Fish The 101-Year-Old Dardevle

DEARBORN – Design a spoon with a wonderful fish-catching action, draw a devils head on it, add a great paint job and what do you have? A devle of a lure, and one I always carry in every one of more than 15 tackle boxes.

Most importantly, it would be an instantly recognizable fishing lure called the Dardevle. Years ago, the late Ed Eppinger, a nephew of Lou Eppinger who founded this lure-making company 101 years ago, and I fished together every year. Ed always filled me in on the history of this world famous fishing lure.

He would tell me about the classy wobbling spoon with a devils face painted on it. It is a spoon that has become a standby for millions of anglers around the world, and I’m proud to be one of them. I’ve always said if I were stranded in the bush and had but one lure with which to gather food, it would be a Dardevle. This spoon has always been a steady producer of big fish for me.

Over 55 years, one or another of their many lure models has produced, among these and species: Arctic char, Arctic grayling, largemouth and smallmouth bass, brook trout, brown trout, channel catfish, chinook and coho salmon, crappies, lake trout, muskellunge, northern pike, pink salmon, rock bass, splake, steelhead, striped bass, walleyes, white bass and yellow perch.

“Uncle Lou Eppinger invented the Dardevle in 1906,” Ed told me many years ago. “The red-and-white striped spoon was originally called an Osprey Lure, and it wasn’t until 1919 when the name Dardevle was coined.

“Dardevles were named after one of the nicknames of the U.S. Marines, and the deliberate misspelling was considered a sop to the clergy who objected to the word Devil in print. For countless years, newspaper and magazine editors spelled the name wrong but savvy fishermen always knew which lure they were writing about.”

Eppinger Manufacturing celebrated its 100th birthday last year, and they continue to make new lures, as well as the old standbys. They’ve added new finishes to the lures, and are now among the nations oldest fishing lure companies.

Thirty years ago, Eppinger said that 75 percent of their production and sales was for the original red-white Dardevle with a nickel back finish. The obvious No. 2 choice is yellow with five red diamonds. Both colors are known to produce heavy catches of big northern pike and countless other species.

“Uncle Lou always was a stickler for advertising and lure quality,” Ed told me before his death. “That tradition continues today. ‘A Dardevle In Every Tackle Box’ was his motto decades ago, and constant advertising is what kept this company in business during the early years. Our success continues today with dedicated family involvement.”

Ed Eppinger said many fishermen never realize that the company produces 6,000 different sizes, shapes and lure color combinations. He told me that in addition to the original Dardevle, they make Devle Dogs, Jr. Devle Dogs, Huskie Devles, Sagamore Spoons, Flutter Chucks, Dardevle Imps, Dardevle Spinnies and many other models.

One of my favorite angling memories is when Ed and I fished on the Muskegon River downstream from Newaygo. The early chinook salmon runs had captured the imagination of state anglers, and the stream was crowded with fish and fishermen on that sunny October day.

Many anglers were snagging fish as they schooled in deep holes but Eppinger waded out into the river and kept flinging a Rok’t Devle into the deep hole in an attempt to tease a fish into striking. He soon hooked a fish on the fast-sinking lure, and the king salmon rampaged back and forth across the river for several minutes before jumping once and getting away.

“That was fun,” he said, “but the fish beat me fair and square. I’ll keep fishing this hole until another salmon grabs the spoon, and hangs on long enough for me to land it.”

He landed five salmon that day, and all were fair-hooked. I netted each one, and a broad grin creased his face as we released each fish so it could swim off to spawn.

Ed’s fishing fun became a year ’round vocation. He made countless trips to Great Bear Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, to South America, Mexico and across North America to make movies and publicize the lures his company made. He was a goodhearted Goodwill Ambassador for fishing.

“Fishing makes me feel good and keeps me young,” he said. “And I fish every chance I get for whatever species is available. I’m as much at home trolling Lake Michigan for chinook salmon, casting spoons at hammer-handle northern pike or pegging out cast after cast with a Dardevle Midget for Arctic grayling on a remote Canadian lake where the only sounds are the putt-putt of an outboard motor or the hysterical call of a loon at sunset.”

Ed Eppinger was a shrewd businessman. He bought other lure companies that were struggling to survive, and incorporated some of their designs into his lures. Many are still being made today.

“I’m just an average fisherman, but feel that through my company’s efforts, we’ve helped millions of anglers catch fish and learn more about how to enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “Making money was never terribly important to me, but having fun was.”

His daughter, Karen, now runs the company with the skilled help of her daughter and other family members. The company began as a family business, and remains so today.

I can’t think of a finer way to enjoy a long and satisfying life than to do it as Ed Eppinger did. Especially when you can live it with a Devle. A Dardevle, that is!

Big Trout Die Of Old Age In Inland Lakes

Many people feel the June Hexagenia limbata hatch may be the best time of year to catch a big brown trout. Not everyone shares that philosophy.

Many inland trout lakes offer superb brook, brown, lake and rainbow trout fishing but they are virtually ignored by most anglers. A few hold some awesome brook trout.

These two-story lakes have warm-water game fish in the shallow upper water levels, and the colder, deeper water is home to some big, old trout. Many of these inland trout lakes hold specimens of the trout family that die of old age and are never hooked.

