Article in Asbury park Press
The Art of fooling a fish
The art of fooling fish
Some of the best lures for catching striped bass are made right here by anglers who have fished the Jersey Shore for years.
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 06/2/06
BY D.J. MULLER
When you think about it, it sure seems funny all the time and effort that man puts into fooling a fish.
The tackle industry is a multimillion-dollar enterprise based on selling a product that will fool a fish into hitting an offering made of plastic, wood, metal, or rubber.
The fishing community, more specifically the surf fishing community, has progressed steadily in its development of "fish persuasion methods'' since the 1940s. When World War II ended, man moved to the water's edge in great numbers as a recreational outlet, in search of surf fish, mainly striped bass, weakfish, fluke and bluefish.
In the early stages of surfcasting, anglers were forced to use lures that were meant for freshwater fish. Although the lures were capable of drawing strikes, they were not capable of holding onto the bigger, more powerful fish that found interest in what was offered. The hooks that were made to hold freshwater fish were simply no match for the saltwater predators.
It was at this point that man's ability to adapt to the surrounding began to produce bigger lures with stronger hooks and paint jobs that were likened more to saltwater baitfish.
Before plugs were mass-produced for the saltwater surfcaster, where every person could actually possess a lure, men up and down the coast went to their workshops in their garages and basements and created their own plugs to use for these big, voracious saltwater fish. Up and down the coast in small towns both close to the shore and miles from the shore, the custom plug makers came to be.
In Jersey we are blessed with some of the best wood plug makers in the Northeast. The quality and fish-catching ability of the plugs made by our local fishermen is second to none. Being the plug junkie that I am, I have a healthy supply of wood lures made by some of my favorite plug builders, and they are all from right here in the Garden State.
Names like Lefty Carr, Gary Hull, Rich Karpowicz, Tom Bottomley, Paul Lindner, Gary Gerdenza, Greg Cuozzo, Gene Amato, Chris Sharp and Bob Hessels, Russ Paoline and Billy McFadden are just a few of the many.
The plug builders of the Jersey Shore produce such high-quality plugs that even I have second thoughts when it comes time to cast one in the water. Art may be a better term for what some of these plugs are, but tell a plug builder that you cannot fish one of his plugs because it is too beautiful and you will probably be greeted with a firm scolding something like, "Don't be silly! These plugs are made to be fished!''
The Godfather of plugs
Before there were any notable, custom, wood swimming plugs, there was Lefty Carr and his plugs.
He is the godfather of the modern-day wooden, steel-lipped swimmer. He has arrived at the point where his plugs are a highly sought-after commodity all up and down the coast, and he is an icon in the local surfcasting community.
Now 78, Carr began by making plugs for trolling from boats, and eventually transitioned into surf plugs. He did not begin building plugs as a hobby but out of necessity, to help make the ends meet for a young man and his young family.
His highly desirable plugs were not created in a night but in a progression of years. He has worked at and tweaked his plugs to where they are today.
His plugs are now simulated by other plug builders, and for good reason: Lefty was the first one to totally encapsulate his plugs; that is, no water penetrates the wood of the plug while it is being fished.
Some plugs such as mass-produced Creek Chub or Gibbs allow water to penetrate the interior of the plug through small holes that have been drilled into the bottom of it to allow for swivels for the hooks to attach to. What happens after fishing with these plugs for a while, the plugs get waterlogged and the way they behave in the can change.
Lefty's don't do that; no water penetrates the body, making it a lure that you can fish for hours with no change in the action.
And as good as he is at making his plugs, Carr, a long-time member of the Asbury Park Fishing Club, said, "I just do this until the fishing comes back around. I would much rather fish than make plugs.''
Spoken like a true fisherman.
A few others
Russ Paoline of Hamilton Township is nicknamed "Big Rock,'' and his plugs carry the same name. He is a member of the Spring Lake Live Liner Fishing Club. I never knew why they called him Big Rock until I patted him on the back in the middle of conversation; it was like slapping a rock.
Paoline is your atypical plug builder, who started years ago and makes them out of sheer enjoyment and to help pass the time away when the fishing is slow.
