Heddon's River Runt Spooks

"...the most popular bait in America."


The dark shadows of the trees and brush overhanging the island's shoreline blackened the water in contrast to the moonlit water behind our boat. We drifted slowly, dad pulling on the oars occasionally, to adjust the boat's distance from the shore or to move the boat along. The quiet of the night was only broken by the whir of the reels and splash of our River Runt Spook lures as they hit the water as close to the island's edge as possible. With mom in the front of our small, wood boat, I in the middle, and dad at his place by the motor, another evening of night fishing passed into my memory.

Such evenings more often than not brought success. Stringers of walleyes with an occasional bass or northern were proudly touted in by me as I ran up to the cabin to show grandma and grandpa. Our trusty River Runts rarely were 'skunked' as they attracted everything from perch to muskies! Little wonder that within six years from it's 'birth', Heddon boasted in it's 1939 catalog that the original sinking version of the lure was "...the most popular bait in America."

As the first lure my dad gave me, it is not difficult to understand my interest in this bait as just looking at it recalls those wonderful evenings of family fishing. The number of models of this lure and colors, not to mention hardware variations, make collecting this lure an endless, but enjoyable task!

History of the River Runt Spook

MODELS

Heddon's River Runt Spook fishing lure had it's beginning in 1933 when it was first introduced. The design was much the same as it's larger predecessor, Heddon's well-known Vamp lure. It differs, however, from it's namesake, the original Heddon River Runt which has a more rounded nose and is made of wood rather than plastic as are all of Heddon's 'spook' baits. In addition, the Spooks had painted eyes rather than tack or glass eyes.

The first of the River Runt Spooks was called the 'standard sinking' model and was given the Heddon series number 9110. It was a casting lure and measured 2 1/2" in body length. Given it's weight of only 1/2 ounce, the lure sank slowly after entering the water, thereby giving the angler control over how deep the lure travelled. Early instructions suggested it be allowed to sink to a count of 15 before retrieving. As a sinking lure, however, it could be fished in weedy areas if not allowed to sink as far as suggested.

In 1935, two new models were added to the River Runt Spook line, a floating model, series 9400 and the jointed floating model, series 9430. The floating model measured 3 1/8", a bit longer than the standard sinking model, while the jointed floating model was 4" long. The jointed floater consisted of two pieces, held together by a pinned metal plate. Both floating models dived when retrieved to a depth of two to three feet, depending upon retrieval speed.

Heddon added the jointed-sinking model, series 9330 in 1937, and a fly-rod lure, the River-Runtie-Spook, series 950. Old timers can relate to these words from the 1937 Heddon catalog regarding the Runtie, "...also effective with cane poles!" The jointed sinking model was also a two-piece lure and constructed like the jointed floater.

In 1939, the Midget River Runt Spook, series 9010 was added to the list, the sixth River Runt Spook model. It was identical to the standard model except it was a 1/4" shorter, measuring 2 1/4" and weighing slightly less at 3/8 oz. The Midget was intended for use with light tackle.

1940 saw the introducton of two 'Go Deeper' Spook models, the standard size which had the body of the standard sinking model, series D9110, and the midget size, series D9010, which used the Midget Spook body. These Go-Deeper models had a scooped lip on the front of the lure which caused the lure to dive when retrieved, typically to depths of 15 to 20 feet. In addition, the lure tended to stay at those depths during retrieval. The scooped lip was intended to give the lure the look of a metal spoon with a minnow-like body, as well as make the lure travel deeper.

The 'No-Snag' River Runt Spook, series N9110, a weedless version of the River Runt Spook, followed in 1941. It too used the body of the standard sinking model, but rather than treble hooks, used an elaborate hardware system to make the lure 'weedless'. In 1949, the Midgit Digit River Runt Spook, series 9020, the plastic counterpart of the 1941 wooden Midgit Digit came into production. It measured 1 5/8" in length and weighed 3/8 ounce. Like the early Midget model, it was intended for use with light tackle. Also in 1949, the Go-Deeper versions changed from a scooped lip to a flat-step lipped blade.

1952 saw the introduction of the 11th model, the jointed Go Deeper River Runt Spook, series D9430. Like the other jointed models, the Jointed Go-Deeper consisted of two pieces. The front piece was the same as the front piece of the jointed floating model and the back piece from the jointed sinking model. Although it was assigned a floating model series number (9430), it was marked 'sinking'. The lip was the flat-step lipped blade.

The Tiny Runt (sinking) model, series 350, joined the group in 1952, weighing a mere 1/5 oz. and measuring 2 1/8" in length, and finally, in 1953, the last two models were added to the series, the Tiny Floating, series 340, and the Tiny Go-Deeper, series D350. The Go-Deeper had the flat-step lipped blade on the front. This brought the total varieties of River Runt Spook lures produced by the original Heddon Company to 16 if one considers the lip style changes on the two Go-Deeper's made in 1949.

