Saturday, January 26, 2008

The man who was Heddon’s “Chief Dowagiac”

While researching information about fishing tackle history and specifically history about America’s Vintage Fishing Lines that I collect, I was fortunate to uncover the real identity of the man who was known in the late 1920s as Heddon’s “Chief “Dowagiac”. I was also even more fortunate to locate this man’s grandson, who has now helped me fill in some of the historical gaps in my research and to provide me with more information about this remarkable man who also became known as the “World’s Champion Trick Caster”

The real name of Heddon’s “Chief Dowagiac” was William “Bill” Lester Coller, and he was hired by Heddon in the late 1920s to put on trick bait casting exhibitions at fairs, and sportsman’s show to help promote Heddon’s lines, which he used when he demonstrated his incredible casting skills.

A young William L. Coller pictured laying beneath the string of fish - circa 1910

From an early age, Bill Coller took an avid interest in fishing and continuously honed his casting skills both on area lakes, and in local tournament casting events from which he earned several medals for accuracy in casting.

W. L. Coller standing in front of his family's sporting goods store - Circa 1912

Coller had a natural talent for casting, and he also had ready access to some of the very best casting equipment available at the time, since his family operated a sporting goods store that carried a full range of fishing tackle.

A 1928 Advertisement for the Omaha Sportsmen's Show featuring W. L. Coller as Heddon's "Chief Dowagiac"

From the late 1920s until the early 1930s, Coller worked for Heddon using the stage name “Chief Dowagiac” while displaying his superb casting skills at public events where he promoted Heddon’s lines and fishing tackle. Coller, with his entertaining trick casting abilities and his Indian attire quickly became a popular attraction at sporting related events and drew large crowds from afar who would come to see him perform his incredible tricks and feats of casting. To demonstrate his accuracy at casting, it was not uncommon for Coller to select some fellow from the audience, give him a cigar, light it and then proceed to knock the ash off the cigar from 60 yards away with a casting plug, without ever disturbing or removing the cigar from the fellows mouth.

One of the Heddon fishing lines used and promoted by W. L. Coller when he performed his casting tricks as Chief Dowagiac

Coller would always follow up his trick casting demonstrations with autograph signings, while he offered the members of his audience his expert casting advice and explained the special wrist techniques he used to help his many fans improve their own casting abilities.
All of these demonstrations were, of course, designed to promote the sales of Heddon’s products, but they also eventually helped to promote W. L. Coller’s own fame and celebrity as the World’s Champion Trick Caster.

Personal business card of W. L. Coller - World's Champion Trick Caster from the 1930s period when he represented the G. H. Mansfield Fishing Line Company
That “World’s Champion Trick Caster” title and the nick name “Chief” became synonymous with W. L. Coller, and he continued to use them long after he discontinued his association with Heddon in 1931 to take a similar position promoting the fishing lines manufactured by the G H Mansfield Company.

One of the fishing lines used and promoted by W. L. Coller when he represented the G H Mansfield fishing Line Company

Coller continued to perform his amazing trick casting demonstration at various public events well into the late 1930s, and was frequently interviewed by local newspaper reporters who regularly sought out his expert casting advice as he traveled across America to perform at sportsman’s shows and conventions.

W. L. Coller pictured in a 1939 newspaper interview

W. L. Coller died in 1945, but his legacy as Heddon’s “Chief Dowagiac” and his popularity with the public as the World’s Champion Trick Caster are forever preserved in the casting medals and photographs and newspaper articles that record the important role he played in the history of promoting the vintage fishing tackle and fishing lines that we collect today.

Friday, January 25, 2008


A Few Lines About Lines is the title that I have chosen to use for my new blog about vintage fishing lines.

I have chosen it because it states with simple brevity the sole objective of my blog – which is to periodically share a few lines of information about lines. More specifically, to share information about those old fishing lines on wooden spools that we collectors of antique fishing tackle will occasionally encounter in the pursuit of our collecting hobby.

