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Surfcasting before the turn of the 20th century was limited to a privileged few. Gear of the day, especially reels which were essentially hand built works of art, were expensive enough to be out of reach for the average person. These affluent surfcasters founded some of the legendary surf clubs such as the Cuttyhunk Club and were noted for building some of the famous bass stands throughout some of the best bass water in New England.

     In the early 1900's, the striper population went into a serious decline, and eventually all but disappeared from their usual haunts. With the bass gone, the clubs soon followed.

     By the mid 30's the bass stocks were on the rebound. Interest in surfcasting was on the rise as well. Modern mass production had put good equipment at reasonable prices in the market place. Bait fishing was still the most common method employed, but the use of eel skin jigs, tin squids, lead head jigs and the occasional freshwater musky plug was becoming more and more popular with the better casting gear available.

     The success of the musky plugs and their lack of availability, led to many surfcasters experimenting with building their own or improving on what was available from the freshwater market. Some eventually put their creations into production, such as Jerry Sylvester from Rhode Island and Jerry Ferrone from New York. By the time World War II came about, there were several manufacturers dedicated to building plugs for the striper fisherman.

     The war put a damper on lure production. With the wartime production in full swing, material shortages, particularly metal, made it difficult to produce lure components. Some builders continued through the war and a few others sprang up making due with what materials were available. Bob Pond, soon to be famous for his Atom lures released his first batch of plugs just before the end of the war.

     Once our servicemen returned from overseas, interest in surf fishing exploded. With a strong economy people had leisure time and unlike the depression era, money to enjoy it. The demand for quality lures that would hold up to the rigors of surfcasting was at an all time high. During the post war years lure manufacturers sprang up all along the striper coast. Most of these companies were small garage operations, some growing over time and others disappearing after a fairly short production run.

     By the early 50's, striper fishing had become big business. The equipment continued to become more user friendly especially with the introduction and wide spread use of the spinning reel. The fishing industry's heavy hitters took notice. Creek Chub Bait Co. for example introduced the Striper Pikie and followed up with the Surfster and continued to introduce saltwater specific plugs for the next several years. Most companies introduced smaller versions of popular plugs just for the spinning reel market. These pint sized lures proved to be some of the best sellers in the line up.

     By the 60's, what often referred to as the "Golden Age" of surf plugs was essentially over. Competition forced most companies that still remained to examine the way they were building plugs. Shortages of eastern white cedar, the choice of wood for several manufacturers, had companies searching for an alternative material. Plastic was the obvious choice.

     Little is known about many of the "Golden Age" builders, particularly the smaller garage operations. I urge anyone reading this that has any information to please share what they know. Much of the information known today is from people who knew the builders or their relatives.

     Below is more detailed information and pictures of some of my favorite surf lure companies. Enjoy!

     Adam Romagna

     Creek Chub's offerings up to 1950 consisted mainly of freshwater lures. Their largest plugs, designed for musky and Southern saltwater species began to make an appearance on the striper coast well before World War II. The lack of heavy duty, corrosion resistant hardware and hooks along with light lure weight made these lures less than ideal for surfcasting. In spite of the shortcomings of these lures, they proved to be hard for the stripers to resist.

     Seeing the success of the post World War II companies specializing in surfcasting plugs, Creek Chub introduced the "Striper Pikie" in jointed (#6800) and straight (#6900) models in 1950. Weighing in at 3.25 ounces, through wired and equipped with the best hardware of the time, they were an instant hit with the surf crowd. Sales of Creek Chub's first entry into the surfcasting market far exceeded expectations. As a result, in 1953, the "Surfster" was released in 3 sizes ranging from the 4 1/2 inch, 3/4 ounce #7200 to the 7 1/4 inch 2 1/2 ounce #7400. 3 new saltwater colors (blue flash, yellow flash and purple eel) were also added to the line up.

     With sales still on the rise, 3 new plugs were added in 1955. The #7500 "Surf Popper" was a 4 ounce, 7 1/4 inch version of the popular "Plunker" series of freshwater baits. The #7600 "Surf Darter" and the #7700 "Salt Spin Darter" rounded out the new models. They were also based on a successful freshwater plug already on the market for 30 years, the #2000 "Darter".

