The expression “gone fishing” has taken on a whole new meaning for Dale and Gail Stump.

Since 1999 the retired couple has taken their love of kayaking and fishing in a whole new direction: finding and recovering lost fishing lures from lakes throughout south-central Pennsylvania.

All told, they have amassed a collection containing over 4,200 lures and 6,500 bobbers. Visitors’ reactions to seeing the collection for the first time vary from an audible gasp to a stunned, slack-jawed silence.

Hitting the water with their green two-person kayak, the pair slowly paddles along the shore, sharp eyes scanning the water’s edge, underlying roots, and overhanging branches for lost lures and bobbers.

“It’s good exercise and very relaxing,” says Dale.

Sometimes recovery is as simple as plucking the object from the water or using a paddle to coax it out from under some vegetation or among tree roots.

More adventurous approaches include leaning precariously over the edge of the boat or plowing headlong into brambles as large spiders and snakes fall from overlying branches.

During the spring, Dale, being quite the prankster, has been known to trick unsuspecting family members into approaching areas of tall grass along the shore with promises of “that looks like a good spot,” only to sit back and heartily laugh as nesting, territorial Canada geese loudly hiss and boisterously attack their kayaks.

Perils during the winter have included becoming stuck atop sheets of ice, requiring sharp blows from their kayak paddles to break through.

Dale has developed an ingenious method of retrieving items caught high up in tree branches. Using a three-pronged gardening scratcher attached to three threaded sections of tube and a piece of PVC pipe, he can reach up to 20 feet in the air, pulling snagged items from the branches.

“Many a lure would fall down right on top of Gail or in the water if I didn’t hook it just right,” states Dale with a chuckle.

During the drought of 1999, Dale and Gail would walk along the newly exposed shoreline looking for lost fishing items. That year they found 507 items, including the contents of an unfortunate fisherman’s boat that had tipped over.

Other unusual finds include an ornate .22 rifle that was turned over to the proper authorities, golf clubs, complete tackle boxes, and a radio-controlled toy racing boat.

Finding the lures and bobbers is only the first step. When the pair gets the items home, Gail dutifully records the number and type of each item found in her journal and then carefully cleans them.

Dale is in charge of making any needed repairs and replacing missing hooks.

The next step is putting the lures and bobbers on display in a section of their basement affectionately called the “shrine.”

“I decided we had too many lures sitting around, and I wanted to display them,” explains Gail.

Various hanging wire baskets and clear jars house hundreds of brightly colored round bobbers. Stick bobbers are artistically hung on a wall display while still other bobbers are carefully sorted into smiley face and light-up styles.

A dazzling array of lures in every color of the rainbow hangs on chains strung from the rafters or arranged by style in displays backed by underwater scenes. Rapala minnows swim next to imitation crayfish.

Lead-headed jigs hang beside rubber worms.

Various spinners and spoons dangle from the ceiling, light gleaming off their shiny gold and silver blades. Multicolored poppers, surface plugs, and artificial frogs are suspended nearby.

Dale points out his favorite lure, a white mouse.

“I had to get out of the kayak to get it. It was up in a tree near the dam breast. It was really neat.”

An assortment of fishing lure catalogs add to the overall atmosphere, and a brightly colored yellow-and-green tin sign has been slightly altered to advertise Stumpy’s Bait and Tackle.

An adjacent wall display contains dozens of lead sinkers meticulously arranged by size and style.

Certain items have a place of honor in the display, including the small grasshopper lure that landed Gail in the emergency room after it became embedded in her thumb.

“He [Dale] wanted to cut it out, but I wouldn’t let him,” states Gail. “The doctor at the ER told me I was the first patient that year to have a hook taken out.”

The collection has become a family affair, as Dale and Gail’s children and grandchildren have gotten into the act. Not only do they retrieve lost lures and bobbers, they also provide fishing-related gag gifts, such as a larger-than-life bobber cooler and a gigantic Rapala fishing lure.

More importantly, the collection provides Dale, Gail, and their family with a compelling reason to get outside on the water and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

Gail keeps a detailed journal describing each outing. She includes the location, weather, wildlife seen, and other noteworthy observations.

Highlights include deer grazing and bedding down along the shore, a snapping turtle laying eggs on the bank, bald eagles and ospreys soaring overhead, beaver-cut trees, snakes and turtles sunning on rocks, flocks of geese and cormorants swimming nearby, and even a chipmunk eating raspberries under a tree.

When asked about their favorite memories, Gail fondly reminisces about a winter jaunt in which a thin layer of ice covered the lake and how melodious it sounded as the ice cracked and broke apart as they paddled through it.

“It was neat to go down early in the morning when no one else was on the lake. The sound of the breaking ice echoed across the lake,” she says.

Dale fondly recalls seeing large numbers of carp noisily splashing in the shallows during the spring spawning season and making a game out of trying to catch leaves in the boats as they fell from the trees in the fall.

“It was something — you never knew which way the leaves were going to go. It was a real workout, but a lot of fun.”

Overall, being hooked on fishing lures has provided a plethora of delightfully memorable experiences for Dale and Gail and has started a wonderful tradition that is being carried on by the entire family.


Bart Stump, a history teacher, writes from York, Pa., and has been published in numerous magazines.

All photos courtesy Bart Stump.

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