May 29, 2019
Show season ended in early May and I am finally recovered from 4 months of straight out plug making. It does take more than a few days for me to shed the adrenaline rush and get back to normal. And even longer to complete all the house and workshop clean-up from months of production. Of course, once I’m back to normal I am anxious to get back to it.
Our feature article this month is about lure collecting. This was my wife’s idea and I thought it was an interesting one. I suggested that she should write it, to which, after about 15 seconds of silence, she agreed. I’m guessing that was ‘process time’ to consider what she’d be taking on given that she’s never dangled string in a stream, never mind lifted a rod. I gave her a few names of surfcasters/collectors…and off she went. I think you’ll like the outcome.
Lure Collecting: Passion Beyond the Rod
By Patricia Soldati
When I sat down to write, I had no preconceived ideas about how this article would turn out. My only direct experience with striper fishing was shortly after Gary and I met in 2001. He introduced me to Block Island and Twin Maples. I remember only that the fishing was
cold and slimy, and that Twin Maples was not a place you should invite a woman in the off season. It is a small miracle we lasted beyond that experience, save that he is such a stand up guy with a quick wit and a goodly streak of sensitivity.
Since then, I have picked up a fair amount of market knowledge as a result of working with Gary behind the scenes since 2006 when he launched the original BigWaterLures. Plus, I am a bona fide antique addict, having spent the last 40+ years hanging out in antique stores and shows from Maine through New Jersey. So, I know how really narrow slices of Americana can become one’s passion. It seems the same is true for plug collectors.
I started out by emailing 5 collectors recommended by Gary – Pete Christy, Roy Curley, Hector Jimenez, Tony Pintauro and Nick Vivona – a mix of long-time, medium-term and new collectors. Each made himself available to me for a phone conversation. In the email, I’d given them a list of things to think about prior to our call, such as what first attracted them to collecting and what were the most important attributes of successful collecting. My questions were open-ended, and, if you know these guys, you know they are not shy and like to talk, especially about fishing and collecting. So it seemed I landed on an effective combination of approach and willing talent.
There is a fair amount of overlap among “my crew” regarding what they collect, why they collect and what it takes to become a successful collector. There are also clear differences in what they collect and why they collect. If this sounds like a cat’s cradle, it’s really not. As I learned, there is no single right approach to collecting. Many factors come into play, including personal preferences, past experiences, market knowledge, the ability to create opportunities through long-term relationships and one’s willingness to invest.
The only near unanimous agreement among the group was about the qualities a lure must have in order for it to land it in the collectible category in the first place: great artistry and extreme fishability are key. And if the builder puts obvious love into his product, well that is a trifecta. The outlier here, Pete Christy, has an entirely different, but equally valid, approach to collecting. He wants his collectibles to tell a story, and as you will see, they do just that.
Roy Curley has been surfcasting most of his life and has been collecting for more than 30 years. Like other collectors in this article, Roy began in the fresh water lane in 1985 and expanded to salt water in 1991. His first salt water buy was a Stan Gibbs plug from the ‘60s – but it happened only after he spent more than an hour convincing a Nantucket tackle shop owner to sell it to him!
Over the years, he built his collection to more than 900 mostly Stan Gibbs lures. In fact, one of the highlights of Roy’s collecting experience was meeting and becoming a friend of Stan’s. He also buddied up with noted collector, Frank Pintauro, sharing leads and keeping an eye out for each other’s collecting targets. Roy sold off his fresh water collection in 2001 but continues to collect salt water lures. Today, Roy’s collection contains about 200 mostly vintage plugs, with the addition of only the most unique plugs from two contemporary builders, Capesams and BigWaterPikes.
For Roy, collecting plugs is collecting history. In his early days collecting, there was no Internet and little documentation about plugs. The builders were virtually all “garage builders” so it was important to talk directly to them as well as their mothers, sisters, brothers, children and, of course, older fishermen. That data gathering soon led to a desire to preserve the information, and in 2009, Roy was one of five principal founders of the Salt Water Lures Collectors Club, whose mission is to preserve the objects and history of surf fishing. Today, the club is more than 100 members strong, and hosts an annual exhibit and show. It is a great resource for anglers new and old to learn about the history of surf casting and plug building.
