On a recent trip to my family farm in Eastern Tennessee I was rummaging though my dad’s old workshop and came across some lures he worked on. After dad passed in 1999, my brothers and I shared a lot of his fishing gear, but there was too much to take it all. During his busy lifetime that included fishing, managing bait shops and running boat docks, he collected a lot of stuff. For as long as I remember my father was a lure maker.  Some of my earliest memories include opening the door to his shop and being blasted by the smothering fumes of burnt worm plastic. I still have scars from when I disobeyed, got too close to the melting pot and got splattered by hot lead. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve lived to be fifty years old considering all the chemicals I was exposed to as a child.  (I also used to chew lead sinkers instead of bubble gum, but that’s another story.) Even though some of those lure making memories aren’t too pleasant, finding the old cedar blanks he started made me smile. 

I don’t remember dad making too many topwater plugs.  He was more of a crankbait fisherman.  He could burn a pearl 600 series Bomber across the bottom faster than any fisherman in the Smoky Mountains. That, and he liked to throw worms and bucktails.  But there were times when top-water was king. Spooks and Rapalas for largemouth bass were a spring ritual on Cherokee Lake, and when the water went down to just a river in the winter, fresh-water stripers were best taken on big chuggers.  So, I’m not surprised he had a few wooden blanks started.

I was piddling around in my shop a while back and noticed dad’s old blanks in a box on my workbench.  Just for the heck of it I decided to finish one out.  I selected one he had carved that looked a little like an old Heddon Chugger Spook and got to work.  I started by sanding it a little, then hanging it over my workbench and adding a base coat of white paint.  While the paint was still wet I blew on a handful of super-fine glitter then hit it with a few light layers of red and black.  This is probably a good time to point out I’ve never been much of a finesse lure maker.  Functionality and durability are my two priorities and I just don’t have the patience to tie a pretty fly or paint a professional looking lure.  I’ll catch fish with my creations, but they won’t win any contests. Nevertheless, this one was turning out okay, so I let it dry then added a few layers of clear polyurethane to gloss and toughen it up.

The next day I glued on some eyes, then dressed up a treble hook with some white feathers and flashabou and the lure was ready to go.  Funny thing is, I couldn’t bring myself to cast it.  It sat in my box for a long time.  I just never felt like taking it out. I  guess I was waiting for the right situation to throw it, but it never seemed to come.  That’s not to say it wasn’t used.  When Daniel fished with me last month he noticed it and tied it on.  I can’t remember if he caught any fish on it, but he probably did.  I never mentioned the history of the lure, but thought at the time that it was cool that it had gone through three generations, even if the first two hadn’t fished with it.  I wish now we had let my granddaughter Ella throw it so it would’ve been four.

Finally, when tonight’s skies turned up gray and rainy and it looked like the strongest outgoing current would correspond with sunset, it seemed like the right time to use the lure. I spent the day in Ocean City on business so didn’t think I could fish. When an early-tomorrow-morning meeting canceled, I left a paid-for hotel room on the beach to hurry home and get on the Chesapeake Bay. There were speed traps everywhere between Salisbury and Easton, but I still made it to the water by 6:00 PM to hit one of my favorite shallow water spots on the Bay side of Kent Island.

Since the shallow water top-water pattern has been good lately, I expected fish. I didn’t expect the class of fish I got though. The first striper that blew up on our homemade lure was huge. I hooked him for a minute and he shot out like a bat out of hell across the four foot flat before coming unpinned. Nothing better than big fish in the skinny stuff. I knew my hooks were too small, but I couldn’t resist another quick shot back to the rip. Sure enough, the water exploded and another big ol’ good ‘un lit out against my drag. By the grace of God this one stayed on. I didn’t measure, but I think the fish would’ve gone 35 inches.

I changed lures to a bigger and heavier chugger, a big gangly plastic thing with lots of oomph and whiz and not a trace of sentimental value. I caught  and released two more big fish boatside before dark. I had a couple more schoolies and some two-pound bluefish. I don’t know why they were there, but I’m thrilled the bigger rockfish were biting tonight. I brought the homemade plug home and hung it up in my shop.  If dad were still around I have a feeling he’d tell me to keep using it, but after all, it has accomplished its mission. It’ll work just as good as a monument to good fishing and better memories.

Posted Thursday, September 16th, 2010 at 11:11 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Finishing What the Old Man Started”

  1. Andrew says:

    What a fish and what a story!

  2. Daniel says:

    Wow. Really cool. I caught a few of those schoolies on it last time, but nothing like the ones you got into. I left a spook I was refurbishing on the jig rack in the garage; I think it’d be a good first light/dusk/overcast lure w/ the b&w paint scheme…-DK

  3. JOE YACK says:

    Good deal on the big fish, Shawn. I am a tinkerer also… and have passed a few of my lures down to my kids… while fishing with my sons yesterday I spied one of the old hand made poppers stashed in a tackle bag… I had given it to my eldest son many years ago… I had forgot about it and it made me smile to see it there ready for action.

  4. RiverCat09 says:

    Great story! You might consider making a little display, perhaps one of those shadowbox things, with the plug and a picture of you and that nice fish and maybe even the newspaper clipping of your dad. I’m sure that your father is up there somewhere smiling! Thanks for the read.


  5. Shawn says:

    Thanks for the comments. Good suggestions and ideas all around. Daniel, I took that lure you made out and you’ll be eating some of the fish it caught next weekend!

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