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September 21, 2007

The Magic Spoon

Why is this lure the talk of the Northeast? Because it may catch the next world-record striper.


SPOON FED: A healthy striper that fell for a 12-inch Secret Spoon.
Photo: Gary Caputi

There are few places along the East Coast where striped bass fishing is taken as seriously as it is in Montauk, New York. Good skippers regularly bring in 30-pound stripers, and a 40-pounder doesn't even get a second look at the dock. But lately, Captain Jimmy George's hauls draw a group of rubberneckers every time his boat, the NicoleMarie, returns to the Gone Fishing Marina.

HEAVY METAL: Captain Jimmy George proudly displays a 14-inch fluke-pattern spoon.
Photo: Nathaniel Welch

In 2004, George landed 95 striped bass weighing more than 40 pounds and eight fish that broke the 50-pound mark. His largest striper that year was a whopping 69 pounds. Last year, during what was by all accounts a slow Montauk striper season, he caught one 50-plus-pound fish and 43 stripers weighing 40 pounds or more. Most impressive of all, these cows were landed on a lure George invented.

George created the lure, a modified bunker spoon he calls the Secret Spoon, in 2003 for the sole purpose of catching a world-record striper. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of aerodynamics (he's a licensed pilot), George created a large spoon with a fluid action that enticed the big cows to strike. This past fall, a team from SWS hopped aboard the NicoleMarie, a 35-foot Donelle, to see if the Secret Spoon could live up to the hype it has generated.

Hard-Wired

GOOD POINT: Captain George shows off a big bass near the Montauk Lighthouse.
Photo: Gary Caputi

Flags snapping on their halyards greeted us when we arrived in Montauk. Not surprisingly, a 20-knot northwest wind kept us at the dock that day, but conditions improved overnight, and we happily tossed the lines the next morning and idled out of Montauk Harbor. As we left the inlet, the NicoleMarie fell in line with the other charter boats as we motored toward famed Montauk Point.

Sitting on the fishbox were two of George's spoons. At 14 inches they looked like dinner platters, save for the pair of welded 10/0 Mustad hooks hanging off the split rings. George explained that with the typical Montauk wire-line lure, an Andrus parachute jig tipped with a porkrind, he caught plenty of fish but not the big stripers that he knew prowled the rips.

"You can't follow the pack if you want to catch really big fish," George said. So in the winter of 2003 he set to work in his garage, hammering out a spoon that was not only oversized but had a seductive swimming motion.

George wanted his spoon to behave like the wing of a plane, catching current instead of wind, and would provide lift and action at a precise speed. As he knocked out version after version, he would take them to a neighbor's pool, break the ice and swim his spoons.

"People started to wonder, 'Who is this crazy guy fishing in a swimming pool in the middle of winter,'" he said. "But I didn't care. I knew I was onto something."

CAPTAIN COW: This 69-pound striper fell for a Secret Spoon in 2004.

By adding up to five keel weights and perfecting the angle of the spoon's entire edge, George found an action that he had never seen in a lure.

When pulled at 2 1/2 to three knots, the spoon wobbles naturally while swinging in a six- to 12-foot arc. Depending on their size (there are three models: nine, 12 and 14 inches long) and color, the spoons resemble anything from bunker to fluke.

The first time George dragged the spoons off Montauk he caught a 44-pounder. The next fish weighed 46 pounds. He had found his lure. But George is the first to admit that just dragging the Secret Spoon around the ocean won't catch fish.

"This is a 50-percent lure," George says. "Fifty percent of the success will come from the lure; the other 50 percent from how you fish it."

Spoon Feeding


SPOON BRIGADE: Secret Spoons range in size from 14 inches, left, down to nine inches long.
Photo: Nathaniel Welch

We dropped our spoons in the water off Great Eastern Rip, just as the tide approached what George considers the witching hours. "These spoons work best during the first and last hour and a half of the tide," he says.

At these times, George can work the current to keep the push on his lures at roughly three knots.

The line of charter boats already working the rip had little to report. Most chatter on the radio centered on the slow pick of small fish, but George was unfazed. He fishes his spoons on eight-foot St. Croix trolling rods. His Penn 4/0 and 6/0 reels are spooled with 60-pound Malin wire and marked in 50-foot intervals up to 300 feet. The wire is tied to 20 feet of 150-pound fluorocarbon leader and connected to the spoon via a 200-pound Spro Power swivel. Given the large sweep of water covered by the spoons, only two rods can be fished. And to keep the two lures from fouling on each other, George places the rods in outrodders. (For the record, the IGFA does not recognize fish caught on wire line. The Secret Spoons can also be trolled with braid.)


TO THE WIRE: George employs a two-rod trolling spread aboard the NicoleMarie.
Illustration: Pete Sucheski

Our spoons found only big bluefish at Great Eastern, and as we started losing the tide George picked up and headed for Block Island to fish the Submarine Channel. As we approached, George explained some of the finer points of dragging the Secret Spoon. He likes to keep the spoons within five feet of the bottom at all times and often pulls them into a quartering current for best results.

"If you go downtide on a two-knot current, and the boat is traveling at three knots over ground, then the spoons aren't working properly," he says. George also makes sure to drag the spoons by any knoll or bottom irregularity. "That's where the big fish is, and she's not going to move far to eat."

Our lines weren't in the water long before the port rod started bucking. Not long after, we had a 36-pound striper in the boat.

"Now," he says, "let's find a big one."

George says the Secret Spoon has seen success up and down the striper coast. Over the winter he had anglers calling from Virginia. One guy called to tell George he was catching so many fish that he extended his vacation by three days, and he needed more spoons delivered by the next day. Another angler from Connecticut called to stock up for spring, fearing he might not be able to get his hands on the spoons come summer.

For sure, the spoons aren't cheap. The nine-inch model sells for $38 (George does not yet sell the two larger models). And it takes some practice and patience to learn how to troll them properly, but no doubt, they will catch big fish.

"When I'm out by myself, I troll only the 14-inch version," George says. "I might go a few hours without a bite, but when I get one, it's a big fish. I know the world record is swimming off Montauk. It's only a matter of time before we cross paths."


RIGHT ANGLES: Outrodders are used to keep the spoons from fouling.
Photo: Gary Caputi

To book a trip with Jimmy George, call (631) 831-3217 or visit www.thenicolemarie.net.