This story originally appeared in the March 2007 Issue of On The Water Magazine, written by our friend and well known Cape Cod surfcaster, Steve Shiraka.
As in science and so many other things, new revelations are often the result of accidents, and so was my introduction to BigFish Bait Company’s 1¾-ounce pencil popper. In the spring of 2006, I received a package in the mail from Larry Wentworth, proprietor of the BigFish Bait Company. In it was a pearl-white pencil popper. At first look, it was not much different from any other pencil on the market. It was well made – that was evident from the outset. But again, other than that, nothing jumped out to make me want to get to the water right away with the thing.
I’ve acquired a good collection of wooden plugs from some of the best of the latest generation of custom plug builders. Some have been outstanding fish catchers; all have been beautifully crafted. Some are so well done that I can’t bring myself to ever put one of them in the water for fear of ruining it, or worse, having some fish attack it and scrape and chew it up. So there I sat with this average-looking popper in my hand and a note asking me to give it a test and let Mr. Wentworth know what I thought. I stashed the plug in my bag, and there it sat for a few weeks. In June, I happened to be in my skiff drifting by a certain rock pile along Naushon Island in the Elizabeth Island chain. I had tried Danny plugs and various other swimmers to no avail even though I had seen fish follow the plugs out from the shore.
I looked into my bag, and there was the popper just poking its head out of the tube. Next to it in the bag was a Spook-type plug that had produced for me many times, but as I reached for it my hand veered to the pencil popper. I thought, “Well, I said I would give it a try, so why not now?” I snapped it on the Breakaway clip and let her fly. I tried the standard pencil-popper retrieve, and it reacted very well to the rhythm the rod imparted. Then, for no particular reason at all, I started to work it like a Spook. The plug responded just like a Spook, darting and zigzagging perfectly, and best of all it was instantly inhaled by a nice bass. “Well, well,” I thought. “What have we got here?”
I spent the next several hours working that plug through the boulder fields of Naushon, Pasque and Nashawena islands. It was a bass magnet that had the best of both plugs in one, popper and Spook, and transitioned seamlessly between both actions at my whim. This plug was a winner, and I had to get more. I contacted Larry, told him what I thought and asked him to make me a couple more and send me the bill.
I asked Larry how he came up with the plug, and he told me it was by pure accident. It seems he and his friend Matt Stidstone were in Larry’s shop a year before in March, and Larry was teaching Matt how to use a lathe and turn a plug. The lesson had its ups and downs, and the shape was the result of Matt having to adjust his original plans because a little too much came off of one end and even more than was wished came off the other. Having turned a number of plugs on my own lathe, I know just what that is like. Anyway, the shape was finally finished and Matt, under Larry’s guidance, finished his first plug with sealer, paint and coating. The moment of truth came later that spring, and the plug provided results beyond anything Larry or Matt ever could have hoped for.
A plug that performs a dual role well is a rare find and one that should be in your bag if you’re a serious striper fisherman. The plug is constructed from Alaskan yellow cedar, one of the finest woods for plug building. It is sealed to stop water intrusion that leads to swelling and cracking, airbrush painted, and stainless steel through-wired. A quality Spro swivel and Sampo stainless split rings hold the two 2/0 4x VMC hooks, and the plug weighs in at 1¾ ounces. It is available in a variety of colors including yellow w/red head, yellow over white, red head, pearl white, copper over white, blue mackerel, green mackerel, pogie, herring and mullet.