Matt Downs provides the perfect analogy for bait shows.
“I see this as going to that ‘Star Trek' convention,” he said. “I understand it's weird, but I really don't want to stop doing it.”
Take in the North American Vintage Bait Show and Sports Collection, which runs April 25-29 at Chicago's Westin Lombard Hotel. It has been billed as “North America's largest sports bait and collection show” and is organized by the Bait Collectors Association of North America.
When I attended the previous incarnation at the former Pheasant Run Resort, I was overwhelmed as a casual fan.
Apparently, I missed the coolest part—room-to-room trading, which is the first three days. I intend to fix it this year.
”Most of the dealers are there starting Monday or Tuesday,”said Downs. “A lot of good stuff is lost in the room-to-room trade.”
Guyette and Deeter Inc. Auctions are the third and fourth days. Ballroom shows are the fourth and fifth days. The event is open to the public.
“Room to room is probably the most fun,” says Downs. “New people are probably the most fun and the most social. In Pheasant Run, that would be an entire building. It will take half a day to walk, and you will forget your room, you see something you want. There are many things. Some are very expensive and the next room is cheap.”
The bait collection is very diverse.
“Different people are attracted to different things,” says Downs. ”Some go down in history: Who made the bait for this gun club? Other people buy based on what looks cool to them. Some focus on factory feeds; some of them are more affordable.”
There are people from the countryside who have hunted and fished all their lives, with limited money, who spend what they can. Then you have the big collectors, like Paul Tudor Jones.
“You had this widespread (meeting),” Downs said. “Some have their own art adviser coming with them.”
I was wondering if people ever used pooled bait.
”There are people who will dump it in their rig,” said Downs.
He quotes top sculptor, Marty Hanson of Hayward, Wisconsin. People use the bait, which is worth thousands. Michigan collector Ken Cole hunts for the bait he collects.
Cameron McIntyre of Virginia is an “extraordinary engraver” who uses hand tools. He is so talented that he returns old baits. He is a versatile artist.
”On the show, they are celebrities and rock stars,” said Downs.
As for himself, Downs said: ”I carve as a hobby. I didn't really tell anyone about it. It just doesn't make sense to people.”
At auctions, before the market crashes, sales regularly set world records and routinely run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The market has settled since then.
Mike Stevenson of Guyette & Deeter emailed: “Black duck by the Caines brothers was the top lot of the sales, estimated at $150,000 to $180,000.”
He lists some of the other highlights: The George & Miriam Van Walleghem Collection (a collection of the most important fish baits up for auction and lots of interesting duck baits) and the Herb Desch collection (the finest selection of baits Wisconsin has ever offered at a single sale).”
The show will feature vintage displays, demonstrations of contemporary carvings and paintings, and free judging.
”There's something for everyone,” says Downs. ”You can buy things for $10. You don't have to buy anything. You can spend thousands of dollars if you want.”
Adult admission is $5. For more information, call (586) 530-6586 or visit nadecoycollectors.org.