Artists: The art of the lure
The art of the lure
Story: Jodi Heckel
Photos: Phil Gioja/do good Consulting
A fire warms the room on the lower level of Kevin McGill’s house, the place he calls his man cave/art studio. The fire heats a bowl of peanuts sitting on top of the stove. A pipe sits on a nearby table as McGill works, winding thread around and around and around a metal spring held in a vise.
Brightly colored deer hair is attached to the spring. And after he applies a layer of glue, McGill adds tinsel — similar to what you might put on your Christmas tree — and some small orange feathers.
His creation will become a lure that eventually will be cast into a lake with the hope of catching a muskie more than 4 feet long.
McGill has combined his two passions in life: art and fishing.
The Bondville man makes and sells bucktail fishing lures. A lifelong painter, he also makes watercolor and oil paintings, mostly landscapes.
McGill has been fishing since he was a child. His grandfather, Elliott McGill, and his father, John McGill Sr., fished on Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York, where his family hails from. John McGill moved his family to Illinois when Kevin McGill was a boy, but Kevin McGill remembers returning to visit family and fishing with his father and grandfather on Chautauqua Lake.
“(Grandfather Elliott) had a wooden boat with a 40-horse Johnson and a pole that was about the size of a pool cue,” McGill said.
“One day, I’m going to go back and catch my muskie on Chautauqua Lake.”
As an adult, he got to know some fishermen in Central Illinois and helped form the Lake Shelbyville Muskie Club. He also learned to tie bucktail lures from one of the club members.
The large lures are made from hair from a deer tail, dyed different colors. McGill gets his bucktails and other supplies from a Springfield company, Lure Parts Online. He sells his lures through his company, PrymeTyme.
When making a lure, McGill builds it on a flexible spring, held in a vise. He chooses deer hair from his rainbow assortment of bucktails and adds it to the spring. He ties thread around the spring and adds glue.
Next come tinsel and feathers, for color and flash. Then McGill will add another longer layer of bucktail, usually in a darker color such as brown, green or black. Then he’ll wrap the end in a colored thread — bronze, gold or silver — for a little extra flash.
The color is important. Fishermen have their preferences for color, but McGill said the idea is to mimic a certain species of fish, such as shad, bass or bluegill, that muskie like to eat. A popular color combination is called the “firetiger” look: orange, yellow and green.
Once the lures are wet, they form a tapered shape, similar to a fish, as they run through the water.
“For muskie fishing, bucktails are like spinner baits for bass. You can cast all day long. They’re not really heavy. They’re designed for speed and flash and sound,” McGill said.
“Because the deer hair is so porous, in the water, if you are reeling and you stop, it fluctuates a little bit. It pulsates,” he added.
To complete one of his lures, McGill slides it onto a wire and adds a lead weight in the middle, or sometimes at one of the ends, then adds a second bucktail. The weight determines how fast the lure sinks after it is cast, and how it falls, whether evenly or head or tail first. The aim here, too, is to mimic a fish of prey.
Finally, McGill adds several beads, for more flash as they reflect light, and a blade, which can be metallic or chartreuse. The blade — which is oval-shaped and resembles an oversized guitar pick — spins as the lure moves through the water. It not only adds flash, but it also vibrates, and the fish can detect the vibration. The hook goes underneath the back lure.
“The art of tying a fly or bucktail and catching a fish on it, it’s rewarding,” McGill said. “Catching muskie on a lure you’ve made is the best feeling in the world.”
Muskie fishing is a relatively small part of fishing in Illinois, where lakes are stocked with the fish. Many people fish for muskie in the northern states. McGill said his lures can also be used to catch pike, bass and even catfish.
“I fish for everything,” McGill said. “But a muskie is kind of like the 10-point buck to a hunter. He’s the biggest predator in the lake.”
McGill also makes smaller lures, with silicone skirts and a smaller blade, for fishermen who are catching smaller fish than muskie or pike or prefer a different type of lure. He tries to make a different series of lures each year, depending on what fishermen are looking for.
Making lures appeals to McGill’s artistic side as well as his love of catching fish. He enjoys working with the materials he uses in making lures, with their various colors and flash. And he appreciates the craftsmanship in creating the lures.
McGill has had a lifelong love of art. He began painting in high school and he studied fine art at Parkland College and Blackburn College.
He does both watercolor and oil painting. He said his style is characterized by small brushstrokes and, with his watercolors, using a lot of paint relative to the amount of water, “so the paintings are very opaque.”
He has been doing mostly watercolors recently. He often works from photographs he takes while he is out fishing, but “some of these scenes (in the paintings) don’t exist. It’s just where I might want to be.”
He loves being outdoors and he loves trees. He began painting landscapes, then started experimenting with different colors, painting trees in hues of purple or blue.
He also loves painting clouds and keeps trying to capture them to his satisfaction. He likes working with a wash, then covering his painting with a linen cloth and placing his fingers on it to create a texture for the clouds.
While McGill has painted mostly landscapes and hunting scenes recently, some of his earlier oil paintings featured images made using positive and negative spaces. He would use vinyl letters or numbers and place them on paper, then roll paint over them. Sometimes they would get caught on the roller and their images were reproduced across the painting. Or McGill would use the letters or numbers to make another image — a car or a train — on his canvas.
McGill is considering several future projects, including making lures into keychains or cat toys or Christmas angels.
He’ll continue to find inspiration in the serenity of the outdoors.
“When I go fishing, there’s nothing better than being in your own cove, with no other boats,” McGill said. “I love the colors. I love the outdoors, and getting away for a day to fish.”