Inside a Big Water Lure

Message received from a BWL subscriber:

Let’s just say…I got to Surf Day at 3am and it was way too cold after driving 4 hours. There were already close to 100 people in line. The second guy in line had his whole family — they even had a tent set up. Now what??!!

Hell, I’m a surf fisherman. I’m used to being cold and tired. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve driven 3 hours, fished the night, drove the 3 hours home and went right to work. I should be alright. If the second guy in line gets his 2-plug limit instead of 2 for each of his 5 kids and his wife, I should get my 2, right?

FAST FORWARD. I closed in on the table. Gary didn’t say much because he was off to the side still rigging plugs. The guys working the table were really great, moving the line right along. Efficient and informative. Ran a tight ship, and even sent that guy that cut in from the side to the end of the line. FINALLY, I did it – I got 2 terrific plugs. BUT WHAT EXACTLY DID I GET?

Hello Surfcasters,

You have no idea how time consuming it is for me to answer the myriad questions I get from fishermen all along the Atlantic Coast about my lures. I like answering these questions – and have spent hours and hours doing so – but when the surfcasters from Maine, the Cape, New York and New Jersey are asking many of the same questions…well, it’s time to explain a few things in a newsletter.

Inside a BigWater Lure
I’ve always liked the profile of the pikie. I think it looks very fishlike. The swimming action – a combination of side-to-side, plus roll, is very enticing. That’s why I modeled my BWL Pikes after the classic pikie design created by Creek Chub Bait Company in the early 1900s, and why they also closely follow the classic z-lip/dive lip also made by CCBC. I even build my Surface and Medium Divers from northern white cedar – the preferred wood of CCBC. With the exception of a few Creek Chub colors that I paint, this is where the similarities end.

Wood Profile
I wanted my Giant Surface pikes to have a thicker body type than the Creek Chub version, but finding that diameter was not easy. Ultimately, I landed on northern white cedar because I knew that it would hold up better than most woods in the harsh conditions of the ocean because the oils in cedar keep the plug from becoming waterlogged. And because cedar is less dense then AYC (Alaskan Yellow Cedar), the preferred wood of many builders, it gives my Surface pikes a livelier swimming action. That said, I use AYC for my Deep Divers and Trollers as it provides the weight to swim and hold in big waves and not kick out.

Size & Weighting
Many of you know that I’m a believer in “big bait, big fish.” I wanted the sheer size of my plugs to discourage the smaller, faster fish and give greater opportunity to the bigger,

warier fish. The difference between the size of the fish caught on my Giants, SLIMs, Trollers compared to my Junior is huge, even though some say the Junior at 6-½” / 2-½ oz. is a big plug in itself.

So, in addition to liking the profile of the pikie, I also felt its versatility would allow me to make it as big as I wanted and it would still swim. Plus, I felt I could exploit the dive lip and I feel I have done a pretty good job of that! More on this in the next section, “Lips and Swimming Action.”

I disagree when I hear people say big fish are lazy and looking for an easy meal. I feel they are careful and need a big meal to sustain them. That is how they got so big! They hunt during the deepest, darkest part of the night, at the bottom of the tide when the current is running the strongest. They hunt close to shore during big storms where the wave action dislodges baitfish from their hides and make them vulnerable.

With the exception of my Juniors (which like traditional pikes, are chin weighted), my pikes are belly weighted. (Early on, I tried chin weighting on a Surface Giant and it had a nice action but would not hold in big waves. I wanted my pikes to show up through size and swim in big water – thus, the name of my business.) Most of the big fish I’ve caught have come right before or during a big storm. Given the pikie’s versatility, I have been able to alter my pikes (SLIM, Divers, Sand Pike) to catch in conditions a conventional pikie cannot handle.

Lips & Swimming Action
When I first set out to make lures, I wanted a plug that had a good lively action on a slow retrieve. The slow retrieve keeps your plug at or near the top of the water. In fact, many good fishermen say you can’t fish your plug too slow. I found I could best achieve this through the pikie’s combination of body design and swim lip. The swimming action of a Pike is like no other. In the water, the lip digs in, and the tail sticks up and waggles. Roll – unwanted on almost all other plugs – compliments the pikie’s side-to-side motion. This enticing action is hard for any predatory fish to resist.

