Don't throw away those old bass plugs. Vernon Kirby wants them, to fondle, polish, gloat over and show off at conventions, parties, fishing shows and anywhere else he can draw a crowd.

Kirby is at the vanguard of what's bound to become a big deal some day - antique-lure collecting. He's one of the 75 members of the National Fishing Lure Collections Club.

Kirby was at the recent Chesapeake Bay Sportsfishing Show in Annapolis with just a few of his prize possessions - perhaps a hundred plugs neatly arrayed on a spotless blue display board. The display has a name - "The Veteran" - carefully stenciled across the top of the board, and down below are some of the wildest-looking poppers, divers, mud bugs and jitterbugs ever seen.

"I was-fishing down in the Choptank Rivert a year ago last July with another fellow," said Kirby."I really into my tacked bx for an old Pikie I had and he said, 'I wouldn't use the lure. I bet it's worth something.'

"That's what got me startd."

Since then Kirby, a portly, friendly sort from Ferndale, Md., has acquired about 200 lures dating as far back as the turn of the century. Most of them are from the '30s and many have the look of a cross between a whale and a Tom Swift spaceship.

Actually, lures haven't changed a whole lot since James heddon carved the first one in the 1890's on the banks of Dowagiac Creek in Michigan.

The story goes that Heddon was whittling as he whiled away a summer day. he flipped his whittle stick into the creek and a great big bass came up and nailed it. Eureka, thought Heddon, and the Heddon Lure Co. was born.

The old-time plugs sports a workmanship that would be hard to match today.

Many have eyes of real glass, genuine gold-flake paint jobs, treble hook attachments of sturdy stainless steel with recessed cups and eye bolts. Almost all are carved of wood, but some are hollow bronze or have actual dried frog skin stretched over wood.

Even the boxes they come in are valuable to Kirby, and to the anglers who drifted by his stand. "My gosh," said one, "I remember buying stuff in those exact same Heddon boxes when I was a kid in Florida. Man, do I feel old."

The antique-lure craze hasn't really caught hold yet.Kirby has yet to pay more than $6 for anything in his collection - but buying is pretty rare. Trading is the big thing, as among the baseball card freaks.

And there are those who like to see loved ones' old lures live on. Kirby was given 28 plugs and 33 spoons and spinners by Mrs. Jean Walters of Elliott City and behalf of her late husband, Donald.

The most fortunate collectors are from areas in the Deep South that have resisted progress, Kirby said. "THose guys down in Tennessee are lucky. They guys down in Tennessee are lucky. They have thoe old gas stations and stores. There's lures back on shelves, brand new in the box, all covered with dirt."

One word of advice, should you have an old plug lying around the house. Do not try to retouch it with paint. It is, to quote Kirby, "like an old painting. You shouldn't touch it."

Just clean it up with some furniture wax, put it in a safe place and wait for the day when it slips past the Hope Diamond in value.

Or send it to Vernon Kirby at 304 Eugenia Ave., Ferndale, Md. 21061. He'll take good care of it.