A little History
There’s an old adage; “Never meet your heroes.” While I understand the thought behind building someone up to Hero status in your head, and to a point they will most likely not live up to when you meet them, my head jumps to, you should pick better Heroes. I think this is important for children. As when we're young we may not truly know what a real hero is or what makes them iconic and infallible. I , on the other hand, have met one hero of mine. I did so at a young age, and he was everything I still believe a hero should be. Granted, I didn’t realize he was a hero of mine until much later in life.
Dick Yeck (Dicky as his sister, my grandmother, called him) was a tool and die maker. Dick worked for a few different places over the years in Ludington, Michigan and had his own personal shop in a small cinder block building next to his house.
Dick grew up fishing. My grandma told me when Dicky was a kid himself he would go down to P.M. (Pere Marquette) Lake nearly every day to catch fish and help feed the family. He would say that it took his mind off all the negative, and they caught fresh food to eat.
In the 1950’s Dick started playing around making big lake trolling spoons for his personal use and for friends. Hitting them with hammers, tweaking them to get just the right movement he wanted in the water, and trying different colors.
In 1960, Dick - seeing the demand for his spoons - started Yeck Lures and was off to the races! The business grew and his customers loved his handmade, what we might call these days 'Artisan,’ lure products.
Dick eventually built his own tooling and would stamp out spoons at scale. Then paint them all by hand. My Grandfather (another hero of mine) was a neon sign maker by day, and in the evenings would hand cut the decals used for the lures (the first Ladderbacks known to the fishing industry were all handmade). My Grandma and her sister would install the split-rings and hooks as well as package the lures.
Dick was ambitious. He was known to drive all over the west coast of Michigan delivering, selling his lures, and not to mention talking to all the fishermen to get new ideas.
I remember being a small child hanging out with my dad at Uncle Dick’s shop. It was a scary place. No guarding on any equipment, a small, always turning paint line that ran around the center of the small building. The smell of oil and paint fumes, lacquers and thinner… You know, the “good old days of manufacturing.” That being said, I loved to watch the process. And, I always was sent home with a few spoons, even though I didn't even really know what they were used for at that age.
As the years went on, Dicks health declined, and with it his business. By this time I was myself in my 20’s and in the workforce, grinding, contemplating. I even called Dick and asked him if he would consider selling the business to me. He declined, and said he wanted his son to have it. I understood, and put the thought of owning the family business out of my mind.
Dick passed away in February of 2011.
He was remembered by his family and the fishing community as an innovator, a giving person, and great Man. It was to my dismay that not soon after, the company was sold to someone from outside the family. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy the name is the same and the legacy lives on.
As it were, the family trade must have skipped a generation. A few years back when my cousin and I finally started fishing for Browns hot and heavy, something happened. Call it a primal stir. After ordering dozens of lures from well-known manufactures and being underwhelmed at both the quality of workmanship and results (or lack thereof), we started up the Yeck tradition and designed a handful of spoons from scratch. In the way that Uncle Dick would have been proud of.
These first spoons were responsible for catching trout, and steelhead, pike and bass. Imagine our excitement. Spoons we developed catching fish that we were taking from lake to dining room table. Serving dinners to feed families of our own.
We have since refined our process further. From a hobby to a well known brand in our own right among fishermen and charter boats throughout the Great Lakes region.
We built more and variable dies of our own. We tested and re-tested lures ad nauseum. We put together better, more nuanced patterns. Our own custom lures now in different sizes, capable of tackling the lightest of walleye bites and fiercest of freshwater species; slamming slab Salmon, toad Brown Trout, and Lake St. Claire Musky.
I, for one, have met my heroes. I only wish I had another opportunity. An opportunity to tell him that he was a hero of mine. An opportunity to tell him that no matter what happens, that I would take up his mantle and carry the baton further down the field towards the invisible finish line of time immemorial.
To tell him that the Yeck tradition - a tradition that has yielded more fish caught over the past 70 some years than you can imagine - that, that tradition lives on. That his legacy, Uncle Dick’s legacy, lives on.
Article written in memory of my hero, Dick Yeck.
By Joshua Hiller