My Grandfather's Jitterbug

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Paul Roberts
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My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Paul Roberts »



This story revolves around an ordinary, and well-used, Arbogast Jitterbug that my paternal grandfather had bought sometime in the late 40’s. I call him “my grandfather” rather than “Grandpa” bc I never knew him. He was killed in a car wreck in 1955, when my dad was 22 yrs old and just returning home from the Navy. “You would have really liked him”, my Dad would say of him.

The two fished together, spending part of their summers at a cottage on Black Lake in northern NYS. My grandfather, his brothers (my dad’s uncles), and a cadre of neighbors were all there for the same reason: the bass fishing. Dad’s recollections from that time include he and his dad collecting “bass bugs” (dragonfly nymphs) for bait from the shoreline weed beds, and hunting up frogs legs with a .22 rifle from a small skiff, my grandfather hand pushing the skiff through the shallows.

Dad in the early 40's with his .22 (probably a Remington 512) at the family's Black Lake camp.


These were fond memories for my dad, and his interest in fishing peaked while he was away on his stint with the Navy. One letter he sent to his dad included a wonderful illustration (my dad went on to become a professional illustrator) of favorite bass lures. I ended up with that illustration at one point, years ago. Sadly, it appears to have been lost. Still hoping it’ll turn up in a box somewhere.

Black Lake today is still a great bass fishery, however, my dad and I never did make that run together. This is surprising, thinking back on it, as Dad and I fished together often. We even made a few runs to the St Lawrence River, not all that far from Black Lake.

My Dad on the St. Lawrence 1980's: The old school eye-hold he’s using on that pike was apparently still in vogue then. We did keep it, and some smallies and perch, on that trip. The photo also shows a Zebco 888 and heavy action glass rod. I don't know where that rod ended up. The reel is now filled with 130# dacron and has served as an effective anchor winch on my float tube for over 10yrs.


I remember, from sometime in the early 70’s, some of my grandfather’s tackle down in our basement collecting dust and mildew. There was a brown aluminum double-sided tackle box with cork lined trays; Kennedy, or JC Higgins (considering quality/cost of the other gear)? Alongside were propped a couple of telescoping steel “bait rods” and a single translucent solid fiberglass “bass rod”.

I remember one reel, and have since been able to identify it by the fishing scene stamped into the reel’s side-plates, and the jeweled caps —a 1940’s Bronson Mercury. When I saw one much later -after I'd caught the direct-drive bug- I recognized it immediately: my grandfather’s bass reel! Apparently, that stamped fishing scene etched its way into my long term memory.

Mercury Sideplate:

1940's Mercury (w/jewelled end caps):

1950's Mercury (w/metal end caps):


Apart from the musty scent, and some sinkers and snelled hooks, I remember little else of my grandfather's tackle box’s other contents. Possibly, there wasn’t much left in the box when my Dad acquired it. I’m now in possession of just three of my grandfather’s lures: a Paw Paw Bass Seeker (plastic, late 40’s) in Yellow Shore Minnow color; a Heddon jointed River Runt Spook Floater (plastic, presumably late 40’s as well) in “Pike Scale” color; and the Jitterbug (plastic, and dating —by hardware— as early as 1947), in Green/Silver Scale/White Belly.

1940's Jitterbug Ad:

Grandfather's Jitterbug Hardware:

Jitterbug Hardware:


It was that Jitterbug that created some indelible memories, that continued to accrue over four generations of Roberts’ —over 70 years time. And they’re not likely over yet; Lures are meant to be fished. However, this one is thrown where it will be safe from too much serious trouble. I do have other Jitterbugs to throw.

Me with my Grandfather's Jitterbug (1980's):


My first memory of that Jitterbug came about when I was very young, actually on my very first fishing trip at 5yrs of age, to the Racquet River in northern NYS. There I caught my very first fish, an event that woke something in me, a sense of awe that hasn’t left me to this day. My introduction to that Jitterbug coincided with my first memory of bass, two that Dad brought in one evening, just before bedtime. Those bass left an impression on me as well, because I’d not seen fish so big! They were so much larger than my prize rock bass.

Another memory of that Jitterbug came a few years later —I would have been 10yrs old—on a camping trip to Cranberry Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. On a pitch black night, my brother and I walked the shoreline of that big lake with Dad, he toting his father’s glass casting rod. I think we were using Zebco spincast reels by then, my dad using a 404 I believe. We couldn’t see Dad’s Jitterbug out there in the blackness, but could clearly hear its mesmerizing “plop plop plop plop”, pause…“plop plop plop plop”, pause.... I think that sound is so mesmerizing bc of what often comes next. I remember that resounding crash of water, my dad reacting, his rod arched, attached to something that sounded very large, too large to be a fish, the sound certainly amplified in the darkness. Cranberry is a big, bouldered, driftwood strewn smallmouth lake and the one dad was affixed to was not small and crashed the water’s surface repeatedly. I remember Dad braced against the strain on the rod. Almost as suddenly as the strike, the bass was gone, the hook thrown, but those sounds that night left an indelible impression. That Jitterbug held some kind of magic from there on out.

Recently, my Dad, at 89 years, came to live with us. While helping him go through his things, we came upon a yellowed envelope containing some old B&W photos dating from the 1940’s. Some were from their summers at Black Lake. So I recently turned over a shelf in my office to some of these memories that includes my grandfather’s lures, a pre-1950 Bronson Mercury I picked up for the purpose, and a rock painting my Dad made and gave me for Christmas in 1973, depicting a largemouth leaping clear of the water to pounce on "grandfather’s Jitterbug"; I believe it represents a strike that he witnessed once some years before. He doesn't remember that strike now, along with many other things, but, somehow, I do. Almost as if I''d been there.

