the use of the gas motor for moving from spot to spot and the use of the electric when fishing. His preference of the electric motor is due to the fact one angler doesn’t have to paddle and can fish too.

Although I’m glad that technology has given us the contemporary bass boat, this chapter really shows what the fathers of the sport had to deal with and quite possibly why they were such good anglers considering the gear they had available.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln's Black Bass Fishing Chapter 23.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing Chapter 23.

Chapter 23 – Ozark Float Trip

There are essentially two places that the sport of bass fishing took hold first. One of those was Florida the other was the Ozarks. This chapter is essentially a history of the float fishing on the Current River and White River along with the “John-Boats” that were invented by Charles Barnes. If you know anything about this famous stretch of water, this chapter is worth reading.

Lincoln interviews the anglers and guides who started the Ozark fishing craze, fifty years prior to Jerry McKinnis, Glen Andrews, and other famous anglers from the area. He talks about the lures that were Ozark staples of the time, the Clark’s Water Scout (what eventually became the Strike King Spence Scout), a bass bug made by E. H. Peckinpaugh and a minnow by the same named the Peck Underwater Minnow.

He then goes on to talk about how a stretch of the White River he’d written about would no longer be there at the time of the book printing because of the Bull Shoals Dam. Like I said earlier, this chapter is filled with the history of the Ozark drainages.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln's Black Bass Fishing Chapter 24.

Artwork from Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing Chapter 24.

Chapter 24 – Mostly Conservation

As the chapter title alludes to, Lincoln was concerned with conservation – in the form of fish rearing, logging and pollution. For those of you who thought it was ray Scott who first professed conservation, let it be known, he wasn’t the first. Numerous outdoorsmen from the early 1900s through the ‘60s professed we were destroying the lands which provided for us. Unfortunately, not many listened and those in the fight, had little power.

Robert Page Lincoln was one of these early fighters. He dedicated 13 pages of this book to his views on the subject and gave examples of states who had implemented measures to counteract the destruction that was going on at this time.

It’s always been said, much to the chagrin of the liberals, that the best conservationist is the outdoorsman. Nothing is more sacred to us than the lakes and rivers we play in and we’ll do pretty much anything to keep them pristine.

Unfortunately it wouldn’t be until Ray Scott took the power of his Bass Anglers Sportsman Society to Congress and started filing lawsuits against polluters that things would make a drastic change. But you have to credit people such as Lincoln with getting the ball rolling.

A page from the Appendix from Robert Page Lincoln's Black Bass Fishing.

A page from the Appendix from Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing.

Appendix

I’m not sure how many people read appendices but this one has some really cool information in it regarding the history of the sport. It lists every major bait manufacturer of the time along with some not-so-familiar ones. It also names all the famous anglers and gives a short bio of each. Examples are James Henshall, The Shakespeare Company, The Doctor School in Bass History, Jim Heddon, Fred Arbogast and Ray Bergman, to name a few.

All of the descriptions and bios are worth the read, especially the one about Jason Lucas. I’d mentioned earlier on in this review about something in the appendix that was written about Lucas and got my curiosity up. This is what is written:

“Jason Lucas, Fishing Editor of Sports Afield Magazine is a good conservationist, who writes in a controversial vein. He is the author of “Lucas on Bass.”

Compared to the other bios in this appendix, Lucas’ is short and a bit sharp tongued. It may be true that he wrote in a controversial manner but Lucas would soon become the leading authority on the subject. I’m not sure if Lincoln knew Lucas or not, but to me, it seems there was a little bad blood between the two of them. I’m hoping Bill Sonnett will add something to this analysis as I’m sure he knows a lot more than I do about the relationship between these two famed writer/anglers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this review of Robert Page Lincoln’s Black Bass Fishing Theory and Practice. If you like to read about where we’ve been in the sport, I highly recommend you find a copy for your library. I’d like to thank Bill Sonnett for supplying my copy.

  • William Sonnett

    Robert Page Lincoln by 1952 ( the year he published Black Bass Fishing and the year he died at age 61) had been fishing for bass for 45+ years under every possible circumstance. I have always felt that the perceived irritation with Jason Lucas who had only been Fishing editor of Sports Afield for 6 years when Lincoln died, resulted more from the somewhat flippant style of writing the first few years Lucas was in that post. Lucas certainly calmed down with time and did not present everything in absolutes as the years went by. Lucas always spoke very highly of Robert Page Lincoln.
    Those who wish to have a copy of Lincoln’s book (you won’t be sorry) it can be found on internet used book sites such as abebook.com on most any day for $5. The best $5 you will ever spend.