For some people fishing is an diversion for others it is a passion. It was this passion for fishing that lead a group of friends and neighbors in Paw Paw Michigan to form the “The Moonlight Bass Club”. These men had jobs which limited their ability to fish during the day but found that bass, especially large one, could be caught at night. In order to improve his success, one of their members, Horace Emory Ball, began experimenting
with wooden plugs that he had designed. Ball came up with a successful design which he distributed to other members of the club for use. These men also caught bass with Ball’s lure. Ball saw an opportunity to make money selling his new lure. In 1908 Ball formed a partnership with a local man named Charles E. Varney. They named their new company “The Moonlight Bait Company”. The first bait they marketed was called the Moonlight Floating Bait No. 1. The earliest production baits were turned on a lathe by a local wood worker. Ball then finished, assembled, and painted the lures in the basement of the county courthouse in Paw Paw Michigan, where Ball worked as a custodian.
The Moonlight Bait Company used a very rudimentary numbering system during the early years of existence. The first lure produced, the Moonlight Floating Bait, was given the number one. Variations in a lure were noted by a letter following the number. For example, 1-R is Luminous with a red head. Next came the No. 2 which was a number 1 lure with two Bing weedless hooks.
Moonlight Floating Bait No. 1.
The Moonlight No. 1 lure was a luminous woodpecker style of bait that was 3 5/8 inches in length and had two treble hooks, one on the belly and the other at the tail of the lure. The collar was designed to create a commotion that would attract Bass at night. Many different configurations of this lure were produced. These lures turn up in a variety of different colored boxes including: yellow, maroon, white, and bluish gray. Early ads from 911-13 show the Floating Bait with three hooks. It appears that the smaller two hook version appeared later. The three hook version was approx. 4 1/4 inches in length and often has three offset treble hooks and brass cup hardware. It has been found with a variety of different hardware including painted cups. This lure is the most common of the woodpecker type Moonlight lures. Estimated value $150-$200, with box. Interesting, in the catalogs the smaller 3 5/8 inch Floating Bait became the No. 1 Floating Bait and the larger Floating Bait was listed as the No. 1M. The Moonlight Floating Bait No. 1-R was a No. 1 Moonlight Floating lure with a red head.
Moonlight Floating Bait No. 2.
This lure is a No. 1 Moonlight Floating Bait with two Bing weedless hooks. It is 3 5/8 inches in length and was painted with a luminous finish. his lure and box are a rare combination. Unlike the common Floating Baits this lure was a surface lure designed for day fishing.
Moonlight Trout Bob No. 3
This is a very hard lure to find as it is one of Moonlights rarest lures. Production of this lure began around 1911 and was soon discontinued. It was 1 1/2 inches in length and had a single treble hook. An Early Moonlight ad from 1911 shows the Trout Bob
with a dressed treble hook. . This lure was later listed as the Moonlight Floating Bait No. 1M. Trout Bob boxes contained a color insert which offered tips on fishing the Trout Bob at night.
This small narrow box for the smaller size Floating Bait is the only one known to exist. Estimated value:
The Moonlight Fish Nipple No. 4 The fish nipple has a soft rubber body which was designed to protect the hooks and make the lure weedless. The lure also has a bucktail that is partly obscured by the rubber nipple. The rubber used in these baits has become very brittle over time and it is tough to find one of these lures in excellent condition. The patent application for the Fish Nipple was filed on May 28, 1910. A patent on this lure was granted to Arthur R Miller and Horace Emery Ball on January 10, 1911. A knock off of the Fish Nipple was produced by Dura Flote of Jackson
Center, Ohio in the 1950’s. It was called the Old Time Nipple Dipper. Fish Nipples came in both plain and picture boxes displaying the lure on the cover. The fish Nipple was available in these two colors: No. 4W Solid White No. 4R Solid Red. Estimated value $100-$150 each with plain box, $250-$400 with marked box.
