Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

By Joe Cermele In the past couple of years, there's been a boom in the demand for handmade, wooden striper plugs""so much so that basement-based plug shops in the Northeast are sprouting like Starbucks. And since this craze in custom lures started, a few makers have begun to stand out as the masters of their craft, creating wooden works of art that dupe big bass. We tracked down six of the best plug makers from Massachusetts to New Jersey for the inside scoop on how to work their most popular lures. The Old Pro Maker: John "Habs" Haberek Shop: Hab's Custom Plugs; Smithfield, Rhode Island Plug: Hab's Needlefish As the owner of Hab's Custom Plugs (www.habscustomplugs.com), Haberek may be one of the best-known builders in the country, but he still turns most of his plugs himself in the shop behind his house. No Hab's plug is more in demand than the needlefish, which comes in four styles. The founder's favorite is the one-ounce stubby in white""even for night fishing. "Baitfish don't change color after dark," says Haberek. "White mimics a variety of bait, so I'll use it over black." For the best action, Haberek reels tight to the lure right after splashdown and retrieves with the rod tip at 11 o'clock. What's the best speed? "If you're not completely bored, you're reeling too fast."Lure: Manfred Koh
Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

The Pink Painter Maker: Don Williams Shop: Big Don's Plugs; Norristown, Pennsylvania Plug: Big Don's Swimmer If you think only chicks cast pink lures, take a lesson from Big Don's Plugs (bigdonsplugs@msn.com) maker Don Williams: "When a baitfish is stressed, it gets a little twinge of pink on its sides." That's why Williams prefers to throw his swimmers in white with pink stripes more than any other color. Williams coats all of his plugs with six layers of epoxy, which he says makes the lures so durable that not even a bluefish can crack one. When fishing one of these swimmers, the head of the lure should swim just subsurface while the tail protrudes from the water, creating a "V" wake on the retrieve. If the movement doesn't look right, cut the retrieve speed in half. The plugs swim with a slight twist that Williams thinks drives striped bass insane.Lure: Manfred Koh
Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

The Natural Maker: Ryan Smith Shop: R.M. Smith Plugs; Jamestown, New York Plug: 2-oz. jointed swimmer Smith lives hundreds of miles from the ocean, but there's a good reason for that. "If I lived near the surf," says Smith, "I'd never get any work done." So instead of casting plugs, Smith (ryan1@madbbs.com) puts all of his energy into carving them. He also makes frequent trips to the beaches on Cape Cod, so he can give anglers a chance test his lures. His most popular plug, a two-ounce jointed swimmer, is extremely stable with plenty of action. "A stable lure is a versatile lure. A plug that rolls and twists is just no good." A super-slow retrieve with this swimmer will improve your catch rates, but in areas with strong current, Smith prefers to hang the lure and let the flow impart the wiggle. Although he's more noted for his natural finishes, such as bunker and herring, Smith has his favorite: "I'm definitely a sucker for yellow."Lure: Manfred Koh
Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

The "Big" Thinker Maker: Mike "Tattoo" Dauphin Shop: Tattoo's Tackle; Portsmouth, Rhode Island Plug: Sea Dog Dauphin's operation (www.tattoostackle.com) might be based in striper country, but his Sea Dog catches everything from cubera snapper to kingfish. "I had this idea to make a big version of the Zara Spook," he says. So he went to the lathe and crafted one. This three-ounce surface-walker can be fished several ways, but Dauphin doesn't recommend over-stressing your reeling arm. "I like to give the Sea Dog a slow twitch. If a fish misses the lure, I'll stop. The plug looks just like an injured baitfish when it bobs on the surface." When it comes to color, Dauphin likes white.Lure: Manfred Koh; Mike Dauphin: Laptewproductions.com
Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

The Convert Maker: Scott Bullock Shop: Salty's Custom Plugs; Uxbridge, Massachusetts Plug: Salty's Needlefish Bullock used to be a trout bum until his buddy brought home a 47-inch striper. That's all he needed to see to make the switch from dry flies to big plugs. Five years later, Bullock is a certified surf rat and makes his living off Salty's Custom Plugs (www.saltybugger.com). Guys on the beach have especially taken notice of his Salty's Needlefish. These needles sink slowly at a 30-degree angle and catch plenty of bass when fished unconventionally. "Over a sandy bottom, I let them sink," says Bullock. "Then I twitch the rod and the plug makes a puff of sand that looks like a fleeing sand eel." Bullock prefers his Parrot blend, a combo of chartreuse, fluorescent yellow and red that he says stripers can't resist.Lure: Manfred Koh; Scott Bullock: Jeff Adams
Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

The Rookie Maker: Greg Cuozzo Shop: Pajama Plugs; Toms River, New Jersey Plug: Pajama Swimmer When Cuozzo received a wood lathe as a gift five years ago, he held off on furniture legs and instead tried turning lures. Now his Pajama Plugs (gregory.cuozzo@verizon.net) are creating a buzz in New Jersey waters and beyond. Unlike many other plugs, Pajamas are made of western red cedar and completely sealed. This makes Cuozzo's plugs extremely buoyant, which accounts for their flawless action. When Cuozzo is hunting bass, he prefers to key on bait. "I'll start by fishing the edge of a bait pod very slowly," Cuozzo says. "But if I don't get a bite, I'll work the plug more erratically, like a jerkbait." Every Pajama Plug finish from yellow to bunker is sealed in two coats of thick epoxy for extra durability.Lure: Manfred Koh
Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Surf & Jetty - Good Wood

Custom plug building for beginners just got a lot easier. If you need a winter project to keep you sane until the bass return in the spring, then try you're hand at making plugs. NJ Tackle (www.njtackle.com) offers plug kits (starting at $6) available in six styles of pre-lathed blanks in six types of wood. Each comes pre-drilled with weights, wire, lips, eyes and grommets that you just glue in place. All you have to do is paint—or not paint—the blank, add hooks and cast away. If you doubt your art skills, take some advice from Hab's Custom Plugs owner John "Habs" Haberek: "Whether the plug looks like a million bucks or a hunk of crap, nothing beats catching a fish on a lure you made."
— J.C.
Manfred Koh