The wounded bunker action of Tony Maja’s Custom Bunker Spoon is irresistible to big stripers.
The first time I saw a bunker spoon, I thought it looked like something I’d be more likely to serve dinner on than send out behind a boat on a fishing rod. It takes a leap of faith to fish a lure that can weigh up to a pound and can be as big around as a Frisbee, but as anyone who’s successfully fished bunker spoons can attest, these massive lures catch massive striped bass.
Tony Arcabascio, creator of Tony Maja’s Custom Bunker Spoons, got hooked on fishing these spoons at an early age. In the late 1960s, Tony wanted to give trolling a try, so he borrowed a couple trolling rods and some homemade bunker spoons from a friend and set out to fish the waters around Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The first fish that took one of the large spoons swimming behind the boat was a 49-pound striped bass. “So you see why I got hooked on bunker spoons,” said Tony, laughing as he told me the story.
From there, the Staten Island native went on to make his own spoons. The lures were fashioned from aluminum, which he often acquired from, believe it or not, old stop signs. Aluminum was the top choice for Tony’s homemade spoons early on because of its pliable qualities. This allowed Tony to make adjustments to the spoons on the water to give them the exact action he wanted. To make these changes aboard his boat, Tony always packed a hammer and a pair of pliers.
“With the aluminum spoons, you have to get them back into shape after a couple fish because it would twist and bend under the weight of the bass,” Tony explained.
Tony continued to make the bunker spoons for himself out of the aluminum for over 30 years, until he had an epiphany while watching a school of bunker stream under his boat in the early 2000s.
“I was looking at this school of bunker under the boat, and one of the fish had been nipped by a bluefish and was moving very differently from the rest of the school, and that was the bunker a cow striper came up and ate. A light went off when I saw that, and I immediately pulled one of my spoons out of the water, flattened it out, and then began catching big bass like crazy!”
When Tony “flattened out” his bunker spoon, he took away a lot of the action that the curve in the metal produced. This was the polar opposite of what he and other bunker spoon makers had been trying to do up to that point.
“All this time, we’d been trying to imitate the healthy swimming bunker as closely as possible, when the ones the bass really want are the ones that have been wounded and swim a little differently. When I changed my spoon design it had a much more subtle action, and the bass loved it!”
Though it’s a stretch to describe the action of a 15-ounce lure as “subtle,” the sweep produced by Tony Maja Custom Bunker Spoons is more subdued than other styles. Bunker spoons are designed to swim in a “U” pattern as they are trolled, kicking upward as they sweep from side to side. Many bunker spoons have about a 4-foot sweep, but the Tony Maja spoons have roughly a 2-foot sweep. Tony explained that the subdued action of these spoons makes them appear more like an injured bunker or other large baitfish than a healthy one, which really catches the attention of opportunistic big bass.
“I’ve been bunker spooning for a long time, and I’ve fished almost every bunker spoon on the market, and they all work, but by making the spoons swim less erratically, I experienced more success with those bunker spoons that any I’d ever fished.” However, anglers used to seeing bunker spoons with more action were skeptical of how effective the lure would be.
“I gave some away to my friend Gary Caputi, who I knew did a lot of bunker spoon fishing. On his first trip out with them, I got a phone call almost right away. ‘Tony,’ he said, ‘I’ve got to be honest. I’m not wild about how these spoons look in the water. Wait, wait, hold on. I’ll call you back.’ And then he hung up and I didn’t hear from him for a couple hours.”
When Caputi did call back, his opinion of the lures had done a 180. “Gary told me he caught 11 bass that day trolling one of my spoons along with another model, and he said that 10 of those 11 fish came on my spoons. After that, I knew I had the design down, and started making the lures out of stainless steel.”
Stainless steel maintains its shape much better than aluminum and won’t have to be re-bent after a few fish. Having finally landed on a bunker spoon style that he no longer needed to tweak, Tony no longer needed to make the lures out of pliable aluminum. The extra-heavy gauge stainless steel Tony makes the lures from also allows an angler to get the lures to the desired depth with less wire line or extra weight.
“You could fish these lures with success on wire, braid and even mono,” explained Tony. “The stainless steel is heavier for its size than aluminum, which helps the lures get deep with less additional weight.”
Tony then began to market the bunker spoons as Tony Maja’s Custom Bunker Spoons. Maja was the name of his boat and an acronym for the first names of the members of his family. The spoons are available in four sizes and styles designed to match the size and profile of the available forage. The spoons are constructed with heavy-duty split rings and 9/0 stainless siwash bucktail hooks, ensuring that the lure with withstand the abuse dished out by cow stripers and jumbo bluefish.
E-Z OUTRODDER LLC
Bayville, NJ 08721