There has been very little published previously to help my fellow tackle collectors to identify and value those old wooden spools of fishing lines that we find from time to time in our search for lures, rods, and reels. Likewise, there has not been very much information published about the people, firms, and history of this important segment of America’s fishing tackle industry.

Accordingly, I hope to help fill that void of information both with this blog and by completing and publishing a book, America’s Vintage Fishing Lines that I have been researching and writing for the past several years.

By sharing some of the knowledge that I have gained over these past several years about vintage fishing lines I hope to help my fellow antique tackle collectors to acquire an entirely new respect for those old fishing line spools that we find and to also acquire greater appreciation and knowledge about the significant role that the fishing line industry has played as it relates to our fishing tackle collecting hobby.

By the way, the title of my new “fishing lines” blog, A FEW LINES ABOUT LINES, is actually borrowed. The title was originally used in 1915 for a booklet that was published by the Ashaway Line and Twine Company of Ashaway Rhode Island.

Front and Back Cover of Ashaway's A FEW LINES ABOUT LINES published in 1915

This forty page booklet served as a sales and promotional piece for the company’s fishing line products and provided a brief history of the Ashaway company which actually began as the Crandall Line Company in 1824.

The story of the Swastika Brand describes the history of the company

This 1915 booklet explains the story of Ashaway’s choice of the Swastika as their company’s trade mark. Collectors may be surprised and interested to learn that the Swastika was actually considered a positive symbol for thousands of years, and was used as a “good luck” symbol for many centuries, in many countries and by many different cultures.

The Swastika was used long before it was ever adopted by Hitler and the Nazis and was always considered a positive symbol before it eventually acquired the negative connotations that we associate with it today.

Ashaway only used the Swastika trade mark on their fishing line labels between the years 1902 – 1933, and then discontinued its use after Hitler and the Nazi party came to power in Germany in the early 1930s and adopted the Swastika as their national symbol.

The presence or absence of the Swastika on the Ashaway fishing line label is one of the main tools that can help collectors to determine the age or time period that their particular fishing lines were made.

Ashaway’s booklet A FEW LINES ABOUT LINES also included many pages showing copies of letters that had been sent to Ashaway from some of the most prominent fishing tackle merchants and exclusive fishing clubs in America offering both their praise and endorsement of Ashaway’s fishing lines.

Thomas J. Conroy's 1915 Letter sent to praise Ashaway's Products

The Tuna Club endorsed Ashaway's lines in this 1915 letter

The Ashaway booklet A FEW LINES ABOUT LINES is considered to be quite a desirable and historic collector’s item, since it represent the very first known artistic use by Ashaway of the large orange ball (representing the sun) which was to appear just a few years later (1925) as an integral part of their Swastika trade mark that appeared on the reverse side labels of their fishing line spools.

The orange ball, or “sun rising from the ocean” (both with and without the Swastika in the center of the sun), featured on the back side labels of Ashaway's line spools can provide collectors with an important dating tool to them determine the age of their Ashaway line spools.

As to the booklet itself, an original copy of Ashaway’s 1915 publication, A FEW LINES ABOUT LINES, would be considered quite a rare find today. A collector can generally expect to pay as much as $150.00 - $200.00 to acquire a clean example with tight bindings and with no damaged or missing pages.

Below are some examples of the back side labels and the approximate time periods in which these labels were used by Ashaway.

This information should help my fellow fishing tackle collectors to better determine the approximate age of their Ashaway line spools -

Circa 1902 - 1915

Circa 1915 - 1925

Circa late 1920s to early 1930s

Circa 1924/1925 Rare Transition Logo

Circa 1925 - 1933

Circa 1934 - 1936

Circa 1937 - 1942

Circa 1943

Circa 1940s

Circa 1950s

Until my next posting here, please feel free to email me at if you have questions about the age or values of your old fishing line spools.