Terry McBurney is a collector. And a historian. And because of that, he also is a storyteller.
For the last 16 years, McBurney has written a monthly column for Woods-N-Water News, an outdoors publication out of Imlay City that is largely hunting- and fishing-oriented. His is one of the senior columns in the periodical, one of the most popular, and it deals entirely with antique fishing tackle.
“He stepped in I don’t know how many years ago, and all of a sudden he had a terrific following,” said Tom Campbell, editor of WNWN. “The feedback he’s gotten from readers has turned into some fantastic finds and stories down the line. That’s always been great, and we love that Terry has vast knowledge, and there’s hardly ever a question that he can’t answer. And he’s always willing to help; he doesn’t just write about it, he lives it.”
Indeed, fishing tackle has been a big part of his life since almost ever.
“My passion has always been fishing,” McBurney said. “I got a job in a sporting goods store at 15 and worked at it until I graduated from college. Then I went to work full time for a fishing tackle distributor.”
A Chicago native, McBurney, 76, relocated to Michigan briefly to stock Meijer sporting goods departments, but Meijer decided to go with another distributor, so he moved back to Illinois. But Meijer then asked him if he’d take over as its buyer, and in 1973, he moved to West Michigan permanently. During his tenure, Meijer briefly published an outdoors magazine, and that’s when McBurney discovered writing.
His early work “wasn’t very good,” according to McBurney. But he stayed with it and credits his late wife, a retired English teacher who helped him polish his writing.
McBurney became a tackle collector almost by accident, he said.
“I love fishing tackle of all types,” he said. “I’ve got my father’s reels. I’ve got his bamboo rod. You never think about it, but then all of a sudden, you’ve got a collection of old stuff.”
McBurney specializes in Michigan-made fishing tackle.
“Lures, rods, reels, accessories, whatever …,” he said. “The big Michigan companies — Heddon, Shakespeare, Paw Paw — I don’t collect those. I collect smaller companies. I’ve really had a lot of fun writing about smaller companies; it can be really difficult because everyone is gone, and the paperwork has been destroyed.”
McBurney has become a fixture at sporting shows, where his displays always draw a crowd. It’s all “show and tell,” he said, and folks regularly bring items to him to identify and sometimes purchase. But he’s more interested in where the items came from, how the owners acquired them and what they know about them.
“I do buy,” he said, “but I’m looking for good stories. My main purpose at the shows is to talk to people. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve learned so much.”
Visitors to his booth often try to buy his pieces, but McBurney never sells his personal collectibles, even when pressed. He does a lot of appraisals and, when he finds something truly unique, will offer fair value for it, but it’s increasingly rare that he finds something that flips
“…. one out of 30 will be interesting stuff,” McBurney said. “Every two or three years, you’ll see something that’ll curl your hair. And I shoot straight with people — I tell them exactly what they have.”
For example? A show visitor showed him a Hosmer Mechanical Froggie, a Dearborn-made bait with 54 individual pieces — pulleys and screws and glass eyes. It sold for $2 in the 1930s. The lure had belonged to the fellow’s girlfriend, who’d failed to sell it at a garage sale and considered just throwing it away.
McBurney asked the guy what he thought it was worth. He guessed $25. McBurney paid him $1,200.
“It’s beyond rare,” he said. “I don’t take it to shows — it’s too rare. It wasn’t dirty, but it was well worn. It was probably out of John Hosmer’s tackle box, and he fished the heck out of it. It’s the only one I’m ever going to see.“
“I just love meeting people like that.” ≈
By Bob Gwizdz | Photography by Johnny Quirin
Bob Gwizdz is a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and writer. He lives in East Lansing with his wife Judy.