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Clogging the main aisle of a congested fishing tackle shop on Worcester's lower Grafton Street sat a group of half-full cardboard boxes. Each was destined for a weekend trip to a Cape Cod tackle shop anywhere from the canal to Provincetown. Dick Pleska with arms full of Rebels, a dozen to a box, was coming out of the back storage room. "I could sell every damn pink plug I could get my hands on right now. Ptown is nuts. They'll take whatever I can get. I got Gibbs doing me a special order that should be ready any day, hopefully tomorrow, and my Rebel guy is sending me everything they got. Not sure how many they'll send, but every one will be gone by Saturday afternoon!" Dick exclaimed, that summer when pink plugs became the hottest commodity on Cape Cod.

     "What's the deal Dick?" I asked, knowing that with Dick, a successful wholesale and retail tackle dealer, there was always a deal of some sort he was working.

     "Pink, Eddy, it's all about pink," he remarked with a big grin as he handed me a list for another tackle order that needed packing for his weekend trip. I smiled and shook my head as I grabbed a large box and went about filling the request.

     Those were the hard scrabble recession days of the New England mill towns in the decade of the 1970's. You had to work hard to make it as a small businessman, be good to your customers and always stay on the lookout for opportunities that gave you an edge in the marketplace. Dick was one of the best deal makers in the fishing tackle business and this was a plug hawking coup. It's a story of secret plugs and hammering big striped bass on the back beach of Cape Cod in the fabled surf years of the late '70's, so I thought others might like to know.

     While other states along the coast were seeing reduced numbers of striped bass, the Cape fishing was legendary. Big solid cows invaded the beaches. Many were in the 30 pound class and forty-something slobs were there if you worked hard. One night I was with two companions, Dick was one of them, and they each broke the magic fifty pound mark with identical 52's. Guys were fired up all over the coast anxious to get in on the Cape action. Much of that action came to many surf casters, believe it or not, on pink plugs.

     The pink phenomenon began as a slow trickle from the sandy parking lot at the Bass Run tackle shop in North Eastham, MA. Tony Chiarappo, owner of Bass Run, was experimenting with faded red hackle droppers and had some successful nights and daybreak action that exceeded expectations. Feeling that the droppers mimicked the iridescent hue of a flashing sand eel in the subtle pink glow of the early dawn, he painted some plugs in a similar shade. A pair of George Carlezon bottle plugs was his first experiment, and later a couple of two ounce Gibbs' bottles received similar treatment.

     Dick Pleska, who provided much of Bass Run's wholesale supply, took the pink Gibbs' and purchased a production run in the new color. Meanwhile, Tony enlisted the services of Don Musso for a dozen 3 ounce darters, an explained "I told Donny to paint them all pink. He thought I was nuts, and didn't want to do it. I told Donny 'just paint em.'"

     I asked if he had ever before heard of anybody using pink on big stripers. Tony noted that he and other Jersey shore guys were adding highlights to plugs with Revlon nail polish in various colors back in the 1950's sometime after the Korean War. Pink was one of the colors. He made the point that to identify the specific origin of any new idea, whether it was a plug or dropper type, size, shape, color or whatever would be difficult if not impossible. Typically, any number of dedicated and curious anglers along the coast could have been tinkering with similar variations at the same time. It wasn't until the prolific abundance of sand eels that had invaded the Cape Cod shores in the late 1970's that got him playing with the color pink again.

     When the beach fishing on the Cape was building, few production saltwater plugs were available in such a shade with the exception of a pair of uncommon Rebels. There was a rainbow trout pattern with a green back, and pink flanks with small black dots; and also a pink mackerel. Dick Pleska with his wholesale connections at Pradco, got Tony whatever he could, told Pradco he needed more and asked them for a production run. With very little demand for these patterns, Pradco sent almost everything they had to Dick.

     The buying binge didn't start with a few nice fish on one crazy colored plug, a firestorm needed fuel and with a load of plugs that no one else owned, Dick and Tony had an opportunity. Today they might call it a marketing plan, back then it was street smarts.