Choosing a favorite lure posed a challenge for Roy but he admitted to a special place in his heart for his older plugs. He leans toward unique, not flashy. For Roy to collect a plug, it must be what he calls a “true lure” – unique, eminently fishable and with the “heart and effort” of the builder evident in every detail. He advises new collectors to “Collect what you like, not what others like. If you develop your own collecting style, the passion will last a lifetime.”
Roy chose to feature a Glass Eyed Atom made by Bob Pond, MA, in the late 1940s. The glass eyes version is extremely rare with only a few known. It is one of those holy grail baits for vintage collectors.
Hector Jimenez is the newest surfcaster among “my crew.” While he fished as a youngster, it was not until he saw a group of guys surfcasting about three years ago that he got a severe case of striper-itis. Since then he has used every medium possible to learn and grow into a credible angler. Almost immediately after he began surfcasting, Hector turned to collecting as a way to stay in touch with other anglers in the winter off-season. He “pushes hard at it” focusing on building a solid collection of mostly GRS plugs.
Hector’s strategies include going anywhere, anytime for a good opportunity to buy. This means attending all of Gary’s shows – usually landing the #1 or #2 spot in the buying line; sometimes back a bit, but always in a buyable position. In addition, he buys from, and trades with, others on Facebook or SOL. He also purchases Arsenals and Dmags which he uses to trade for GRS product. Ninety-five percent of Hector’s collection is made up of Gary’s SLIMs and he is the proud owner of a Jeweled Flag SLIM Troller – a lure which he could have sold multiple times over but which remains firmly in his stash.
Hector believes the keys to successful collecting are market knowledge – knowing who has what plugs, good communications and relationship- building, and the willingness to pay a fair price. He doesn’t overpay and is willing to walk away from a crazy deal. For a newcomer, Hector has figured out the terrain rather quickly!
Nick Vivona began surfcasting as a young teen off Long Island Sound. He discovered the joy of collecting first through fresh water tackle, later expanding his efforts to include salt water plugs as well. Nick’s total collection numbers an impressive 5,000 lures, including about 1,500 fresh water lures and 3,500 salt water lures. His salt water collection includes (among other lures) Capesams, Goo Goo eyes (made in Nick’s home town, Stamford, CT), Beachmaster, PBau and, since 2007, GRS.
That means Nick got in on collecting GRS plugs pretty much on the ground floor, and did so primarily as a result of their artistry. In fact, he owns the 5th lure that Gary ever made, a Giant Bunker! He has set a lofty collecting goal for himself: to have every GRS style in every color. Understandably, that has not yet been achieved, but Nick has a really good start. He has amassed the largest single collection of GRS lures – 938 and counting – including Flag plugs, two Jointed Atlantic Mackerels, a Giant Snakeskin and a several of Gary’s early Jeweled Pikes.
Nick meticulously manages his collection on an Excel spreadsheet, including all the details of the transaction. This allows him to quickly locate any duplicates – which are the only plugs he sells or trades. He also tracks ‘who has what’ and stays in regular touch with potential sellers.
He attributes his “GRS library” to the fact that he is, at heart, a relationship guy and always treats people fairly. He makes it a point to help out others with their targeted collectibles and, in return, they help him out as well. Most importantly, Nick shares his collecting passion with his 13-year old son, Jason, who is knowledgeable about every aspect of the collection. In 2014, Nick brought then 8-year old Jason to visit Gary’s workshop – a day that Jason still calls “the best day of my life.”
Nick Vivona’s GRS Collection
Tony Pintauro has collecting in his bones. His granddad kept a journal of tides, weather, wind, baits and most effective colors for every boat trip/surfcasting excursion taken since 1971, a practice which Tony’s dad continued until his passing in 2012. Given his DNA, it is no surprise that Tony has continued this practice to current day.