Paw Paw Fish Spear No. 5
The Fish Spear is approximately 4 inches in length and has two different line ties. One line tie was at the nose of the lure and allowed the lure to be used as a jerk bait. The other line tie was on the slanted front face of the lure which allowed it to dive on retrieve and float at rest. The Fish Spear was not produced in great numbers. A picture of the lure was shown on the box. Fish Spear boxes are almost always blue. A 1915 ad mentioned that the Fish Spear could be ordered in four styles: White, Red, Yellow, or spotted. The Fancy Spotted color cost 10 cents more than the other colors which is probably the reason it is seldom seen.
No. 5W White Body, Red Head
No. 5Y Yellow Body, Red Head
No. 5R Red Body, White Head
No. 5S Fancy Spotted
No. 5L Luminous
Zig-Zag No. 6
Two different versions of the Zig-Zag were made. Emery Ball first made and field tested the Zig-Zag around 1911. The idea for the lure came from the wood model that acted as the mold for the Fish Nipple. Ball cut the head off of the mold at an angle, put a line tie and hooks on it, and tested it in a local pond. The lure sort of zigged and zagged which lead to further experimentation. Ball had trouble getting the lure to Zig and Zag consistently without turning over. He solved the problem by moving the line tie lower. The patent application for this lure was filed on September 8, 1913 and a patent was granted on February 3, 1914 to Horace Ball and Ford R. Wilber, a new member of the firm. The original patent drawing shows the lure with three treble hooks, two on the belly and one at the tail. The patent drawing corresponds to the 3 1/2 inch long, three hook version of this lure. Moonlight also made a 2 1/2 inch long version of the Zig-Zag that had two treble or two double hooks. This lure was called the Midget Zig-Zag and designated the No. 6M. These lures are found with simple screw eye hook hangers or brass cup hardware. Early Zig-Zags were painted with a lower quality paint than that used by the major lure manufacturers of the day. Four colors were originally listed for this lure: Red, White, Yellow, and Luminous. A fifth color Fancy Spotted was soon added to the color choices. Catalog No. 8 gives the following color designations:
Zig-Zag Midget Zig-Zag
No. 6 W White Body, Red Head No.6MW White Body, Red Head
No. 6Y Yellow Body, Red Head No. 6MY Yellow Body, Red Head
No. 6B Red Body, White Head No. 6MB Rainbow
No. 6S Fancy Spotted No. 6L Luminous
No. 6L Luminous
Moonlight Catalog No. 11 lists the Zig-Zag at 3 1/2 inches in length and having 2 sets of double hooks. It is listed in the following colors:
No. 6WR White Body, Red Head
No. 6WB White Body, Black Head
No. 6YR Yellow Body, Red Head
No. 6YB Yellow Body, Black Head
No. 6B Black
No. 6MW Zig-Zag in White, Red Head color. Estimated value: $35-$45. Midget Zig-Zag boxes were maroon in color and almost 2 inches shorter than the regular Zig-Zag
box. Th Midget Zig Zag box is very rare. Three hook version of the Zig Zag shown with
the maroon introductory box.
Pearl Wobbler No. 7
The Paw Paw Pearl Wobbler was a pearl spoon with a lead weight and a treble hook with bucktail. It was 2 3/4 inches in length. The Pearl Wobbler was unique in that it had weight positioned between the spoon and the trailing treble hook. Both the weighted and non-weighted bucktails could be purchased separately from the spoon itself. The weight and bucktail are the same as what was used on the Fish Nipple. This lure can be dated to 1914-15. The Pearl Wobbler is listed in the Moonlight catalog no. 8 and 11 but not in a Moonlight catalog circa 1926. It reappears in a Paw Paw catalog circa 1928. Here is a Moonlight Pearl Wobbler No. 7 with box. Note the weight between the spoon and the bucktail. Estimated value of lure $75-$100. Box $500-$700.
The Bug No. 8
The bug is an interesting little bait that is hard to find. First produced in 1916, it is 3 inches in length and weighs 3/4 of an ounce. It is believed to only been in production for 2 to 3 years. Color choices for the Bug include:
8B Solid Black (Color added to line in third year of production)
8S Yellow and Black, Red Head
8Y Yellow Body, Red Head
8W White Body, Red Head
8R White Body, Black and Red Stripes
8C White Body, Yellow Stripes
The Ladybug No. 9
The Ladybug is the first Moonlight bait to attempt to imitate, although loosely, an insect. It is also the first Moonlight bait with eyes. It may have also been one of the
first Moonlight baits to have an airbrushed finish. The Ladybug was 4 inches in length. Earliest Ladybugs lacked eyes and had airbrushed legs. These lures date to 1915-16.
