History of Stan Gibbs
REQUIEM FOR A SURFMAN
By FRANK PINTAURO
Photography By Ed Poore
PUBLISHED IN THE MAY/JUNE 2004 EDITION
OF HUNTING & FISHING COLLECTIBLES MAGAZINE
I Remember the night like it was yesterday; it was the first night of the down-side of the moon in early November of 1976. The tide was just beginning to ebb, and the wind was from the north at 10-15 mph. The wind would be against the tide just the way we liked it.
My friend, Al Daniels, and I were setting up to troll a small secret rip just east of Gardiner's Island, New York. We were Particularly excited that night as we had just gotten our hands on a bunch of Stan Gibbs GTS-3's and would be trying them out for the first time….. Four hours later we had caught six bass weighing between 33-51 pounds and lost half a dozen other fish that we could just not control.
Since that night more than 25 years ago, I have never been without some type of Gibbs CAST-A-LURE in my trolling or surf bag. They are that good! And so it is with great regret that we report that Cape Cod's legendary fisherman and luremaker, Stan Gibbs, passed away in early February at the age of 89. His death comes at a time when the popularity of his lures he produced from 1946-1972 has never been higher with collectors and fishermen.
Gibbs was born in North Easton, Massachusetts in August of 1914 and lived there through World War II, working in the Hingham Shipyard. After the war, he and his wife moved to Buzzards Bay; and Stan pursued fishing for striped bass with a passion, supplementing his fishing efforts by trapping and hunting mink, otter, and muskrats in the off-season.
It was there at Buzzard's Bay in 1946 that Stan first began to whittle popper plugs for his own use. (His tools at the time consisted of a jack-knife and red fingernail polish!) The first ones were crude, but the caught lots of stripers; and pretty soon people were taking notice and asking him to make them some. Stan figured that he made 400 lures that first winter and 1200 the winter after. By then he knew he was onto something.
Those first few post-World War II years were an exciting time for fishermen as they were discovering the thrill of surf fishing which, up to that point, had been a recreational activity that only the rich could enjoy. A host of lure makers, from up and down the coast, Like Charlie Russo, Charlie Murat, Bob Pond, Jerry Ferron and Stan, began to cater to this new fishing crowd. But few had the staying power of Stan Gibbs CAST-A-LURE !
After his initial success, Gibbs worked on developing more models for fishermen to choose from so that they could match their tackle with the fishing conditions they would face. The Darter was designed for Cape fishing, but it was the rips and currents of Montauk Point (Long Island), N.Y. that brought out the best of the lure's erratic side-to-side action. Under the lighthouse at Montauk, lure selection was so simple that by the 1960s all the guys carried in their surf bag was a collection of big yellow Darters and 3 oz. Casting Swimmers.
The "bottleplug" or GS Swimmers, had been made famous in October of 1958 when Ralph Gray, fishing with famed outdoor writer Frank Woolner from a tin boat in Provincetown, Massachusetts waters, caught a 68-½ pound striper on a Gibbs GS-2 model. At that time it was the largest striper caught in over 45 years!
It did not take long for Gibbs' reputation as a lure innovator to spread up and down the striper coast. Living next door to the "greatest research tank in the world,"-the Cape Cod Canal with its powerful currents on one side and the legendary sandy beaches of the outer Cape on the other - Gibbs was able to experiment on the most important striper ground known to man.
And what an experimental time it was! Stan's designs were opening up new methods and new concepts in lure making and fishing. Frank Woolner, in an early 1950s SALT WATER SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE article titled, "The Mighty Midgets," praised Stan's efforts in pioneering light "artificials" for schoolie bass fishing.
In a 1958 catalog, Gibbs wrote: "First we test them- Next we prove them - Only then do we make them." These words would prove to be prophetic as Gibbs was about to embark on the most creative period of his lure-making career. While there were a number of designs that would not make it into production in the near term, Gibbs would unveil one great innovation after another. This time period yielded:
· The Pencil Popper (PP) Probably one of the most widely copied lures ever made. The sleek tapered design minimized wind resistance and added extra distance to the cast. The PP had an incredible ability to raise fish when nothing else would work. Stan also designed a 5 ¼ oz. PP that was used exclusively in the Cape Cod Canal.
· The Polaris (POL) It cast like a rocket but had the dual ability to swim underwater as well as on the surface.
· The Copy Cat (CC) -It was made to compete with Rebel and Rapala. It caught lots of fish but was proved to be impractical to produce and thus was discontinued very quickly (which is why they are so hard to find).
· The Gibbs Trolling Swimmer (GTS)- It was produced in a variety of sizes. Stan had observed that more and more surf men were taking to tin boats and that trolling was becoming more popular all the time. His Line of lures had become so successful that he decided to market them to the Great Lakes Region.
By 1972 Gibbs' production had reached a peak; but his wife, Celia, was sick, and Stan sold the business. His son John signed an agreement to stay on as a manager. Five years later, the business was sold again, with John staying on board one more time. Then, Finally, in 1982 John Gibbs bought the business back and really "brought it home"
In the early 1990s Stan had another creative renaissance and began carving miniature fish - specializing in striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, and some popular freshwater species. He unveiled them in 1992 at a fishing show in Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts' and they sold like hot cakes. He had done it again. He always knew what the fishermen wanted! Gibbs would always remind his customers to EXPERIMENT… "Fill your tackle bag with good tricks as well as good lures!" he said repeatedly.
As we write this, the striped bass has once again begun its great northern migration…. Somewhere along a striper beach this spring, the first without Stan in more than eight decades, a lone surfcaster in the deep of night, silhouetted against the May Moon, will pause to clip on a fresh Gibbs lure; and another new striper season will begin…. What greater testimonial to a trailblazer could there be!
The author wishes to thank Ed Poore and Roy Curley for the lures and information used in this article.
Readers wishing to contact the writer may do so by calling 516-741-7044 or emailing [email protected]