And, driven by the passion of his dad, Frank Pintauro, a well-respected collector of both fresh and salt water plugs, Tony and his brother, Dave, have an enviable collection numbering some 10,000 plugs. Most of the fresh water lures were sold off in 2018. The salt water plugs include Stan Gibbs, Charlie Russo, Soco, Creek Chubb, Super Strike and more. Among the most unique plugs in the collection are Soco Chiefs, 10 vintage Weasels by the Snook Bait Company (only 11 were made and his cousin has #11), and Don Musso jointed baits. I should mention that Tony was kind enough to lend Gary one of his rare Snook Bait Weasels to examine, and from which Gary designed and built his own Pike Weasel.
Tony never collected much himself since he didn’t want to compete with his dad, but not long after his dad’s passing, he found his collecting niche: GRS…“they are true fish catchers and Gary is one of the true good guys in it for the fishermen, not just the money.” He now has about 300+ GRS lures, including 17 Jeweled Pikes. With a historical perspective, he calls GRS a “phenomenon” and believes that no active builder besides Stan Gibbs has ever created such buzz.
Tony uses multiple collecting strategies. He acknowledges that “money talks” but is quick to say that a substantial collection will never be built on money alone. He encourages new collectors to “know what you want and stay focused. Know the market. Get educated about who has what.”
Tony also pointed out how collecting has changed since his dad was on the hunt. The Internet now provides whip-fast access and there are lots more guys flipping for money. But he still believes most strongly in building long-term relationships and developing reciprocal buddy systems. “It’s your reputation that will make or break you as a collector,” he says. Like his dad, Tony aims for his to be impeccable.
Tony Pintauro’s Rasta Collection
Pete Christy spent his young summers in the epicenter of striper fishing, Rhode Island. First, as a kid landing 16”-18” stripers using a Daredevil Spoon from a leaky rowboat his mom tied to the dock, and later, in his 20s, seriously fishing for stripers at night. The collecting bug hit later after his former in-laws dragged his unwilling self through flea market after flea market to feed their habit of collecting Americana. It was obvious to them that Pete had zero affinity for these outings, but knowing his passion for fishing, they guided him to seek out sellers of old tackle. Flea markets magically turned into a source of excitement for Pete as he learned about fresh water lures and ice decoys, and their intricate methods of pursuit – fascinating even though he did not fish fresh water.
Until about 2005, Pete always considered salt water plugs to be utilitarian. Then he discovered Hab’s Custom Plugs by John Haberek, a Rhode Island builder and one of the best of his time. Pete soon sold off his fresh water collection and began a salt water collecting career that he calls “generalist.”
For Pete, it’s not about brand, color or style nor about perfect or fancy. It is about a lure that exhibits tangible evidence of the sport with which Pete can connect viscerally. He looks for the little imperfections that speak of a good life at sea…teeth marks, for instance, or the arc of the treble scraped on the plug’s belly, or some plug element that was tinkered with by a former owner. For Pete, collecting is about what a lure conjures up about history, place and purpose.
Pete currently has about 2,000 surf warriors in his collection. It is a labor of love not business, and he falls in love for the long term. Unlike Nick, Pete has no filing system of note. For many years, the lures were kept in a 4-drawer file cabinet in his office, each drawer full to the brim. No cataloguing, no curating. One day his wife, thinking she might help organize his business files, discovered his stash instead. Once over her surprise, she urged Pete to show them off. They now reside in custom-made shelving in their small Rhode Island cottage. How appropriate.
Pete’s Emmerson & Ruhren Floating Surface Swimmer
My thanks to Roy, Hector, Nick, Tony and Pete for sharing their collecting experiences with me. I am a better educated fisherman’s wife for their stories and perspective. I understand the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of landing a big one, in the water and ashore. While I know there is tension between surfcasting-focused fishermen and fishermen/collectors, I am thankful to collectors for sustaining plug builders, a point raised by Nick Vivona. While Gary may never be able to give up his painting business totally, he has managed to whittle it down to make more time for his passion, plug building. Chances are good that without the support of collectors, this would not have been possible.