The plug’s body is pretty aerodynamic, so on a smooth cast it will fly tail-first for a good distance. The exceptions are my diving plugs that have a slug of lead in the head and want to helicopter on the cast, catching the line on the rear treble. These Divers require a smoother cast, but their effectiveness makes it well worth the trouble. I know of one sharpie who replaces the front VMC 4/0 with a VMC 5/0 and removes the rear treble. This cuts down on the trebles fouling the line and sticking the hooked fish in the throat or body with the rear treble. Because stripers are headhunters and most of your fish will be hooked on the front, this could work. Although, I have had some big fish that either fell off the front treble and ended up hooked on the rear, or just got hooked on the rear treble on the strike. So I am hesitant to remove the rear treble. Feathering your cast can also help to stop the fouling. That means at the end of your cast putting the running line through your fingers to slow the plug causing it to fly tail-first.

Initially, I could not find a commercial lip that optimized the plug’s fishing action in the way that I thought it could. So, with the exception of my Surfster Lip, I make my own. I stamp out the lips with an 800 lb. screw press using a thicker-than-average stainless steel. I encourage fisherman using my plugs to bend my lips to achieve the swimming action they prefer. If you bend the lip down to a 45 degree angle (along with the line tie) the plug will swim higher in the water and have more action. But bending the lip more than 45 degrees may distort the lip. YOU DON’T WANT TO DO THAT!

I tie my leader directly to the line tie and do not use a clip or breakaway as I don’t like extra hardware on plugs. For this same reason, I cut the VMCs – but more about this later. I use a 50 lb. fluorocarbon leader and tying direct does inhibit the swimming action of the plug, though I took that into consideration when designing them. Using a heavier leader will cause less action on your pike while using a clip or breakaway will really free it up. In the fish pics I get from guys, I notice that probably 90% of fishermen use a clip/breakaway. I used a breakaway once just to see how it affected the action of the plug. I was surprised at how free the plug swam. A boat guy that catches a lot of fish, said he like to use a breakaway because he wants to get as much action out of the plug as possible. He even removes the tied tail to cut down on drag. Especially in murky water he feels the action attracts the fish. I do use a breakaway when I swim my darter prototype because I want to get as much action as I can. When I go back to fishing my Pike, I will be tying direct again!

In my opinion, the best hook on the market that you can cut and put on a swivel is the VMC. Plus, it is a very good “out of the box” sharp hook. I use 4/0s and 5/0s on my pikes and would not cut anything smaller then 4/0. After all, we have big fish in mind. If you are straightening out the hooks on your 4/0 VMCs, one fisherman (who catches a lot of big fish) recommends changing over to Owner hooks with a heavy split ring.

When I first started making my Pikes, I sent some to Bill Wetzel, a respected surf fishing guide on Long Island, for feedback. He had good things to say about the plugs with one exception. When he got them the first thing he did was remove the split rings, cut the 4/0 VMCs, then put them on the swivels. I cut my hooks from that day forward! It was easier back then and I broke very few hooks. In a box of a 1,000 hooks, I broke two. Now I break up to 20 in a batch of 200. It seems that VMC has changed how they temper their hooks.

It does not help that the spro swivels are a little thicker then the rosco swivels I first used, but the quality of the spro swivels is unmatched. The cut VMCs hang at a nice depth under the plug. And, as I mentioned previously, I’m not a fan of unnecessary hardware (more things to fail), and split rings have their own issues.

The eyes on my Pikes are glass. This gives me the ability to not only change the eye color to coordinate with the paint job, but it is also the best way to reflect and attract the fish. When building a quality lure, you need a quality eye. I believe eyes are a very important component of the plug and go a long way in encouraging strikes.

My take on painting my plug is no solid colors. You don’t see any baitfish that are a single color. Since we are trying to fool wary fishing into striking, authentic bait patterns are extremely important. I also have favorite colors, or sometimes go with my artistic instincts, or sometimes take requesst to paint certain Creek Chub colors.

Some people say that bass only see certain colors. Do we really know what they see? I know from experience that certain colors work better at different times of the year and in different situations. If you have a favorite color, fish it. You will soon find out if it is the color that will work for you. I tend to fish colors I like rather than colors someone tells me will work. Hold a baitfish up to the light and you will see the same iridescent sheen that I put on many of my plugs!