They came in a picture box and were marked with the words “Pat. Pending”. A patent for the Ladybug was filed on November 4, 1916 and a patent was granted for the lure
on June 26, 1917. Later Ladybugs had external glass eyes and sported six legs made of waxed string. They came in picture boxes which were marked with the 1917 patent
date. These later boxes have a printed label while the earlier boxes were a generic box with a paper label applied to the top. The Ladybug was available in the following colors:
9W White Body, Red Head, Black Legs
9Y Yellow Body, Red Head, Black Legs
9G Green Back, Red and Yellow Trimmed, Black Legs
The Moonlight Bait Company replaced the Ladybug with another lure called the Ladybug. These ladybugs are oval shaped and have beautiful spotted "ladybug" patterns. This later style of Ladybug was carried over when the company name was changed to the Paw Paw Bait Company.
The Dreadnought appeared on the scene in 1912. It was a large lure and came in one color combination--red and white. It had 5 treble hooks and front and rear spinners. This odd looking lure appears in ads for 1912 and 1913 and probably was in production for only a short period of time. Not many of these lures have been found. The boxes for these lures were larger and taller than other Moonlight boxes. Collectors should be careful because numerous fakes have been produced of this valuable lure.
Moonlight 1913 Special
Very little is known about the 1913 Special. An ad mentioned that it had been thoroughly pre-tested in 1912. The 1913 Special was only available in one color, a glitter like finish. It had three treble hooks and a front and rear spinner.
The Underwater Minnow was a short lived lure of 1912-1914 vintage. It was advertised in the April, 1913 issue of The Outer’s Book magazine. The lure is 2 inches in length. It has a front spinner and two treble hooks, the rear one sporting a tied bucktail. It was available in these colors: Red, Yellow, and White. Estimated value: $250-$300.
Moonlight Folding Chair
Besides fishing lures Moonlight sold a number of accessories for the fisherman. One of these was the Moonlight Folding Chair. This chair had a metal frame and was designed to fold flat for easier carrying. It also had a back rest and padded seat. The chair was designed to hook over the wooden seat of a fishing boat. It was quite a luxury for fishermen use to sitting on hard wood seats. The application for The Folding Chair was filed on June 13, 1917 by F. R. Wilbur and H. E. Ball. The patent was granted on February 4, 1919. The Moonlight Bait and Novelty Works obtained the rights to the Folding Chair when they purchased the Moonlight Bait Company in 1924. The Boat seat was offered in catalogs and jobber sheets, first by the Moonlight Bait and Novelty Works and then by the Paw Paw Bait Company, until 1939.
These bobber were coated with luminous paint. The Moonlight bobbers came in two sizes. The no.1 Bobber was made of wood and coated with a luminous paint. It was thinner then the No. 2 bobber and was 2 inches in length. The no. 2 Bobber was larger and more buoyant than the No. 1 bobber. It was made of cork and coated with a luminous paint and was available in three sizes: 1 1/2 inches, 2 inches, and 2 1/2 inches. No. 2 Moonlight Bobber and box. Estimated value $1,200-$1,500. Photo courtesy Randy Spagnoli.
The Moonlight Bait and Novelty Works 1924-1927
Towards the end of 1923 and the beginning of 1924 a major change took place within the Moonlight Bait Company. It appears that the Moonlight Bait company and the Silver Creek Bait Company were acquired by Clyde C. Sinclair and Floyd A. Phelps. Prior to 1924, the Heddon Company had purchased a number of patents from Ford R. Wilbur and Horace E. Ball. These included patents on the Zig Zag, the Ladybug, the Fish Nipple, and the folding Chair. In December of 1923 Heddon entered into a contract with Horace Ball. The contract gave Ball the right to manufacture and sell these baits and chair only at Paw Paw, Michigan. They required a royalty of 3 cents for each bait produced.