Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
Mar 24, 09
Michael Wright 27east
The economic boom of the last 15 years fueled more than an overzealous expansion of the housing market: on a much smaller scale it sparked a revival of the art of hand crafting wooden surf plugs. And now, as the economy slumps, it may bring the curtain down on a shining period in surf fishing history.
With striped bass once again swarming the beaches and a new generation of fishermen flush with the fruits of a roaring economy, demand for the prized toys of the sport, finely crafted plugs in customized colors, spiked. On Cape Cod, where plug making is as much folk art as utilitarian craft, small plug makers had never really stopped producing lures, but their runs were small. On Long Island it was the reborn Beachmaster Lures in the mid-1990s that first sparked the lust of reenergized bass fishermen for finely crafted surf plugs.
Demand quickly far outpaced the ability of plug maker Bobby Glauda to keep up. In just a few short years, the growing fervor prompted a long line of new makers of custom surf plugs to set up shop. A surf plug renaissance was born.
Not since the heyday of surf fishing in the 1950s and 1960s—when dozens of surf fishermen started crafting tougher versions of the big wooden plugs muskie fishermen had been using for decades in the lakes of the Midwest—has there been so many plug makers producing classic designs, as well as a few innovative new shapes.
The wood used nowadays may not be as heavy and solid feeling as it once was, but the skill and precision of shaping and balancing and the artistic finishes of today’s plugs far outpaces the first shapes crafted by Jerry Ferrone and Arnold Laine and lots of others along the Cape Cod, Rhode Island and Long Island coasts in the postwar years. Even the later plugs produced by the masters—Atom Lures founder Bob Pond, Stan Gibbs, Super Strike founder Don Musso, and the legendary Danny Pichney—can’t compare to the quality of plug making demonstrated today by the likes of Mike Dauphin, Don Guimelli, or the East End’s own John Niedzielski.
When you’ve got a new Al Gag, J-N’Ski, Tattoo’s or Left Hook plug fastened to your leader, you can feel its movement in the water and see Mr. Linesides coming after it with abandon, and yet it almost feels a shame to put such a beautiful piece of craftsmanship in harm’s way. Even the slightly more workhorse-like designs from After Hours and the new Beachmaster are pretty, in a tough-as-nails kind of way.
But top quality wood is expensive these days. High-tech air brushing equipment is expensive. And with demand high and production limited, the price of plugs has skyrocketed. Even the mass produced models have pushed above $15 each, and the going rate for just about any of the custom plugs is at least $20 and often $25 or $26. That flew like a 2-ounce bottle plug when plumbers, electricians and nail bangers were making $200k a year on new housing construction. But those days are over, it seems, and demand for fancy, expensive plugs is bound to tumble since $4 bucktails and $7 Bombers catch more fish anyway. Hopefully the landlubbers in Washington will be able to fish us out of the drink before the slide snuffs out the plug-making flame.