Friday, April 22, 2011

Fishing with Whiskey

One of the more imaginative ways that liquor companies have employed to advertise their products is by giving away fishing lures. It makes sense. People who fish -- particularly the men -- are also likely to imbibe alcoholic beverages from time to time, sometimes even while fishing. Who, for example, would embark on a day long day of fishing without at least a six pack in view?

Recognizing this market, distillers have issued a number of lures over the years, ranging from the practical to the absurd. Among the former is the crippled minnow lure from Early Times Bourbon. A classic, vintage shape, it is a medium-running lure, designed to hook anything from a muskie to a bass.

One of the earliest brand names in American whiskey history, Early Times Bourbon was founded by John H. Beam, uncle to the famous Jim Beam, near Bardstown, Kentucky in 1860. The distillery changed hands several times before Prohibition. After Repeal in 1934 Brown-Foreman Distillers bought the entire stock and the brand name. The lure probably dates from the 1950s when Early Times was the best-selling bourbon in the country.

The Old Charter lure is another example of a classic American fishing plug, sold in the past under various names, including “Pico Bayou” and “Boogie Perch Lure.” At 2 and 1/2 inches long and deep-running, however, it was meant for larger fish than perch and probably had its greatest use in angling for large mouth bass.

Old Charter is another historic whiskey brand name. Adam and Ben Chapeze, of French descent, first began distilling in 1867 at a Kentucky site called Chapeze Station. It took them another seven years to decide to call their liquor Old Charter Bourbon. The brand changed owners several times in the 1800s and ended up with Wright & Taylor before Prohibition. Subsequently the whiskey has had several ownership, including Schenley Industries and United Distillers.

With sport fishing a major industry in their homeland, Canadian distillers have been major contributors to whiskey lures. Shown here are three baits that were issued by Royal Canadian Whiskey. They include, from top, a bass spoon, a spinner, and a crippled minnow. Even today no respectable tackle box should be with a version of each.

Royal Canadian was a brand from the Hiram Walker family of whisky (as the Canadians spell it). Described as medium-bodied and advertised as “rich and rare,” this blend had considerable success in the U.S. and foreign markets until production ceased about 1995.

Bass spoons were a favorite distillery giveaway because the company name could easily be accommodated on the back. Gooderham and Worts, a Canadian firm with worldwide liquor interests, provided a golden lure with the slogan “Just for Luck Try a Nip” of its Old Rye. The American-made Ezra Brooks Bourbon provided a red and black bass spoon to its Isaac Walton adherents. To my knowledge, both whiskeys are still being made. Several years ago I witnessed fifths of Ezra Brooks being bottled and cased at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown.

From serious fishing equipment, we move to the semi-ridiculous. Four liquor companies issued items with the shape and label of their bottles. As my father often said: “Some lures catch more fishermen than fish.” The examples shown here would seem to bear out that insight.

The final whiskey lure is from Jim Beam and is thoroughly absurd. It features a 1 and 1/2 inch can of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Cola. with a spinner on top. This probably should hang from a Christmas tree rather than from the end of a spinning rod. Beam, named after the famous Jim, is probably the world’s best known bourbon. The distillery traces its origins to Beam’s grandfather who sold his first barrel of whiskey in 1795.

Whiskey-issued lures were, in retrospect, a useful advertising gimmick for distillers. Some had practical uses; others were meant to amuse one’s fishing buddies. All of them probably should bear a warning label: “When you reach for that nip, take care the rowboat doesn’t tip.”


  1. I also have several old G&W Seven Star 90%proof brass fishing spoons similar to the one above in their original package - as new. Any ideas on year produced (from my deceased father-in-law) - probably got pre 50's when they had a liquor store in Buffalo. Are they of any value?

  2. Sorry not to get to your question sooner. So many of these were made they have slight value. The G&W seem to me to be useful as baits. They throw well and spoons often catch bass. All the best. Jack

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