The River Runt lures continued to be produced until the mid 1980's under the Heddon name, though Heddon was owned by various other companies. Since the sale of the Heddon Company, there have been a number of variations to the lures, both in colors, shapes, and hardware. Such variations can help ascertain if the lure was one produced by the original Heddon Company or of later vintage. One such variation has been in the Go-Deeper which acquired a 45 degree angle in the lip blade in the late 1960's and later a oval blade. Additionally, these were marked "Deep Dive" rather than "Go-Deeper" as the original Heddon lures. Another is that standard River Runt eye color changed from gold with black iris to white with black iris. (Note: Not all early River Runts had gold eyes but most did). All of the varieties discussed above are pictured on the Models page.

HARDWARE

With the exception of the River Runtie and the No-Snag models, all of the models of the River Runt used the standard treble hook. The early models used the two-piece surface hardware. By the late 1940's, one piece surface hardware replaced the two-piece. Metal cup with screw-eye hook fasteners were also used and are common in lures made since the 1950's, particularly in the 'tiny' versions.

The Runtie, because of it's size, had but a single hook. Unusual, however, was the rigging for the No-Snag River Runt. Attached to the bottom of the lure was a double hook configuration. Two spring wire guards were also attached to the bottom near the lip which, when set, rested on the tips of each hook. A large guard collar connected to the screw eye line tie served both as a weed guard and line tie.

As mentioned earlier, the Go-Deeper and Deep Dive versions had different styles of lips, these being the scooped lip, flat-step blade, the angled-step blade, and the oval blade. Of these blades, only the scooped lip and flat-step blade are original Heddon blades. The go-deep hardware for these was independent of the front treble hook which the latter two were incorporated into the front treble hardware. All of the original Heddon go-deep blades were silver in color while later blades were not only silver-colored, but brass-colored or painted, usually in black or of a color matching the lure.

The various types of hardware used for River Runt Spooks are pictured on the Hardware page.

COLORS

River Runt Spook lures made by the original Heddon Company came in a wide variety of colors. At a minimum, it is safe to say there were 50 different colors issued during the Heddon years but it is likely the number is far greater. Non-cataloged, experimental, and special production colors are known to exist. Add to the list the more recent colors made after Heddon was sold (like "Coach Dog"; so named I'm sure because it is white with black spots like a Dalmatian) and the list becomes overwhelming!

To add the the problem of identifying a color is the fact that many listed colors are not readily identifiable by their name. While 'White/red head' is straight-forward, 'Dace Scale' is not. In ascertaining the correct color description for at least the original Heddon lures, the following can be used to as guidelines:

Shore Minnow: River Runt lures which have a skeletal or herringbone pattern, i.e., ribs, are all referred to as Shore Minnow. The primary color of the lure is then the descriptive color. Yellow Shore Minnow and Green Shore Minnow are but two of a number of such colors.

Flitter: Lures which have a gritty glitter-like material on the surface which sparkles. Such colors as Silver Flitter/red head, and Silver Flitter fall into this color category.

Scale: Lures which have a fish scale pattern; these include Dace Scale and Shiner Scale to name a few. These are more difficult to determine in many cases since the terms 'Dace' or 'Shiner' are not very descriptive, unlike Green Scale.

Fish Flash: Lures which have a gold or silver liner inside the lure; these include Silver Reflector/Black Scale, Gold Reflector/Red Scale, and Sparkle Pattern as examples.

Heddon identified the various colors by use of a 'color identification' code which was part of the lure's assigned Heddon number. For example, the early standard sinking model, #9110 in the color Yellow Shore Minnow (#9XRY), was catalogued as 9119XRY. In the late 1940's, this changed. The models were listed by their series number and the letter portion of the color code was added. Thus, the same lure described above was #9110XRY.

Some color codes went from just numbers to just letters. 'Rainbow' was originally assigned '1', thus a standard sinking in Rainbow was #9111; in later years, the color code was changed to RB and the same lure was now #9110RB.

Colors of the River Runt are described and illustrated when possible on the Heddon Colors Identification page.

BOXES

Heddon River Runt lures came in both cardboard boxes, plastic sleeve boxes, and later, blister packages after the original Heddon Company was sold. The familiar 'jumping bass' box and the fisherman box were used into the early 1950's. Plastic boxes came into use in the mid 1950's, and blister packages in the 1970's & 1980's.

There are two versions of the 'jumping bass' box which can aid in dating the box. The early version shows a White & Red Shore Minnnow River Runt hanging from the mouth of the bass. In addition, the mouth is partially reddish in color. The later version, used after WWII, looks much the same except the lure is a Yellow Shore Minnow River Runt and the mouth on the bass is partially gray in color.

In conclusion, Heddon's River Runt Spook lures offer the collector a wide variety to collect, particularly when one considers the number of models, colors, and hardware. At present, prices for many of the more common varieties of the original Heddon line and colors range anywhere from $5 to $20. Obviously condition and the presence of a matching box will affect the cost. More 'difficult' colors can command higher prices into the $25 to $50 range, and 'rare' colors can run $100 and more.

Keep in mind too that some models are more difficult to find than others, particularly the 'no-snag' model which often is missing parts of the hardware.

The most complete reference book ever written on Heddon's line of River Runt lures, including both wood and plastic models is now available - to read more about it, click HERE!

Author's notes: Special thanks to Walt Maynard and Todd Larson for providing some of the material for this article.

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Web Author: Tom Jacomet
Copyright ©2011 by Tom Jacomet - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED