Kewanee man plays big role in bringing national collectors show to Peoria

A son's disinterest turned into a passion for Gary Baze.


Years ago, when the time came to pass on a grandfather's tackle box, one of Baze's three sons declined the lure-filled case. So Baze wound up with the fishing gear.


Almost immediately he was hooked. Sorting through those lures and a few others he inherited from his father triggered something in Baze.


'I thought ‘I really like this. I'm going to collect these,' ' Baze said.


More than two decades later, the Kewanee resident's interest in old fishing gear has only grown. So has his role in the National Fishing Lure Collector Club, which Thursday through Saturday will bring its national show to Peoria for the second time since 2004.


Once again Baze and his wife Joye are helping organize the annual event, which is expected to lure 1,000 collectors and 600 display tables to the Civic Center. That's down from the last Peoria visit, due mostly to gas prices, Baze said. Co-chairs are Virgil and Gerri Lynne Hester of Edelstein and Dean Karouzas of Chicago.


In addition to representatives from all 50 states, a handful of collectors will fly in from Japan, Australia and Europe. All share an interest in old-time fishing gear, though the lures they covet vary greatly.


A traveling salesman who sells components for pole barns, Baze has for years searched antique stores for anything made by the Moonlight Bait Company between 1907-29.


'Everybody knows about Heddon and Creek Chub. I wanted to collect something not everyone was after,' Baze said. 'Plus, when I got started they were more affordable.'


Moonlight is known for top-notch paint jobs, and the proof is obvious in Baze's basement, where several Pikaroon lures look almost new.


'It's amazing that so much of this stuff has survived and the condition that it's in,' Baze said while holding a remarkably intact Pikaroon muskie bait. 'They weren't making these things to be antiques. They were making fishing baits.'


Some of Baze's baits do show signs of tussles with toothy critters. But not many. While scarcity is a key consideration in lure value, condition is the other major consideration.


For example, a 1920-era lure with most of its paint might fetch $300. The same lure that is chipped and worn could sell for as little as $10.


And in recent years, antique lure prices have generally been slumping. Baze said that's due largely to numerous collectors selling off their collections. Internet trading has also cut into the market. Baze said at any given time on E-bay you can find as many as 14,000 or more lures listed.


Even so, business figures to be brisk at the upcoming show. In addition to display tables at the Civic Center, plenty of trading takes place in rooms at the Pere Marquette and Holiday Inn City Centre.


If Baze finds any treasures they'll earn a spot in his unique display case — a 1932 wooden boat he hauled home from Memphis, Tenn. The boat is complete with a motor, though Baze said he had to find a larger horsepower outboard after taking some ribbing from fellow collectors.


'They told me the old motor I had on wouldn't have pushed the boat very well,' Baze said.


No question, attention to detail is critical to fishing lure collectors.


JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. He can be reached at jlampe@pjstar.com or 686-3212.