I learned this brand of fishing over 35 years ago from the late Art Dengler of Saginaw. He once told me that about 75 of Michigan’s 83 counties had trout lakes although that number may have changed in recent years.

Dengler and I fished together many times over the 1960s and 1970ss, and he boasted that he had caught limit catches of trout from more than 300 state lakes. It was no idle boast; I was with him on 35-40 different lakes, and he taught me most of his trolling tactics.

“Late May and through June can be a magical time on a trout lake,” Dengler said many years ago. “My methods always work providing anglers remember several things. A 14- or 16-foot boat and an outboard motor capable of trolling all day at putt-putt speeds is very important.”

His techniques require knowing the exact water temperature that trout prefer. Browns and rainbows like water of 58 degrees while brookies and lakers prefer 50-52 degrees. This means anglers must fish near bottom structure in deep water. The water, as it warms, forms a thermocline; warm water on the surface, cooler water in that narrow band below the warm water, and the bottom layer, which holds the coldest water. Most of the trout will be caught in the middle layer of water.

It’s important to think of a lakes water as a sandwich. The top slice of bread is the upper layer and the coldest water represents the bottom slice. The meat part of this aquatic sandwich is called the thermocline or middle layer. It’s critically important to know where the trout will be found, and water temperature will pinpoint the depth for you.

An electric water thermometer is needed, and attach a quarter-pound weight to the sensor unit. Lower it five feet at a time and take a reading until it reaches the desired temperature level (usually 20-25 feet at this time of year). He uses emerald shiners for bait, and a Cowbell with silver, brass or half-and-half (half silver and half brass) blades serve as an attractor. Use silver blades on bright days, and brass blades on overcast days. Cowbells with three or four blades work best when properly rigged up.

Tie an 8-pound, 18-inch leader to a No. 10 or 12 treble hook, and tie the opposite end to the back end of the Cowbell after threading on the minnow. Add enough weight (usually a quarter to half-ounce) to the Cowbell keel, and release line slowly until the attractor bumps bottom at the preferred depth and temperature.

Use a surgical needle and insert the point in the minnows vent and push it out through the mouth. Pull the line through and hook shank up inside the minnow, tie the leader to the Cowbell, and start letting line out slowly.

A very slow troll is needed to create the thumping beat of the Cowbell blades as they turn over. If the rig bumps bottom, reel up two or three turns. The ideal depth is within a foot of bottom.

The next part is more difficult. It’s important to keep one eye on the depth finder, and the bottom usually moves in and out. The boat must move in and out with bottom contour changes so the sewed-on minnow and Cowbell will be very close to bottom. A quality sonar unit is crucial to success, and learn how to anticipate depth changes.

Where to look for trout in an inland trout lake? Look for sharp points that extend out into deep water from shore, and fish the sides and off the tip of the point. Bottom contour changes where the depth breaks off into deeper water can be a good spot, and the edges of submerged islands or deep-water weed beds are hotspots, too. Fast breaking stair-step ledges are excellent if you can get your Cowbell and minnow to the proper depth.

Dengler has passed away and he took many of his trout-fishing secrets with him. However, as his young protege, he taught me most of his trolling tricks.

So now, in his memory, today’s anglers can benefit from his expertise on Michigan’s inland trout lakes. These lakes are where many trout die of old age without every seeing a bait or lure … or ever being hooked.

Where to fish: The following inland lakes hold trout. Try Maceday in Oakland County; Green and Duck lakes in Grand Traverse; Blue, Big Twin and Starvation lakes in Kalkaska. Try Crystal Lake in Benzie County; Glen Lake and Lake Leelanau in Leelanau; and Lake Charlevoix, Thumb Lake (Lake Louise) and Walloon Lake in Charlevoix. Other good trout lakes include Big Bradford, Big Chub and Pickerel lakes in Otsego; Black, Burt and Mullet lakes in Cheboygan, and Avalon and Long lakes in Montmorency. Higgins Lake in Roscommon County produces a lot of trout, and a few large lakers and the occasional splake.

Upper Peninsula trout lakes include Bedspring, Just and Twin lakes in Marquette County; Dairy, Moon and Ward lakes in Luce; Duke’s and Highbanks lakes in Chippewa; and Castle Rock Pond in Mackinac. Anglers should note special regulations on certain trout lakes. Consult detailed county regulations in the 2006 Michigan Fishing Guide, and check with local DNR offices for information on other trout lakes.

Cowbell fishing: It’s impossible to stress how slow the boat must go to bring out the proper thump of the Cowbell blades. Troll too fast, and the blades will spin hard. It doesn’t require a pool-cue rod to fish Cowbells but the rod requires some backbone, and baitcasting reels with a good drag are best.

The strike: There will be no misunderstanding when a trout hits a minnow trolled behind the Cowbell. My suggestion is to put rods in rod holders close to the water. I’ve known men to suffer a sprained wrist when a big trout strikes. Once a trout is hooked, back the drag off a bit so the fish can take line.

When to fish: Early morning, as the sun rises, is always the best time. Fishing often remains good until about 10 a.m., and then it picks up again just before dark.