     Pounding the beaches nightly, Tony was doing a number on the big stuff, mostly on droppers and rebels. Before they went to market, the biggest of those fish were hung from the Bass Run sign right next to the passing traffic on route 6. A little advertisement never hurt. Visiting anglers took notice and found out the secret. Pink was doing the damage. After visiting Bass Run and seeing with his own eyes what was taking place, a writer for the New Jersey Fisherman was guided to the beach by a local resident. The writer watched in amazement when his guide took a fifty pounder on a pink dropper. The magazine reported it.

     Along with Dick Pleska, the Worcester group would routinely meet every week behind Mac Reed's tackle shop in Orleans. All hands would pile into buggies and hit the beaches. Combining the total from 4 or 5 anglers, they could tally a sizeable load. The following morning, Dick would offer to drive the stripers to market in Provincetown since he was headed down Cape to deliver tackle orders to Bass Run, Charley Whitney, and the Meads brothers. This was a good deal for the Worcester guys as it saved a run from Orleans to the fishmongers in either Chatham or Provincetown. Dick would leave the tired crew to rest while he lumbered towards Provincetown with a heavy cargo of stripers and fishing tackle.

     The tackle shop parking lots would begin to stir in the early morning sun, - typical activity when big stripers were prevalent. Fisherman napped in soft-tire buggies. Others traded news, real or fabricated, of the last night's action. Everyone had ears to the ground looking for anything that might tip them off to a better plan for the following night. "I always anxiously anticipated Dick's arrival and loved when he would pull into the parking lot," Tony Chiarappo told me. "The enthusiasm he could generate, I'll never forget. He could sell waders full of holes and you'd be happy to get 'em."

     With his Chevy loaded heavy with stripers caught with the help of his casters sleeping somewhere back Orleans way; Dick would arrive at his next stop, broad tails and big heads of the cows in full view. Gathering the tackle shop's order under the gaze of the curious interlopers, the generous tackle man would unveil a most valuable piece of information in a quiet voice so as to authenticate its' highly secretive nature. All the big bass were taken on pink plugs. Yes pink, and to let them in on an exclusive opportunity, he just happened to have a dozen left if anyone needed some. How could any gung-ho surf caster refuse an offer like that? Not many did.

     With the supply chain cornered and the market expanding, Dick would repeat the same fish carrying drill the following week, but with a heavier load of pink plugs. The seven inch rainbow trout pattern some swore was the ultimate killer. The hard to find pink mackerel pattern had a cult following. Later, there came a hot fluorescent shade that Pradco did exclusively at Dick's request. He got them all, everything Pradco had and told them he needed more, whatever they could send.

     More shops started to carry the hot colored plugs, and word of their success was carried back down the striper coast to the home ports of the big bass hunters. Everyone who was in the game wanted them. Not just the local Massachusetts crews, but gangs from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island were buying pink plugs.

     In following years, the striped bass population steadily declined and the number of surf casters on the Cape beaches dwindled. The vagabond life that so many anglers had known came to an end. Fading from the sand on a receding wave that never returned, the pink Rebels and Gibbs' were relegated to the back shelf of distant memories.

     Was there some special appeal that pink had to the big stripers on the light colored sands of the back beach? Did it work better than the other colors? Who knows? Confidence in your lure and your technique is a big part of success. With so many surf casters using bright pink to murder the big cows, what were a few extra bills for hot plug insurance? It was all part of the game that got played in the high drama years of a golden era in surf fishing.

     Post Story Note: Dick Pleska died on March 7, 1989 from a sudden heart attack. He was the owner of Dick's Wholesale Tackle Co. in Worcester Massachusetts, and an accomplished angler on many salt water species. His name still finds its way into conversations where old guard surf casters gather between tides. With a vodka drink in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other, Dick Pleska marched head-on through life making great friends on every path with his warmth and charisma. He now fishes a beach somewhere else across a distant bar. I miss the old fish sticker and think of him every day.


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