We are in the heart of show season…my next sale is Surf Day, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. Doors open at 8:30am and if history prevails, I have been selling out by about 9:45am. So, line up early for a chance to buy a couple of the hundred or so plugs I am bringing to the show!
For about 110 plugs, the short answer is about 1 month of pedal-to-the-metal activity: lathe and weight work, sealing, priming, painting, lip making, and epoxying, followed by rigging, tail-tying and final assembly. Start neatly at the beginning and end neatly at the end. 9-5, right?
My manufacturing process is not quite as serially efficient as the foregoing paragraph might suggest. It is fragmented by physical constraints – with lathe work and lip making, painting and rigging/tail-tying taking place in three separate locations. Second, living in the Berkshires, I am not infrequently delayed by cold weather or snow blowing. Not to mention other aspects of family living that require attention, notably, my wife, Patricia. I can’t say enough good things about her.
Being married to a fisherman, let alone a fisherman/plug maker, is not easy. The truth is, left to my own devices, I could work on plugs from the wee hours of the morning to very late at night, and when I wasn’t making plugs I could be living out of my truck, following the bass migration! But Patricia, often painfully direct, has a decidedly different idea and makes no bones about letting me know it. I accompany her to museums, art galleries and antique shops, her passion. This keeps me a little broader and I can string more than two words together when we get together with our non-fishing friends. She is also very supportive of my plug making, collaborating with business planning, marketing, newsletters, website and more. Life has to be a balance, though it took me awhile to figure this out.
Gary and Patricia, 2019
Lathe work, weighting and lip-making take place in the garage. I try to do this work on consecutive days but some days it is just too cold to work in the garage – despite my space heater, rubber floor mats and heated boot inserts. So I move to another part of the process or spend a half-day snow blowing to be able to access the garage! And I should mention that the entire time I am working in the garage, my wife’s car is relegated to the carport and my truck shifts to the driveway. Not so nifty when it snows, but necessary for things to work.
Gary Working the Lathe
On the Lathe
The “paint factory” is in my cellar, with the only access being an external bulk head door about 120 steps from the garage on the opposite side of my house. (My snow blowing includes the driveway and a walkway around my entire house to be able to access the bulkhead, feed the birds and reach an area at the back of my garden shed where I seal my plugs.) The cellar painting area is well-ventilated and warm as I share the space with the house’s heating system. It is also pretty efficient with good lighting, access to paints and 3 spinners (accommodating 36 plugs) that can operate simultaneously to evenly dry the final epoxy coat.
Paint Shop Magic
And watch my spinner at work, here:
I would say that my paint operation is the most secret part of the plug making. This is a personal process and I don’t share it with many. The outside bulkhead door that leads to my cellar/paint shop is located right next to our bird feeder, which is well-guarded by our 200-300 lb. resident black bear. We are well acquainted, having met on several occasions. Backup security is our resident skunk. I met the skunk most recently at 4:30am when I wanted to complete some early morning painting. He didn’t want to leave the birdseed he was eating right in front of the bulkhead. I didn’t want to go back in the house. As I got closer, he put his tail up and started dancing around. I figured this wasn’t good, but I slowly kept the pressure on and made it to the cellar without smelling any different!
Other creatures are attracted to the bird seed as well, adding a dimension to my plug making that is always exciting. We have a red fox that lives in the culvert at the foot of our driveway, two grey fox, 4 sibling raccoons, a possum, and just recently a large owl greeted me as I came out of the cellar. All this, plus the rabbit that comes and lives under our front step for the winter. I feel an alliance with him. He is an older guy like me and I feel we are both trying to get through the winter without serious run-ins with the other animals!
Once final coated, I bring the plugs inside the house, turning our downstairs guest bedroom into a rigging, tail-tying and staging venue. As you might imagine, Patricia really loves these aspects of plug building. Not. It wouldn’t be so bad if these processes took place in a in a well-defined, short amount of time. But they are staged, little by little, for a couple of weeks prior to the show plus almost one week after the show until I have a chance to clean up the room. Then it starts all over again for the next show, allowing for about 1 week of “nice guest bedroom” in a 4-week period. Let’s put it this way: it’s really not a guest bedroom from December through April – so good thing our Berkshire guests avoid winter visits!