I use a two-part epoxy – the hardest finish I could find – to finish my plugs. It is temperamental and a pain to work with, but it does the job. I have had two different guys run over the pikes I made for them with their cars. They said the lips were bent and the hooks flattened, otherwise were okay. They simple bent the lip back, put on new hooks and the plugs were ready to go! If you beat your pike up, it just looks more like a wounded baitfish!! I caught my fifty on my “lighthouse” plug, so called because I fished two different lighthouses in big waves, and my plug kept getting banged into the rocks before I could get it up. It had some deep gashes in the wood and both glass eyes were cracked, but it swam like a charm!

The same oils in the cedar that allow the wood to hold up well in the salt water can sometimes, though infrequently, leach out and bleed through the paint causing a brown spot/stain. This is called a cedar bleed. I do what I can to prevent this by applying Bin (a stain preventer) or shellac (a sealer) on problem areas, and then an oil primer on the entire plug. Even after all this there is occasionally some staining on the lighter-colored plugs. This doesn’t impact the fishability of the plug at all – and even adds some character. Remember these are fishing plugs; everyone I make is built to be effective.

The tails on BWL plugs are hand-tied and have a two-fold purpose. They give a flowing motion to the action of the plug which adds to the attraction. That is why I tie them extra long. DO NOT TRIM YOUR TAILS! If the flash tangles, carefully comb it out.

Secondly, the extra long tail adds size to the plug without additional weight. By matching the color of the tails to the colors of the plug, the plug has an overall bigger appearance. Tail-tying for me is a time consuming process in an already time-consuming operation. If you lose your tail or it becomes too beaten up, find a flytier to help you out (or learn to tie yourself). I do not make replacement tails!

Plug Labeling
If you have a pike with my initials “GRS” stamped on the tail of the plug you have a Surface pike (Giant, SLIM, Troller, Jointed-eel or Junior). These pikes will swim on the surface or dive down to 6 feet depending on conditions. My Divers (Giants and SLIMs) will have my initials “GRS” stamped on the back, and the lips will be screwed down. The Medium Diver has an “M” stamped on its lip and it dives down 8 to 10 feet. The Deep Divers have a “D” stamped on their lips and dive 10 to 15+ feet.

In closing, I want to stress the importance of all aspects of the plug. In order to catch a big fish on a piece of wood, all of the plug components must be spot on. We really don’t know what specific characteristic of the plug attracted the fish and caused it to strike. That is why I pay such attention to all the details. You may only get one chance in your lifetime for a really big fish, so you want to make sure you give yourself every opportunity to catch it. Perhaps the moral of the story is when you have a choice, go with quality.

Last Show of the Season
The snow is finally melting at my house and I am busy working my day job AND making plugs for the Salt Water Lures Collectors’ Club show that will take place at the Trowbridge Tavern, Bourne MA, April 28 and 29. I am planning to bring around 100 plugs. I will sell half at the Members’ Show on Friday evening, April 28, 6pm-9pm. I will sell the other half at the part of the show open to the public on Saturday, April 29, 8am-3pm. The show has gotten busier for me every year and I expect the same this year. Everyone got a plug from me last year that wanted one. With the interest shown for this year’s show, if you want a plug this year, best to get there early.

A Sour Taste from Plug Flipping
I want to address an ongoing issue that leaves a real sour taste in my mouth. When I sell a plug, I get excited about the fact that guys will have the opportunity to fish it, to have fun with it and to catch some big keepers. That said, I am really unhappy when my plugs are flipped/re-sold for up to 4 times the price I sold it for. Would I like some of that money? Sure, but that is not the point.

To put it bluntly, I think flipping plugs is sleazy. The guys who do it pay some young guys to stand in line at shows, then take the plugs and resell them on eBay. It is unfair to all of the other fishermen trying to get a couple of my plugs to fish and disrespectful to me and my efforts to keep plug prices reasonable to encourage widespread fishing of them.

Last word said on this. Spring is here and the fish are coming!


P.S. Walking with my wife on the backstreets of Millerton NY…


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