Johnson: Sometimes traditions are passed on without us even knowing

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By Andrew Johnson

I learned how to tie a fishing knot before I learned how to tie my shoes and, years later, the knot my father called the “fisherman’s knot” was the first fishing knot I taught my own children.

I don’t know the proper name of the knot, and I don’t care to. I just know that it’s simple to tie and that it works … most of the time.

Dared by the devil

Growing up, I knew better than to raid my dad’s tackle box. He never told my brother, sister or me to not rummage through it, but we just knew it was off limits and was only to be taken out of its storage spot in the back of the garage when we went fishing.

I did have my own tackle box when I was little, but it wasn’t much to look at. Its tin exterior was scarred and dented, and most of its blue-green paint had been chipped away by abuse and time. It was tiny, about the size of a quart of ice cream, and I loved it.

I was the youngest child, which meant I was last in line to receive hand-me-downs of any sort, including fishing gear. As a result, my tackle collection started off as an assortment of rusty hooks, half-melted plastic worms and some old, discolored Fuzz-E-Grubs.

By comparison, I used to think Dad’s tackle box was probably the largest one ever made. It was a monster, and its two-part, overlapping lid would spread wide and out would stretch two giant folding arms. Each of the arms had three trays, complete with compartments of varying sizes.

I often wondered why he needed something so big, as it seemed all we ever used were bottom bouncers and spinning rigs, or maybe a few snelled Eagle Claw hooks, some split-shot weights and a bobber or two. In fact, I don’t really remember my father ever casting or trolling with crankbaits or other lures that much, if at all. Dad was a believer in using live bait — minnows, leeches, night crawlers — which meant we were all believers in live bait.

However, when I was a child it seemed like every time he’d open his tackle box it would glow with lures of every size, shape and color, and there was always one in particular that would grab my attention.

The lure’s red, concave profile was cut in half by a white swoosh with the silhouette of a devilish figure stenciled on it. It had a large treble hook that was carefully guarded by a light-orange plastic cover. On its belly there was no paint, just polished steel imprinted with capital letters spelling the name “DARDEVLE.”

The lure resembled a stop sign or a warning of some type. But I failed to heed the warning, and one summer day when I was 9 years old, I stole the spoon.

A few days earlier I had been fishing with some friends along the banks of the Big Sioux River in my hometown of Dell Rapids. We were fishing where the river split in two behind the baseball field, and my friends were catching nice catfish on small, silver spoons that looked like unpainted, miniature versions of my dad’s Dardevle.

Meanwhile, my hook-and-worm setup had only managed a bullhead or two that day, so as I rode my bike home I came up with a game plan. I decided I’d simply borrow the Dardevle, catch some trophy fish, become a local legend and return the lure to its rightful place in Dad’s tackle box before he got home from work.

The day of the crime I arrived at the river and carefully tied the lure on the end of my line using the fisherman’s knot my father had taught me. On my very first cast, I felt the end of my fishing pole go limp and watched as the Dardevle splashed into the murky current of the Big Sioux, never to be seen again. I reeled in the slack line in horror to see that the knot had given way during the cast.

This is the first time I have confessed to this heinous act, and to this day I have no idea if my father ever wondered why he always had an extra light orange treble-hook cover. If he had known the reason all these years, he never said a word.


Last summer I took my son fishing along the shore of a nearby lake. I was casting a shallow-running, crawdad-colored crankbait along the rip-rap shoreline, while my son, who was 11 at the time, opted to use a jig tipped with various soft plastics.

I landed several nice fish that day, including a couple smallmouth bass and a few keeper walleyes, while the boy only managed to lose a half-dozen jigs in the rip rap. He’s stubborn like his old man, so instead of switching to a crankbait, he’d tie on a different jig and top it off with a different tail, resolved to catch fish his way, not mine.

I didn’t think much of that trip until a few days ago when I decided it was time to reorganize my fishing tackle for the upcoming open water season. I had stripped all the terminal tackle off of all of our poles last fall, so when I laid everything out in the garage I was surprised to see a lure already tied on the line of my son’s favorite fishing pole. It was a crawdad-colored crankbait he must’ve swiped from one of my tackle boxes.

I haven’t said anything to him about it, and I doubt I will. I did, however, check his knot.

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A brief history of the Dardevle fishing lure

It’s undeniable that the red-and-white Dardevle spoon would be featured on the Mount Rushmore of fishing lures. Even people who don’t fish know what a Dardevle is, which is testament to the lure’s iconic status.

However, many people don’t know the history behind this lure, which is still made today by the Eppinger Manufacturing Co.

According to the Eppinger website — aptly named — the first spoon was made in 1906 when Lou Eppinger hammered out a 2-ounce spoon that was thinner in the middle and thicker toward the edges. When he cast it into the shallows it would swing and wobble from side to side, nearly turning over but always righting itself. By 1912 he had turned his prototype into a finished lure, the Osprey.

The lure’s name was changed in 1918 at the conclusion of World War I to honor marines from the 4th Marine Brigade, who were called the Dare Devils. At the time, Eppinger changed the spelling in order to appease people who might be offended by the word devil in print.


If there were a Mount Rushmore of fishing lures, it’s likely the original red-and-white Dardevle spoon would be one of the four lures carved into the mountain. American News Photo by Andrew Johnson