Seekers may not be the prettiest lures ever made but these one time ‘ugly ducklings’ of the Australian lure scene are now highly sought-after by collectors.
Ken Hendry was a humble and down-to-earth man and a bloke I was lucky enough to call a mate of mine, even if it was for only a short while. Never one for putting on ‘airs and graces’, what you saw was what you got with Ken and this bearded battler never pretended to be anything he wasn’t.
The same could well be said for his lures. They were robust, reliable and built to do a job. The paintwork was okay, but it’s fair to say that they lacked some of the finishing touches that had become so much a part of the Australian lure making scene at that time, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself there…
Like a lot of the lure makers I’ve gotten to know, my association with Ken started as a result of writing for fishing magazines. In fact, I first bumped into him some time during the early 1990s while compiling a review of Australian-made lures for a small fishing publication. Amongst a mix of top quality and stunningly finished local gems, I’d been asked to photograph some big brick-like lures with massive metal bibs and eyelets that looked like they were made out of eight gauge fencing wire. They were of course the original Seekers and this is how I described them in the finished review.
“Ken Hendry’s Seekers carry a real sense of the Aussie bush tradition. I am sure Ken won’t mind me saying his lures are not the prettiest lures you’ll ever see but they are certainly practical and, more importantly, they catch fish. They are a no nonsense lure owned more by lure users than lure collectors and they are right at home bouncing off the snags.
“There are four models in the line up ranging from a whopping 110mm through to a much more modest 55mm, and with running depths varying from 15ft for the largest model to around 10ft for the smallest.”
There are not too many lure makers who would be happy to have their lures being described as ‘ugly but functional’ in any sort of fishing magazine but Ken loved the idea. And I was soon to learn that the lures were a pretty good reflection of the bloke who made them.
When travelling to Bendigo on business, I would sometimes call in to see Ken and once we got to know each other a bit better, he would invite me into his home/lure factory (his back veranda) for a chat and a cup of coffee. The talk would invariably be of fishing and how the cod were going at Mulwala, which was one of his favourite stomping grounds. He would also show me lures he was working on or have some funny yarn to share.
On one particular visit, I vividly remember he was pretty animated (at least for Ken) and he obviously couldn’t wait to tell me something. When I asked him what was up, he proudly told me he had just made his first international sale. He then explained that an overseas visitor here on holidays had purchased the magazine I had written for and taken it back to Europe. Apparently, they had given it to a friend who was an avid lure collector and having seen the advertisement Ken had placed in the magazine, he had ordered a batch of Seeker lures to add to his collection. Ken was flabbergasted that someone from overseas had wanted his lures. He proudly told me that made him an exporter!
These days of course, that sort of thing happens every other day. In fact, in 1995 the idea of a lure collector in Aussie fishing circles was a very new concept indeed. However, in today’s market a good quality example of Ken’s handiwork can now fetch over $100 at an online auction. I reckon our overseas friend actually made a very shrewd investment at the time and I only wish I had the foresight to have done the something similar.
There is one other little anecdote about Ken that I reckon really typifies his easy going approach and sense of humour. While most lure makers are very selective about the timber they use to make their lures, Ken wasn’t overly fussy. In fact, he used to cut up old bits of furniture and even old pallets to get his raw materials. He even used off-cuts from the local coffin maker! I doubt too many other lures are built from timber that was headed for the grave.
Sadly, Ken passed away in December 1996, only a few years after I had met him. His untimely demise came as a shock to us all at the time and with his passing, not only did lure making lose one of its real characters, but angling in general lost a storehouse of cod fishing knowledge.
As I’ve already outlined, Seekers are a fairly simplistic lure. Their profile is somewhat reminiscent of a bent brick and they certainly didn’t have the fine lines and sexy curves that other lure makers at the time were employing. If you look closely at his handiwork, you will also see that he wasn’t overly fussy about finishing touches or getting everything perfectly symmetrical either. In fact, he seemed quite happy that each lure had its own action as he reckoned that made them all unique.
The bib design Ken favoured is a Seeker calling card. To the best of my knowledge, a mate of Ken’s by the name of Malcolm Fawdry used to be involved in their production. No doubt, the bib design was influenced by the ubiquitous Mud Bugs, which most people trolled around Mulwala prior to the locally-made lures kicking off. The fact that even the largest model (the 110mm Seeker) only dived to 15ft is indicative of the sort of water they were designed for.
Mulwala is not your typical dam, rather it is a vast network of shallow muddy flats interspersed with small creek channels. Apart from the main Murray River bed, which snakes through the middle of the lake, the water is mostly 2-4m deep. As it was never cleared prior to filling for the first time, the lake is a minefield of drowned trees and submerged stumps. Just boating on it is hard enough without trying to tow a lure through it all, and losses were often high. No doubt the short life expectancy of any lure destined for Mulwala was also behind Ken’s ‘keep it simple’ approach to lure making.
Due to his understanding of the place, Ken’s lures were perfect for Mulwala. They didn’t dive too deep and the big Mud Bug style bib helped them to bounce off the snags and into the mouths of waiting cod.
Their other real selling point was that they were rock solid. I’ve seen Ken take one, lay it on the ground and then bash it repeatedly with a hammer just to demonstrate how strong they were. Even though it collected a few dints, it was certainly still fishable. I don’t know of too many other lures that can take that sort of abuse and still be able to catch a cod.
Strength and reliability was what really mattered to Ken when he designed his lures. If you look at the pictures you will easily see what I mean. Ken didn’t just glue his bibs in, he literally screwed most of them in as well. In some of his earlier ones, the screw heads are still visible under the chin of the lure but others have been covered over by paint or filler. You can even see that Ken reinforced the underside of some bibs by fixing a short length of metal to reinforce any potential weak point between the two holes that the towing clip goes through.
The eyelets are huge and twisted out of heavy gauge wire. The rings, hooks and even the clips were the strongest he could fit and I can’t ever recall of one letting anybody down.
Not surprisingly, Ken’s lures were sold in most of the shops around Mulwala and developed an incredible following around the lake. They were even used by the first professional guiding service to operate on the lake (Lake Mulwala Cod Fishing Tours). I was lucky enough to do a few trips with David Goode who ran the guiding service and I can tell you he never went anywhere on the lake without an entire bucketful of Ken’s lures.
After Ken passed away, the Seeker banner was carried on by Mark Dobbin for a while but regrettably I never knew him or the new model Seekers as I moved Interstate around that time. I do recall that Mark did a much neater job than Ken ever had, but in a curious sort of way, that might not have been such a good thing. Ken’s lures were effective, but their rough and ready construction gave them a real charm and I think that was a big part of their appeal.
Seekers were just so different from the efforts of our big name lure makers that you couldn’t help but like them. However, given the current fascination with the high tech and incredibly expensive imported lures, it appears highly unlikely the Seeker story will ever be repeated again, which I reckon is a real pity.