Heddon Fishing Lures

James Heddon Inventor & Creator of Artificial Fishing Lures

Heddon Lures is a brand that dates back to 1894 when James Heddon launched his own wooden handmade lure into a Dowagiac, Michigan pond. This single event marked the creation of the artificial fishing lure market with the lure branded, "Dowagiac." Heddon is now widely known as the father and creator of the artificial lures that now line the shelves at any fishing aisle across the world. The biggest change from his creation to now is the shift from wood to plastic resins that make up the majority of artificial fishing lures.

History of Heddon artificial fishing lures creation

James Heddon Bass Fishing Artificial Lure Inventor

James Heddon was born on August 28, 1845. He was born in Stafford, N.Y. and moved to a place near Magician Lake in 1849, and ultimately, to the Dowagiac area as a teenager in 1860. His passion for bass fishing started early and continued on the shore of Mill Pond in Dowagiac, Michigan. His first business was beekeeping, and at age 22, he became the first Michigander to make a living doing it. He later became one the largest honey producing companies in the U.S.

One day while waiting on a friend at the park he tossed a small piece of wood into the water and it was immediately struck by a bass. Up to this point he always used live bait on a hook to catch them, but was shocked to find that a fish would actually strike and try to eat a piece of wood. This got him to realize that a live bait didn't need to attract these predatory fish, and the artificial wooden lure was born.

That day in 1894 led James Heddon to start building a topwater lure made out of a wooden broomstick. He carved it into the shape of a small fish. Paying respect for his hometown, Heddon decided to name this new wooden lure creation the ‘Dowagiac’. A few years later, this prototype was turned into an actual company and below is one of the original lures from 1902.

James Heddon 1902 Wooden Fishing Lure 

Mill Pond still to this day commemorates his invention with a sign marked, ‘James Heddon Park’ as ‘It was near this spot in the 1890’s that James Heddon sat whittling while waiting for a friend. When he got up to leave he tossed the small piece of wood into the water where it was immediately struck by a bass.’ The town of Dowagiac, Michigan also built the Heddon Museum to honor the history of the company and display many of the Heddon company creations. On display are more than 1,000 lures, 140 reels and 150 rods, including an original James Heddon frog, one of the most sought-after of all collector lures.

Heddon company history lesson

Heddon Lures was founded in 1902 and is the oldest artificial lure company still producing quality fishing products to this day. One of the most incredible stats about the start of the business was once issued the patent on his first lure, he sold 10,000 lures in 8 just weeks. Just think about how impossible it would be to sell that kind of volume before the days of the internet, social media and other advertising technology allowing for brands to go viral that we see today.

His success can be attributed to his dedication to the product by doing research that had never been done before. He studied over 500 bass strikes on his lures to understand what really makes a fish bite. 

Timeline of James Heddon's Sons product releases

Release date Product milestone
1894 James Heddon launches his first homemade wooden fishing lure into the Mill Pond
1902 Heddon Lures is founded and the first ever production wooden artificial fishing lure is released named the Dowagiac
1904 Heddon gets a Candian distributor and moves out of their family kitchen to a factory in Dowagiac, MI
1917 Heddon adds fishing reels to their product line
1920s James Heddon’s Sons was the world’s largest producer of quality fishing tackle
1932/1933 The first plastic artificial lures were introduced by the brand, named "Spook" because of their transparent color appearance. The first generation of these lures were known to decay from poor plastic manufacturing. Few examples have survived over the years making them a collector's item
1950s By the mid-century the company became known as a market leader in fishing lures, reels, poles and other equipment
1955 Heddon family sells their business to the Murchinson family
1983 Heddon is sold to EBSCO/PRADCO outdoor company
Lessons we can learn from Heddon's artifical fishing lure discovery

If there was one thing that James Heddon prided himself on it was understanding bass and the way they interacted with a fishing lure. He deeply understood the most important moment in an angler's journey which is the "strike." This is the moment when the fish decides to become a predator and go for a prey, bait or lure. Essentially what he discovered is the striking for bass is based upon the action within the water as opposed to the actual scent of a live bait.

James passed away at the age of 66 on December 7, 1911. Heddon’s artificial lure fishing creation helped revolutionize bass fishing, which is why he was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2020. Several of his creations remain popular today, including the Zara Spook, River Runt, Meadow Mouse and Lucky 13.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

1 of 3