Old fishing lures are a hot collectible today, but like many other collectibles, it is the lures that are in the best shape that are of the most value to collectors. Some collectors collect by manufacturer, specific lure, color, design, etc. Typically the older lures are manufactured of wood and often have glass eyes as well as multiple hooks (5 plus).
Wooden Heddon with 5 hooks and glass eyes
There is an non profit association NFLCC (National Fishing Lures Collectors Club) that has many members through out the world. They have regional as well as an annual national meet where the lures and fishing paraphernalia are displayed and traded (held in Grand Rapids Michigan in July,2006). There is also a web with great information (search on nflcc). While some lures will go into the 5 digit price range, it is a very rare lure typically in excellent + condition.
Newer lures are still collected and are often plastic. They are often referred to as "spook" lures. The spook lures (ie. Heddon Tadpolly lures) sell for considerably less than the older wooden lures.
Example of wooden Heddon tadpolly with glass eyes
Example of Heddon Tadpolly "Spook" with box
There are books that also can be used to gain knowledge about the lures including price:
Old Fishing Lures & Tackle: Identification & Value Guide by Carl F. Lucky and Tim Watts
Old Fishing Tackle by Nigel Dowden
19th Century Fishing Lures: A Collector's Guide to U.S. Lures Manufactured Prior to 1901 by Arlan Carter
Fishing Lure Collectibles: An Encyclopedia of the Modern Era, 1940 To Present (Fishing Lure Collectibles) by Dudley Murphy and Deanie Murphy
Select what type of lure you fancy, create a search (use advanced search options to create as specific a search as possible) and then see what is on ebay. Check the lure out (ask if the seller is a member of NFLCC, they often include it if they are in the verbage), do some comparison shopping on ebay, check the lure out in a book if you have access to one. Check the NFLCC site (better yet, join the NFLCC) if you would like to attend a show and gain knowledge and check out lures.
When you win lures, they are great to display! If selling, they can be a hot item if listed correctly and good descriptions and pictures are provided.
Note: As with a lot of items, the packaging can be as important as the contents and often worth more. Some early Heddon lures had wooden slide top boxs that command great dollars if in excellent shape (readable print on the box is critical). So, when buying ask about the container, same when purchasing! Now you know a little about how fishing lures can catch people as well as fish!
Example of wooden slide top box with lettering.
Example of Heddon Tadpolly intro box.