February 14, 2011

Between building rods and writing content for this site, I’m a pretty busy guy. Fortunately, fellow rodmaker Walt Carpenter was nice enough to send along this story about Jim Payne which I thought would be fun to run. I hope you enjoy it. – Marc

Jim Payne’s Annie Oakley

by Walt and Marcia Carpenter

From what I’ve learned about Jim Payne’s personality he was not into self-promotion, although others found his rods the very best thing for this type of advertising. A case in point was the showmanship of William C. Voight, a champion fly caster of his time time whose physical appearance was more akin to a prizefighter than the stereotypical fly fisherman. He was a young man during the 1920’s and 1930’s when “challenge competitions” were all the rage in the U.S. Hard times and boredom during the early decades of the 20th century and the Great Depression compelled many people to engage in activities that in another era would seem foolish, degrading, or just downright dangerous.

When the young Jack Dempsey, who went on to become World Heavyweight Boxing Champ, was desperate for funds in his early life he would go to saloons, announce that he could “lick” any man in the place, and earn money from the betting that ensued. Dance marathons, gold fish swallowing, log rolling competitions, rope climbing, and particularly flag pole sitting, made popular by Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly who sat on a flagpole for 7 weeks at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1930, were examples of some of the preposterous sponsorship events that drew huge crowds and were used to promote products or personalities. It is quite likely that this kind of “show” started with Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter dubbed “Little Sureshot”. She was promoted by her husband Frank Butler, a traveling showman who incorporated challenge competitions with local shooters into their show as they traveled the world at the end of the 1800’s.

Bill Voght with his trusty Payne - this photo appeared in a 1935 Payne Catalog. Voght was also a tournament caster of some note.

In a similar way, Bill Voght would take Payne rods around with him as he traveled through the Ozark Mountains. He would set up in hotels and resorts that had a body of water large enough to accommodate his challenge to anyone who could sit in a canoe and paddle as strong and fast as possible away from him, while he, with a line attached to the craft, would try to “land” them using his trusty Paynes. There must have been many Payne Rod victories for according to the correspondence I’ve seen from the 1930’s he wrote to Jim Payne from several locations of conquest praising Jim’s rods as the best “canoe whippers” in the world. I’ve never seen a rod that was made specifically for these shows (if in fact they were). But in a picture of Voght on the White River he appears to be holding not a sturdy salt water rod but a standard fly model. I have no idea how this man got compensated for his performances; in all likelihood he was paid by the establishments where he performed who charged admissions to his exhibitions. I am certain that he was not endorsed by the Payne Rod Company, although he generated a lot of good publicity for its products. The 1930’s in America must have been a very entertaining time!

I’ve owned both fly and bait casting tournament rods used by H.L Leonard’s promoters that were one-off examples intended for specific contests and games, but none have come to my attention for being as bizarre as Jim Payne’s “Annie Oakley Rods”.


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