     Creek Chub continued their quest for the lion's share of the saltwater market in 1957. The #800 "Giant Jointed Pikie" was added along with beefed up versions of the #700 Pikie (#700SW), 2000 Darter (200SW) and the 2300 Husky Pikie (2300L). The new versions differed from their freshwater counterparts with through wire construction instead of screw eyes, one belly hook was removed and weight was added for distance.

     Unfortunately, many of the saltwater models added over the previous few years were discontinued in 1958. A serious shortage of eastern white cedar was cited as the reason for the demise of these plugs. Creek Chub was forced to utilize the available cedar on their best selling models. While the big surf plugs were very popular in the Northeast, they had little demand in the rest of the country. Dropped from production were: #7300 Husky Surfster, #7400 Salt Surfster, #7500 Surf Popper, #7600 Surf Darter and the #7700 Salt Spin Darter. Production continued on the 2 Striper Pikies and the Jointed Giant Pikie. Surprisingly, in 1960, another huge plug was introduced, the #6000 Giant Straight Pikie. These 4 plugs remained in production until 1978.

     In the late 50's, like most other manufacturers, Creek Chub began to build plugs from plastic. 1959 saw the introduction of the #1900 "Striper Striker" (later shortened to the "Striper Strike") popper. This, as it turned out, was to be one of the most famous and best selling striper plugs of all time, and is still currently in production. In 1978, Creek Chub Bait Company was sold and the Garrett, Indiana factory closed, ending a 60-year run of some of the most innovative and successful lures ever built. Production continues today on a limited few models under the current owner.

     As legend has it, Bob Pond while fishing the Cape Cod Canal, witnessed another fisherman slaughtering bass while others failed to connect. The fisherman was doing things different from the others, he was using a surface swimmer. Very few companies were producing large swimmers, most were musky plugs and were not well suited to the salt water scene. As luck would have it, the unknown fisherman lost his plug and Mr. Pond was able to recover it. The rest is history!

     In 1944 Bob released his first batch of wooden swimmers designed for surfcasting based on what he learned from his "found" plug. This first lot was sold out of the trunk of his car, each wrapped in newspaper. They had hand cut swimming plates and very plain paint when compared to his later models. Only around 400 were made this first year.

     By the fall of '45 Bob's plug had a machined (stamped) lip, better paint and a name..."the Striper Atom" after the recently dropped atomic bombs. Soon 3 colors were available and also a smaller version known as the Junior found in 2 hook and 3 hook models.

     1948 saw the introduction of the plastic Atom 40", and the phase out of the wooden Atom plugs. By '49 the wooden Striper Atoms were no more. Bob had switched completely to plastic. The transition to plastic was initially met with resistance from surfcasters and shop owners who preferred a wooden plug and thought the plastic models were inferior.

     The Atom had started to become a style of plug rather than a brand identification. Other manufacturers such as Masterlure and Russo out of New York were also marketing swimming plugs as Atoms or Atomic swimmers. Bob wanted to do something to set his Atom apart from the rest. Competition from the numerous other companies made Bob realize he had to produce a quality lure and cut his costs if he was going to stay afloat. Plastic retained it's color season after season, never absorbed water, each plug was exactly the same and it was much less expensive to produce. Once he made his decision, he never looked back.

     The new plastic lure received a new name, "the Forty". Bob claimed it was designed for bass over 40 inches. Word about some notable catches on his new plug soon got out and even hard core wooden plug fisherman took notice.

     Pond made many variations of the 40 over the years including the "51" which was a 40 painted in several colors, the "52" also referred to as the skunk which had a white belly section and various colored back sections and one of my favorites the "Stinky Atom" which had a removable plug in the belly allowing the angler to fill the plug with liquid scent that would slowly leech out as it was fished. A "Reverse" model and a popper were also built based on the "40".

     Stan Gibbs got his start in the lure business by making poppers for his own use in the mid 40's. Others began to notice how effective they were and requested Stan sell them a few. By '47 his production was well in excess of 1000 lures and Stan was on his way to a new career.

     Gibbs was constantly experimenting with new designs and soon introduced the darter and casting swimmer. New models and sizes came out just about every year. Some were very short lived, others are still in production today.

     Sales and production steadily rose when in 1972 Stan sold the company. John Gibbs, his son, bought the company in 1982. John sold the company a few years later.

     The pre-'72 lures are the most important to the collector. Enough examples exist to keep the price of common models, sizes and colors reasonable to the beginner. Short production lures, experimental models and rare colors can be very expensive.


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