He has been building plugs for 17 years and has become more serious in the last seven years. One of the most impressive things is that he personally swims each and every lure he makes, which shows he is serious about the quality of the product that he produces.
The seed of plug building for Paoline was planted years ago when he got his hands on nothing other than a Lefty plug. He was fascinated by it and thought it would be interesting to try to make one of his own.
As he has aged, his passion for plug building has increased. He produces three basic plugs: the Surf Cowboy, a Pikie, and a fabulous pencil popper. I have had the privilege of swimming the pencil and the Cowboy and have found them both to be as good as one could expect.
As with most plug builders, Paoline's first passion is fishing the surf.
"I fish the Delaware River for stripers because it is close to my house, but in the saltwater is where I really love to be.''
Rich Karpowicz founded PlugCaster Lures in 2004, but brings 35 years of lure building experience with him. He differs from other plugmakers he works with plastic as well as wood.
He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry and has experience in coatings, adhesives and polymers, so knowing what primers, paints and finishes to use to obtain his bright, glitter-like finish comes almost natural to him.
When I first saw one of Karpowicz's plastic steel-lipped swimmers, I couldn't tell it was plastic. Unlike other builders, he has developed a unique product that can, if he wants it to, have a density like wood which gives it the same look, feel and solid body as wood, yet is plastic. This makes it very durable when rocks and bluefish teeth are nearby.
One other unique feature about Karpowicz's lures is the protruding eyes. His wood PencilCasters, a name he is in the process of aquiring a trademark for, have protruding eyes that distinguish it from other lures. The theory is that the striped bass or other gamefish hone-in on the eyes.
He also prefers a three-color finish.
"A lot of people like the pink sides as the dark back fades to the pink sides and white belly,'' he said.
A team effort
Bob Hessels and Chris Sharp. Dingbats. No, not them, their plugs are called Dingbats. Members of the Bradley Beach Fishing Club, these two guys team up to fish as well as make awesome steel-lipped swimmers.
The thing I really like about these guys is how hard they fish. Whenever I talk to Sharp I always walk away from the conversation feeling like I don't fish hard enough. They are always heading out to catch stripers and blues, and they work equally as hard on their plug building.
Hessels and Sharp have been friends since they were kids growing up in Bradley Beach. They started making plugs because they got tired of laying out the big bucks for custom-made plugs.
In 2003 they started selling their plugs, and have continued to modify their plugs to the point of where they feel like they are premier fish-catchers.
"We want to make plugs that catch fishermen, but we also want our plugs to catch fish,'' Sharp said, referring to the adage that most plugs are made to catch the fisherman's eyes and wallet more than fish.
"Bob is definitely a master woodworker,'' Sharp said, "and I do help him with the epoxy coats sometimes, but Bob usually does the cutting the painting, everything.''
Sharp is a great salesman for the product because he fishes the plugs with the same conviction and experience as he employs when he sells them. Sharp has been fishing all his life and successfully made the jump from freshwater fishing for largemouth bass as a youngster to the more complicated and consuming striper fishing along the coast. They both have rounded nicely into very proficient surfcasters.
Together, they make a dynamic team of both fishermen and plug builders.
A study in simplicity
Bill McFadden has been building plugs for about 16 years, and while he's the first to say they're not as artistic as some of the other offerings around the area, "they're tough and they catch bass.''
McFadden doesn't sell his plugs at tackle shops, preferring to give them away to charity or to sell them at fishing shows because it's a hobby for him.
And he keeps his plug simple: four varieties, three basic colors and stick-on eyes.
"I make plugs for a hobby,'' he said. "I get fun out of hearing that guys caught fish with my plugs. If they catch bass with them, I'm happy.''
Our local plug builders create these works of art out of love for the gamefish which they pursue, and for the adrenaline rush that is created by either seeing a fish hit one of their creations, or hearing about a nice fish that was fooled into hitting one from another fisherman.
They in no way make any substantial money when compared to the work and detail they put into the hobby. If they were paid by the hour they would make pennies in comparison to all the time and effort they put in.
If you are serious about catching big bluefish or striped bass, make it a point to track down a couple of these locally built plugs and I know that you will not be disappointed. They are the finest plugs along the coast.