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Fishing with the ‘fantastic four’

Fishing with the ‘fantastic four’

These lures have earned a special place in the tackle box of an angler with four decades of experience

One person’s “best” fishing lure is another’s poison. The answer to the common question, “What’s a good gizmo to toss in the water to get fish out of the water?” is a subjective one. Everyone has their own views and this fisherman is no exception. Over the last 41 years of chasing the finny critters, I’ve settled on the types of fishing I like and the lures to match.

Crippled herring

Created by Pete Rosko of Naples, Fla., and marketed by the Luhr Jensen Company, this sleek metal lure plummets to the depths for cod, pollock, haddock and a host of other bottom feeders. They come in a variety of sizes and can be used for many other fisheries. For yo-yo jigging on the bottom, the 10- and 13-ounce models are hard to beat for the traditional New England cod fishery.

Last fall a 13-ounce model fooled a 45-pound cod in 290 feet of water on a trip with Capt. Pete Shea on his 38-foot custom out of Rockport, Mass. The summer before, we used the same lure for an excellent catch of cod in the depths east of Stellwagen Bank on Capt. Jimmy Koutalakis’ fast 31-foot Sea Vee.

One works this lure by dropping it to bottom, then slowly raising and lowering the rod until a fish hits. You develop a feel for deep jigging, as it’s often called. You learn to detect a hit as the lure drops back to the bottom after you’ve raised it up a couple of feet. The drop back resembles a crippled prey, hence the name for the lure, and the point at which fish most often time their attack for greatest chance of success.

Plastic worms

More than 10 years ago a national magazine ran a story about using what up to then had been freshwater lures for stripers. I was intrigued, had a couple mailed to me and have been hooked ever since. These 2- to 10-inch worms have a curly tail that looks alive when drawn through the water. One of my friends joked we should put them in the live bait well because they look so real.

We normally glue the worm on lead heads made for this purpose with a touch of Super Glue, then cast them around various striper structures along the New England coast. We start in late April and continue to Thanksgiving. Many warm summer nights find us drifting slowly along the fishy shoreline on the south side of exclusive Fishers Island off the Connecticut coast, attentive for another hit as we cast out then begin a slow retrieve back to the boat. On our light spin rods with 12-pound mono or 30-pound super braid, a 30-pound bass puts up a very anxious tussle. If you throw in a gorgeous full moon and soft, calm winds, you have a grand time rivaling any on the water.

Early in the year we use the smaller worms along a tidal river for the first schoolies of the season, but as the larger bass push in from the west and south we up the size of the bait to 8 and 10 inches, looking for larger game.

Old reliable

The bucktail jig still has a place of prominence in my tackle boxes. In 1990 one of these lures, barely 1-1/2 inches long, fooled a 141-pound tarpon in the late afternoon not far from Tank Island off the fishy town of Key West. That behemoth took a liking to the small lure and proceeded to take our 20-foot Sea Craft down the harbor channel and out on the reef, finally giving up two hours after hookup on 15-pound plugging tackle.

A white, 1-1/2-ounce version of this lure with plastic worm added on its single hook, dropped on the wrecks and limestone outcroppings in the Gulf Of Mexico off the same town provided many hours of enjoyment, catching hard-pulling, great-eating gag grouper.

After many such days, several of us would retire to Bob-A-Lou’s Southern Café on nearby Big Coppitt Key, where they cooked our catch to perfection. We washed it down with cold stuff and topped it off with coffee and Key Lime pie. All the while, ours and other tables in the down home atmosphere bristled with the talk of the day’s boating and catching.

Another of the many great days provided by this simple lure started out on a bummer — a no-bite morning looking for tarpon in Key West Harbor. Opting for Plan B we dropped 4-ounce white bucktails with curly-tailed worms on some of the deep wrecks outside the Main Ship Channel. This time an 84-pound amberjack liked what it saw, putting up a determined 1-hour, 45-minute battle on plugging tackle. We barely had time to run the fish in for weigh-in and then make a flight from the Keys back home on busy Easter Sunday weekend. The elderly lady in the seat next to me on the flight home was impressed with the Polaroid of that catch. She said my mother would be proud.

Diamond jig

This is another lure around since they kept fishing records. Sold in all tackle shops in the northeast, they catch just about anything and resemble a variety of baitfish. In the spring of 2004 my home waters — The Race, off New London, Conn. — are filled with sea herring from 3 to 5 inches long. A 6- to 8-ounce diamond jig was almost the exact size and shape of that bait, a fact not lost on the thousands of striped bass in those rips on their migration northward. We had continuous and excellent fishing from May 15 through June 30 on these lures, almost to the point of taking the scores for granted. Many of the trips occurred under blue skies and high pressure — memorable days.

The diamond jig will also catch big pollock on overnight trips to Cashes Ledge, a series of underwater hills 80 miles off Gloucester and the shipwrecks south of Nantucket, many of the latter steeped in maritime lore, some the subject of books on their sinking. The doomed liner Andria Doria usually provides pollock to those who make the long run to her watery grave in the spring. Further offshore another unknown wreck, still leaching oil, also produces big pollock to diamond jiggers. All we know about her history is she stands 48 feet off the bottom in 385 feet of water.

All four of these artificials provided days into years of great memories, time spent steering a boat into a beautiful sunrise or looking up at a moon still bright at 3 a.m. as the boat is cleaned, the bass unloaded, the tackle readied for the next trip. Give me these lures and a sea-kindly craft and I’ll go into the next life with a bulging scrapbook to show Saint Peter.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.