Toledo football coach tackles antique lures

10/21/2005 - Toledo Rockets
Tom Amstutz 

TOLEDO, Ohio — Tom Amstutz is a bear of a man who looks every bit the college football coach — big and burly, with a gruff bark in his voice and a military-style buzz haircut.

But Amstutz, head coach at the University of Toledo, confesses to being a bit of a nerd when it comes to researching and studying the history of his second-favorite subject — the outdoors.

"I've always loved hunting and fishing, and I had a natural curiosity for it," said Amstutz, who has taken the Rockets to two Mid-American Conference championship games and two bowl games in his first two seasons as boss of the program.

"So I got some books that told about some of the history of these sports and a lot of the details about it."

That affinity for the outdoors has led Amstutz to an alternative passion once his football matters are in order.

The Toledo native and former Rockets player — who spent 21 years as an assistant coach at UT before landing the top job — collects early 20th century fishing lures.

"I like the antiques associated with hunting and fishing — the old duck decoys, and old fishing lures, all of that old stuff," Amstutz said. "Once I learned a little about it, I had to find out a lot more."

Almost 20 years ago, while visiting a football recruit in Michigan, Amstutz stopped at a curio shop and found a collection of antique fishing lures. He has been hooked on the hobby ever since.

"I found it really amazing, because some of these things were close to 100 years old at the time, and a lot of them looked like they could still catch fish," he said.

"I was impressed by the ingenuity behind such lures, and by the craftsmanship it took to make them at that time. The stores are full of mass-produced lures now, but every one of these lures was hand-crafted."

Amstutz soon became one of the 5,000 or so members of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. He attends the group's convention each summer and other trade shows during the football off-season.

"The club is another interesting collection — a collection of a wide variety of guys, everything from lawyers to garbage men and one football coach," Amstutz said.

"It's a real fun bunch of guys to get to know, and we share this serious interest in old fishing lures."

Amstutz collects mainly lures that were made by small Michigan companies from about 1904 to 1920 and is particularly interested in those still in their original boxes.

He has about 500 lures, with names including the Evans Weed Queen, Lockhart's Wagtail Witch, Vermilion Meadow Mouse and Eureka Wiggler.

While some antique lures can fetch upward of $50,000, Amstutz said the average value of his lures is about $50.

"They can bring a lot more than I paid for any of them, but a lot of collectors don't do this trying to get rich," he said.

Most of the old lures are made of cedar wood, but some are crafted from aluminum and early metal alloys. Some of them work, he said.

Amstutz likes to fish and to hunt pheasant and whitetail deer. A 10-point buck hangs on the wall in his suburban Toledo home, the product of a difficult hunt trudging through a swamp in chest waders. Amstutz once went 10 straight seasons bringing home a buck.

The coach has a record of 25-10 in his two-plus seasons leading the Rockets.

"I really love my job, and I love coaching football, but when I need to step back for a little while and collect my thoughts, hunting and fishing have always given me that opportunity."