Burning the Midnight Oil
All the while I am plug making, there are other aspects of getting ready for the shows that are primarily undertaken by Patricia. We confer on our business plan and the pre-show newsletter, confirm pricing, develop a show inventory sheet, make sure we have enough purchase handouts and brown paper bags – the fanciest of shopping bags. In addition, this year, Patricia had BWP T-shirts made, and priced and inventoried them. Once we make all of our decisions, we update our website, if necessary, and we contact our indispensable show helpers with any new information they need to know on show day.
I discovered early on that I could not manage these shows by myself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the 3 same helpers since 2010. At each show, they handle plug set up, line management and selling – leaving me free to talk fishing with friends new and old. This is really the most fun and interesting part of my plug-making job!
Mike Fu, Roy Curley, Gary and Rod Christie
Each of these show helpers are long time surfcasters and/or collectors. Here, in their own words, are their brief stories.
Rod Christie. Gary and I got into surfcasting together back in 1981. We traveled to Rhode Island and fished from Watch Hill to Charleston with a crew of old-timers who told us stories about the numerous 50-pounders they caught along the Rhode Island coast and at Block Island. I’ll never forget the story about them going to Black Rock on Block and seeing huge bass head down, tail up feeding on mussels. Their tails were actually sticking straight up out of the water! All the fish caught that day were more than 40 pounds! Those were the days. These fellows showed us the spots, techniques and lures. From that, Gary perfected his Pikie to target those fish. Black Rock on the island will always be one of my favorite spots as we have caught a lot of big fish there over the years using Giant Surface Blackfish and other Big Water pikes.
Roy Curley. I started surf fishing around 1960 with my cousin and great uncle. We beach fished and jetty-hopped the central Jersey coast. My favorite place to fish came later in my life. I have made 50+ trips to Nantucket and have fished both the spring and fall since about 1980. About the same time I started fishing I started collecting vintage fishing tackle as something to do during the non-fishing months. I collected both fresh water and salt vintage, and contemporary tackle. Gary’s baits filled two passions for me. They are not only a great fishing lure but a great collectible as well. My favorite Jersey coast bait has to be the SLIM Medium Diver because I find it works well for me in more shallow sandy beaches.
Mike Fu. I started surfcasting at a very young age – 5 or 6 years old – with my dad. Snappers and porgies! Early on I was primarily a bait/bunker chunk and later got into lure fishing as sourcing and finding the time to purchase bait became an issue for me. I began plug collecting about 20-25 years ago. It’s a tough choice but my favorite place to fish is likely Block. And my go-to Big Water Pike is Gary’s Giant Medium Diver in Blackfish.
Plus, Help Behind the Scenes
Peter and Phyllis Fu, who manage hook cutting, swivels and cutting/placing hook protectors, are my unsung heroes. It is immensely helpful to me to have these operations done in bulk quantities. Peter and Phyllis do 1,000 hooks for me at a time. If you have cut and rigged VMC 4/0 trebles in any quantity, you know it is no picnic and you break a lot of hooks. In the last batch, Peter broke only 2 hooks out of 1,000, which surely must be some type of record!!
Peter and Phyllis Fu
In my own hook-rigging days, Patricia and I took a trip to the Chesapeake Bay, staying in an old inn. It was plug-making season, so I brought some hooks to rig. I am not sure if she knew this so I waited for her to go out for a walk. Then I started cutting and rigging hooks. As luck would have it, the 4th hook I attempted to rig broke and shot out of sight deep into the shag carpet. It took me 45 minutes to find it as I didn’t want to leave it for the next guest to stumble upon!
Our newest team member is Daniel Caminiti. Daniel and I emailed a couple of times over the summer and I finally met him this past Striper Day. I happened to see some tails that Daniel had tied. They were superb, well-crafted and elegant. I felt that Daniel’s tails would be a perfect complement to my plugs, and I’m thrilled that he has joined the Big Water Pike family. In Daniel’s words…I grew up on Long Island, fishing for snappers while very young and progressing to stripers a few years ago. I wanted to catch more quality keepers and was introduced to Gary’s pikies. His SLIM Surface and Junior have worked well for me in the Cape Cod Canal and on Long Island. Now, I can’t wait for fishing season to begin!
Daniel at Work
Daniel at Play
So, that is our team and I couldn’t be more grateful for their help. During show season (December through April) I work about 11 hours per day, including one day of each weekend, and an extra 3-4 hours once per week in the evening. Okay, sometimes twice a week. So, about 70 hours per week. It is my livelihood and my passion all in one! The load is lighter May through November as I control the timing of my own online sales and enjoy our Berkshire summer.
Going back to work now. I look forward to seeing many of you at Surf Day!