John Bennett Lures - NSW

John Bennett is one of the most respected of Australian lure makers who has made a living from making lures for nearly three decades. His first commercial lure making venture was with the Bennett/Mc Grath minnow that hit the market with a storm in the middle of the 1980's. The history of that partnership is documented elsewhere but after this John was a solo operator and although collaborating with others, he created a distinctive range of lures that are in high demand with collectors.
The 'Merlin'
John Bennett went solo after the split with Steve Mc Grath and was still producing both plastic and timber lures commercially up until recently when production is limited. His paint finishes are one of the best around and his high level of craftsmanship means he remains one of the most influential and respected Australian lure makers. These were also known as the 'wide body Merlin'.
Lure below is a Merlin c.1991 with the eyes on the top of the lure.
Lure below is a Merlin c.1993/4 and still has twisted wire hangers
Lure below is a Merlin with pointy bib that has changed to screw in hangers c.1994
By 1994 John Bennett changed the hook hangers from twisted wire to screw in hangers permanently although they were used sporadically from 1990.
The lure above shows an early Bennett 'Merlin' with heavy gauge twisted hangers c.1991
The extract above and photograph left are from Freshwater Fishing c.1994 and give a good outline of the history of the 'Merlin' lure design and how quickly they became successful.
 'When Peter and John joined forces, I'm pretty sure Peter was looking for a way to turn out a Scorpion-like lure in bigger numbers and the Merlin represents a 'squashed' Scorpion. Back in the early '90's, when the partnership started, John sent a lot of prototypes, turned from different timbers, to Peter for analysis'. Travers Powell.

The Bennett 'Razor'

John Bennett released a timber model in limited numbers aimed at the barramundi market which was called the 'Razor'. Unsure of exact years of manufacture and history of this lure but they are increasingly fetching good prices when found. No longer made. Opposite shows some of the colour combinations that were available including the rarer black colour variations

 The 'Merlin Lures' Story

There are really four distinct stages in lures made by John Bennett after the Mc Grath partnership. The first is the 'Merlin' as developed by Peter Newell and John Bennett (the history discussed earlier),  the second is the evolution of 'Merlin Lures', the third is the Craft master 'Merlin' period and the fourth is J Bennett Lures as a separate entity.
Below shows the difference between the underside of the early John Bennett 'Merlins' on the left and Dan Mc Grath's Attack versions on the right which will have the circular mould markings. Some earlier Bennett Baby Merlins will have the circular mould marking but can be distinguished by looking at the painted eyes carefully.
The advertisement above is an early one c.1996 from Freshwater Fishing magazine when John was running his shop at Lavington and orders were made through the shop. An early black and white advert for John Bennett Merlin Lures below.

'Baby Scorpions and Baby Merlins'

John Bennett 5cm 'Baby Merlin' showing early packaging and some of the colours that were available with the pointed metal bib.
The photo above illustrates the comparison between the early Bennett creations and the Newell version bottom right of photo.
John Bennett made some magnificent smaller lures and the 'Baby Merlins' were originally made in timber with a pointy metal bib. They would have originally evolved from Peter Newell's 'Scorpion' and some may have been referred to them as 'Baby Scorpions'.  Below shows two early timber Bennett versions.
Pointed bibbed versions can also be found in the early moulded Bennett lures such as the two below which would date to 1991/2 when John started to first mould the 'Baby Merlin'.

Apparently Paul Nicel was also involved in the moulding process while John had the shop at Lavington around 1996 (?).

The photo below shows some of the early moulded Bennett Baby Merlin colours - there are many variations and eyes will determine a John Bennett lure from early Attack Lures after Dan Mc Grath purchased the rights to make this pattern. These lures have a bib without the circular mould marking.
The advertisement below releases the 'new 5cm baby merlin' and the deep diving Merlin. The earliest versions will have a wire front eyelet while later models will have the prefabricated omega plate eyelet.
By 1994 John Bennett had released his Merlin Lures range however there are examples of when they were still called 'Baby Merlin' and then just 'Merlin' as shown when the lures were packaged in zip lock bag with information sticker attached. It does become a bit confusing as the shape of the lure bares no resemblance to the original 'Baby Scorpion' and 'Merlin' shape. It is the range of lures that is referred to as 'Merlin Lures' which came in the standard shallow and Deep Diving versions.

John also started to sell his lures exclusively through Blueys Bait and Tackle in Wodonga and there are examples of special labels which of course were blue! 

The advertisement shown left offers the new 6cm ultra deep diving Merlin with the new 'arrow' bib shape as shown below.

The colour code catalogue above is the original trade paperwork that was given out to retailers when John Bennett was first producing the 'Merlin' range. These plastic lures had moved away from the original 'Merlin' shapes that evolved from The Bennett/Newell collaboration. The 'Baby Merlin' shaped lure range had been carried on by Dan Mc Grath with Attack lures.

The 'Turtle'

The 'Turtle' was being made in timber before John started Craftmaster in 2003/4 when this model was a moulded lure. The timber models will have painted bibs and are a good looking lure with an excellent action.
It is easy to tell the difference between the two with the earlier timber versions from 2000 - 2002 having painted bibs and as shown in photo above right next to a Craftmaster version with the unpainted metal bibs. Before selling the Craftmaster range the review below from 2003 explains the range with the contact being Craftmaster Wodonga Pty Ltd.

 The Craftmaster 'Merlin' Story

John Bennett changed the name  to Craft Master Merlin in 2003/4 and some of these are fantastic lures. Craftmaster Lures after being sold were made in Tasmania.
Left shows an advertisement from the catalogue for the full Craftmaster range. See an example of the blister packaging below.