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The South Bend Bass Oreno -- an American fishing icon

I have looked at thousands of older lures over the years and one lure stands out as the most common. Yes, it's the red/white Bass Oreno. It's difficult to imagine the number of youth who started out with this lure as their first artificial bait. Make no mistake, this lure will still catch lots of fish under the right conditions. Before we talk specifically about the Bass Oreno, it would be prudent to discuss some aspects of this bait, which will help you date it.

Let's begin with the eyes. Like many bait companies, South Bend lures went through a number of eye stages. According to Terry Wong's book, they include, no eye (NE), glass eye (GE), tack eye (TE), pressed eye (PRE) and painted eye (PE). Glass eyes were first used in 1912 through the mid 1930s. The first glass eyes had a dark black pupil and milky white background. That's your first clue in looking at Bass Oreno lures to determine a possible date. I should note this technique is usually quite accurate. Later glass eyes had a more clear amber color. About 1926, the Bass and babe Orenos began showing up with the amber colored glass eyes. Some lures, because of inadequate records by South Bend, are difficult to date with this method. The company started using glass eyes, but made no note of it in their product catalogs. It is estimated the tack eye was first used in the mid 1930s. Referencing South Bend catalogs from 1936, author Terry Wong states all new baits made from that year were constructed with tack eyes. This move may have been made (similar to Creek Chub Bait Co.) to reduce the ever-rising cost of glass eyes. The pressed eye began showing up in catalogs from the 1950s. Even after the war, many of their lures had the now popular pressed eye. Finally, sometime after 1964 all South Bend lures were produced with painted eyes. One exception to be aware of is the Bass Oreno and nip-I-diddee with a pressed eye. It was made after 1964 and should not be considered a rare find.

In future articles we will discuss other reliable methods to help you date South Bend lures.

Time to talk value. This is challenging for me, because of the multitude of variables that affect value. Length of the standard Bass Oreno is (excluding rear hook assembly) 3 3/4". Type of eyes, hooks, color, condition, with or without box and date of production all have an impact on value whether selling or buying this lure. I tend to believe book values during these difficult economic times are over stated. It might be best to give you a range of value using the variables mentioned earlier.

For example, a red/white wood Bass Oreno with painted or pressed eyes is worth at most $10. However, a white head, black body no eye wooden Bass Oreno made somewhere between 1938-1942 in mint condition could fetch $200. It all goes back to the most basic rule of any collectible, maker, condition and rarity. The best advice I can offer is two fold. Get a good book on South Bend lures and watch companies like eBay. I have said before, online sale prices are real and give great insight to what a particular bait is selling for. I realize my range of values is vague, but so many options for the buyer or seller create that confusion. Once again, get educated to protect yourself. Until next time, may all your searches be successful.