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.

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