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John Skinner

John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.

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March 08, 2013

Custom Plugs and Things

by John Skinner

I had an eye-opening experience last weekend at the Berkeley Striper Club Flea Market in Toms River New Jersey. This, along with the Asbury Park Fishing Club's Annual Flea Market, are well known among those looking to buy the best in custom fishing plugs. I have heard about these shows for years, and how anglers line up and sleep outside the doors so that they can be among the first to get in and have their choice of plugs. It was something I was having trouble believing without seeing it for myself. Well, I saw it. There were actually people camped out in front of the venue's doors looking like they had been there awhile. As a vendor, I was there early to set up and wander around before the crowd was let in. Among the over 60 vendors were 23 dedicated to custom plugs. My table was next to one of the more popular ones – D-Mag custom Lures. When the doors opened an endless line formed to get to his plugs. As best as I can recall, the needlefish were $20, the small pencil poppers were $25, the large pencils were $30, and his new swimming plugs were $40. There looked to be similar lines at some other tables, especially RM Smith's. I believe there was a limit of three D-Mag's per customer, and what seemed like a substantial supply was cleaned out in about an hour. I was told that the pencil poppers have internal rattles and cast perfectly straight without corkscrewing through the air. The paint jobs were exquisite. I also learned that the plugs were collected and traded as well as fished. After he was cleaned out I had a chat with "D-Mag" himself. In my ignorance I wondered why he brought only enough to get him through the first hour of the show, and he explained the amount of work that goes into making a plug. Turning on the lathe, drilling, rattle or weight placement, through wiring, sealing, painting, etc. After some thought I realized that this was hard-earned money he had just take in.
Equally as entertaining was how his customers that were filing by my table had no interest at all in the very low-priced Atoms and Creek Chubs I had on my table. I was there to sell books, and did fine with those, but I figured this was a good opportunity to get rid of stuff I'd probably never use. I had perfectly good plugs for $2.50 each, and more beat up ones for $1.50 each. I joked with D-Mag's customers that they could use my cheap plugs to check for bluefish before throwing the precious D-Mags, but no one was convinced. Before the show was done, I took $25 for the whole box of about 30 of the plugs I had marked at $1.50 each, and I was happy to get that. For a quick laugh, check out this bit I found on YouTube concerning D-Mag lures.

This was the second Jersey show in two weekends for me, having attended the Jersey Shore Surfcaster's Surf Day the previous weekend. Overall I'm starting to feel kind of frugal. I use GSB Lamiglas rods instead of the now very popular Century and CTS rods. I fish with mostly Penn Reels, and I don't mean Torques either. Any pricey wood you'll find in my surf bag was probably given to me. The rest are mostly Super Strikes, Bombers, and bucktails. My 12-year old Jeep Cherokee still shows the un-repaired scars of hitting a deer at over 50 MPH, and the roof is about 10% Bondo from the kayak having dripped salt water on it. My point is that it's great to buy the very best, but you can do OK without damaging the kids' college fund too.
The flea market was rather awesome. I saw a couple of nice rods go by my table that were so well priced that I wished I had seen them before the crowds came in. A new-looking 9-foot St. Croix Mojo for $60 and an 8-foot Tica for $30 come to mind. The Asbury Park Flea Market is this Sunday, March 10, 9a.m. to 2p.m. if you'd like to experience one of these shows.

March 07, 2013

New Toys

by John Skinner

Despite more miserable beach-wrecking weather, I'm excited because I've just received my first two Penn SSV reels. They came out last October, but with the season shortened by Sandy I never got to check out the new reels. My first chance came a couple weeks ago at the Jersey Shore Surfcaster's "Surf Day". This yearly event is a fabulous show, but that's a subject for another time. My table was directly across from the booth of Fisherman's Headquarters from Ship Bottom, NJ. Greg from that shop showed me the SSVs and I knew immediately that I'd be starting the upcoming season with a couple of them.
I still fish with a Penn 706Z on my 11-footers. When I took a few cranks on the oversized handle of the 8500SSV, I decided that's what I'd be starting the new season with in the inlets. I've always liked the pancake handle of the 706, but the 8500 felt like a more powerful reel that would be perfect for winching fish through the current. I think the design of the handle had a lot to do with that impression. I was already leaning toward swapping out the 706 for the 8500 for other reasons. A big one is the sealed drag. The entire SSV reel is advertised to be watertight, but it was the drag I was most interested in. Wet drag washers are brutal with big fish in a current, and with waves splashing against the rocks, the drag washers on the 706 often get wet. Also, I've always tolerated the anti-reverse on the 706, but will benefit from the infinite anti-reverse on the 8500.
It's easy to find reel specs on Penn's website, but one thing I couldn't get a feel for from the specs was the dimensions of the spool. Line capacity isn't a good guide because that depends a lot on the depth of the spool. The top diameter of the 8500 spool is 3 inches, which is just slightly larger than what I measured on the 706. Where it really stood out was on the height of the part of the spool that holds the line. This measured 30% taller than the 706 spool, and that will make a big difference on the cast. The taller that part of the spool, the less the diameter of the line on the spool decreases on a long cast. There's no doubt that the 8500 will outcast the 706 because of this.
I was a little concerned by the extra weight of the 8500 as compared to the exceptionally lightweight 706, but after putting it on the rod, it wasn't that noticeable. One thing I'll have to overcome is having a bail, because I definitely prefer bail-less. I manage with my smaller Penn spinners, often by grabbing the line with my index finger before closing the bail, so I'll figure it out with this reel too. I'll need to adjust to the higher gear ratio. The 8500 pulls 42 inches of line per turn of the handle, whereas the 706 is about 34 inches per turn. I'll welcome that extra speed when burning the jig back through the current after it's been pushed out of the strike zone.
The other SSV I'll be trying is the 4500. I'll appreciate the watertight reel in the kayak. This will also be my false albacore reel and again the watertight drag will be very valuable because it's hard to keep consistent drag pressure on those speedsters if the drag washers aren't dry. The high speed 6.2:1 gear ratio will be an improvement over the slower Penn 440SSG for albies because it seems the faster the better with those fish. I'll have to make an adjustment when bass fishing and slow my cranking down a bit.
I'll have more to say about these reels after I use them for awhile. I really hope they live up to my expectations because the $140-$180 price range is very reasonable if the reels perform as advertised. You can learn more about the reels at
I'm writing this on day two of a Nor'easter, but keep telling myself that this is winter's last gasp and we'll see steady improvement from here on. It never hurts to be optimistic. Whether I'm right or not, I think we're going to be in for a lot of changes in terms of beach access and structure. Surfcasting is a game of overcoming challenges. There will be plenty to overcome this season.

The new Penn SSV8500 compared to the classic 706Z.
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