MOONLIGHT BAITS- IF YOU FISH IT THEY WILL COME
OK, it is not a Moonlight Graham baseball card, but some of us are avid lure collectors. Some have only a passing curiosity. I am an historian and a fisherman, making me curious about both the lore and the lures of our sport. Paw Paw, Michigan is one of those places where both came together. Around 1906, a group of Paw Paw fishermen started the Moonlight Fishing Club. Legend has it that these guys worked the day shift, and accordingly, only found time to fish after the sun went down. One of these night stalkers, Horace Emery Ball, liked to experiment with baits of his own design, and he began making lures for himself and fellow club members. His plugs grew in popularity and in 1908/09 Ball and Charles Varney, another club member, decided to commercialize their lure making and founded The Moonlight Bait Company.
Their first product was a topwater lure called the Moonlight Floating Bait, for which they
were awarded a patent in 1910- the business was on its way.Their lures were handmade wooden lures which, based on their experience, were shaped, painted, and outfitted with hooks they believed would catch the biggest fish. True to their night fishing heritage, most of their lures were painted in colors that would assure the best visibility at night. The Company gained success, and by 1918 they had several lures in their line, including the original Floating Bait, the Zig-Zag, the Wiggler, and the Dreadnaught.
In 1923, Moonlight Bait Company became Moonlight Bait and Novelty Works when it acquired the Silver Creek Novelty Works of Dowagiac, Michigan. This merger greatly expanded their line of merchandise. In 1924, Clyde Sinclair and Floyd Phelps purchased Moonlight, and in 1927, they acquired the rights to the Hastings Sporting Goods Works providing further breadth to their offerings.
The new owners changed the name of their “conglomerate” of products, becoming Paw
Paw Bait company around 1928. At the same time, they expanded into fly fishing lures. By 1929 Paw Paw was in full swing. Over the years, Paw Paw expanded their catalog to include items such as ice spearing decoys and duck decoys- now highly prized by collectors. Paw Paw sold to the Shakespeare Tackle Company of Kalamazoo in the early 1970’s. Shakespeare subsequently sold the lure making end of Paw Paw to the Creek Chub Bait Company of Garrett, Indiana thus ending the Michigan connection.