By Stephen J. Kotz
To the casual observer, the scene at Montauk Point during the fall striped bass run is chaotic. Fishermen, standing shoulder to shoulder, cast all manner of fishlike devices into the surf, hoping to entice a trophy bass to clamp down on the one at the end of their line.
But if one takes a closer look into the tackle bag of a seasoned angler, one will soon learn there are lures made of metal, lures made of wood, and lures made of plastic, all coming in an array of colors. Some drop to the bottom, some dive and dart, and some float on the surface. Their designs have evolved over decades, and all serve a purpose in different fishing conditions that can change on a dime.
“The Lure of the Striped Bass,” a new exhibit opening this week at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, will celebrate the history of the innovative lure designs that have played a key role in making surfcasting the sport it is today and helped give rise to the East End as a fisherman’s paradise.
Besides literally hundreds of vintage lures, many from the collection of one of the show’s curators, Stephen Lobosco, the show will feature other fishing equipment, magazines, books, carvings and artwork related to the topic.
“I’ve been collecting fishing lures since I was about 15 years old,” said Mr. Lobosco this week. “My uncle, Frank Pintauro, was the leading authority on the subject.” Mr. Pintauro, in turn, had been initiated into the art of collecting by none other than the painter Cappy Amundsen, who, Mr. Lobosco said, traded lures from his own collection for fish.
Mr. Lobosco was hooked, pardon the pun, when his uncle gave him a pair of lures autographed by Stan Gibbs, an early designer. It would be like giving a young Yankees fan a ball signed by Mickey Mantle.
“My friends don’t know what’s wrong with me,” said Mr. Lobosco of the collecting bug that has become his obsession. Mr. Lobosco is also an avid fisherman, a hobby his co-curator, Richard Doctorow, the museum’s collections manager, doesn’t share.
“I don’t know this world,” Mr. Doctorow said. “But once you begin to look at these objects they really are beautiful, miniature works of art., so this is not a show about fishing lures per se, but about these objects as art.”
Surfcasting for striped bass has been popular since the late 1880s, but early anglers were limited in their choice of lures to heavy, metal ones with bucktails that were called “tin squids.” They worked fine when the bass were feeding on the bottom, but when the bass worked the surface, they were useless.
In 1944, at the Cape Code Canal, Bob Pond saw a fellow fisherman catching fish left and right while using a floating lure he did not recognize. The next day, Mr. Pond found one of the stranger’s lures. He tied it on his line, caught 14 fish in a row with it, and knew he was on to something.
“He found this exact lure floating in the Cape Cod Canal,” said Mr. Lobosco, displaying one of the prizes of his collection. The lure was a Creek Chubb Pike, used for catching freshwater game fish.
Mr. Pond set about duplicating the lure—Forget about it, collectors, Mr. Lobosco owns that one too. At first, he made lures for family and friends, but soon enough he was convinced to sell them, so he loaded up his truck and made the rounds to various fishing destinations up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, demonstrating his lures’ prowess and selling them to fishermen looking for an edge. He named his company Atom Lures after the atom bomb that had put an end to World War II. The company’s Striper Swiper is still in wide use today.
Returning veterans, who could not find work, helped revolutionize the industry even more, with many taking the designs they made for their own personal use and putting them on the market. Over the period of about seven years, Mr. Lobosco said, a design revolution had taken place that would change the world of fishing.
Among the other lures from his own collection, Mr. Lobosco will display a darter, circa 1949, that was made by his hero, Stan Gibbs. It is one of about five remaining in the world and was made “specifically for Montauk to handle the pounding rips,” he said.
He will also display models from the Snook Bait Company, a short-lived company based in the Bowery in New York City that gave wise guy names to lures like the Big Weasel, the Big Snook, and the Surf King. “For the collecting world, these are the Cadillac of lures,” said Mr. Lobosco.
Other lures made by Charlie Russo, whose work was “very ornate, the paint schemes at their best,” to Donny Musso, who invented the Super Strike in his Babylon shop in the mid 1960s, will be included in the show.
The show will include information on fish preservation efforts, and other, related gear as well as illustrations by Lynn Bogue Hunt, Harry Discole, and Goadby Lawrence, carvings by Aage Bjerring, and paintings by the artists Paton Miller, Barbara Thomas, Anna Demauro, Nathan Joseph and David Pintauro.
“What makes this special is Stephen’s connection to the fishing community,” said Mr. Doctorow. “Once we put out the word, all these offers of help came in.”
An opening reception for “The Lure of Striped Bass” will take place at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, August 8. The exhibit will be on display until August 25. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Call 631-725-0770 for more information.