My Grandparents in their boat on Black Lake:

Black Lake Images from my Dad's youth in the 1940's:




Shelf display:
Last edited by Paul Roberts on Tue Dec 12, 2023 3:17 pm, edited 11 times in total.
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Mike N
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Mike N »

Great tribute story, Paul, and those black & white photos made me nostalgic for the good old days. I wish you continued happy memories with your father at his precious age.
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kyreels
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by kyreels »

Great photo essay. The Jitterbug is a fantastic lure for topwater bass. Given the price of lures today, you can still find lots of vintage Jitterbugs for $5 or less. I have filled a box with them.

I can relate to the story, I have a set of B&W photos from my wife's side that are similar in nature. You inspired me to go fish them out.
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Ron Mc
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Ron Mc »

ooh, ooh, ooh, I love topwaters that have action at rest, and Jitterbug is at the top of the list.
A wood jitterbug is over the top, and having a collection of grandad tackle is super.

My first big bass, 19-y-o, 6-1/2 lbs, was on a black/yellow jitterbug (of course, plastic), sitting in a long rest, and I was fishing it with more rest than retrieve.

I have a collection of Japanese wood plugs going, and the main object is at-rest action.
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they like their variations on jitterbug, as well
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Paul Roberts
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Paul Roberts »

Yes, a resting lure does account for a lot of large bass, surface or subsurface. If interest is piqued, too much movement can extinguish it. Lures generally look ‘wrong’ most of the time.
Last edited by Paul Roberts on Wed Jul 26, 2023 6:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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john elder
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by john elder »

Ha! That discussion brought back some memories! This is my dad’s Jitterbug, the only lure i still have from that time. You can see it had a run-in with a Reefer Worm back when we first started using plastic worms and had not learned the hard lesson about their ability to ruin paint jobs. I used to get bored when the fish were not biting and would tie that J-bug on and crank the snot out of it on retrieve. What a great action! I can safely say that i never once had a bass get interested in that lure, but it was fun to watch and listen to it churn across the water!

The lure I had most luck with fishing top water was a Hula Popper. That was one lure that fishing slow really paid off.

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Ron Mc
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Ron Mc »

Great post John,
one of a few vintage wood plugs in my tackle curio, though I've never fished it

Not going to have any dad or grandad wood plugs - my dad grew up grappling catfish in Muddy Canal.
Though when I was growing up, we had some fine times there running trotline all night.

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Bill Sonnett
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Bill Sonnett »

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image hosting Aside from the fact that they catch fish one of the things I like about a wooden Jitterbug is that it is older than me and I will be 80 next January---LOL
I love to get old reels, work on them until they run as smooth as silk and the take them fishing using pre-1960 plugs, mostly surface fishing for Largemouths after dark.
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Thomas Hendrickson »

This thread is so much fun to read. :D
Paul Roberts
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Paul Roberts »

John, very cool that you have your dad's 'bug!
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Paul Roberts
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Re: My Grandfather's Jitterbug

Post by Paul Roberts »

Paul Roberts wrote: Wed Mar 01, 2023 9:11 pm Alongside were propped a couple of telescoping steel “bait rods” and a single translucent solid fiberglass “bass rod”.
Since re-collecting some of my grandfather's old tackle —the originals having long since disappeared— I've kept my eyes open for an old translucent solid glass casting rod. But I haven't been willing to go too far out of my way to acquire one, most of them being so heavy and clubby. As much as I'd like to re-collect my grandfather's bass rod, I will want to fish it. So I haven't been willing to purchase one sight-unseen online. But they do show up in antique and thrift stores here and there, usually appropriately bargain priced, and I will give them a shake. No bites so far, until today!

I was in a thrift store and found a box of old, mostly damaged, glass rods buried in a corner. In it were four translucent solid casting rods. Three were typical rubbery clubs, but one had a nice, surprisingly crisp, Mod action taper. "This one's... fishable!", I said out loud. And I took it home for 75cents. It was missing several guides and the handle needed restoration.

Back home, it turned out I already had a replacement handle —another thrift store find I’d squirreled away. It was a nice looking handle with a quality screw-lock type reel seat, but was missing the collet and chuck. My thinking was that I might be able to creatively fit a blade to it somehow. Turned out, I wouldn’t have to. It was the same handle the new old rod I'd just brought home had. Both were Actionrod's (of Hastings, Michigan) and I was able to swap the collet and chuck to the nicer handle. And the blade fit perfectly.

The rod is likely from the mid-50’s? The chuck shape agrees with those I found in a 1954 advertisement, and different from the 1952 models. The nicely tapered 5ft glass blade is labeled “Actionglas”. From what I could gather, most pre-1950 casting rods were steel or bamboo. By 1954 ad’s suggest that both solid and tubular Actionglas blades were available. Mine is solid glass, although it's fairly light in weight compared to many others I’ve handled, weighing 2.5oz..


“Restoration” will be minimal, keeping existing "patina". The blade will get a set of period guides, with the green wraps I remember my grandfather’s “bass rod” had. I mounted the Mercury (I’ve yet to service) and showed it to my Dad this evening. He said it “felt familiar” and that he’d like to give it a whirl when the weather warms up. Hey, maybe he’ll even catch another bass or two on his Dad’s old Jitterbug?


Finished! I think.... Looks good with nickel-silver or chrome reels. Might paint the chuck black to complement black reels too.

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