A fresh lure for salty stripers

The muskie lure that has salt­wa­ter-striper an­glers bow­ing down

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - by JOE CERMELE

I GUESS YOU could say we were “re­v­erse surff­ish­ing.” My friend Craig Can­telmo, a vet­eran of the Long Is­land striper scene, was glued to the helm. We were so close to the beach at Mon­tauk that he kept vig­i­lant watch to make sure we stayed behind the break­ers. This was 2015, and it was the first time I ever threw a Musky Ma­nia Doc. This 9-inch Spook-style top­wa­ter weighs up­ward of 3 ounces, which made it easy to bomb a mile toward the beach. Work­ing it, how­ever, made my wrist and shoulder burn. Ac­cord­ing to Can­telmo, there was no such thing as too ag­gres­sive. He also made a guar­an­tee: “Whether they eat that thing or not, if there are stripers around, they’ll come up and let you know they’re there.” Four re­trieves in, a 20-pounder ghosted up to take a crack. I’d seen the light that hun­dreds of striper fish­er­men be­fore and af­ter have come to bask in.

DARK HORSE

▶There are count­less lures that have cult fol­low­ings, many of which were de­vel­oped for cult fish­eries, such as the clas­sic Jit­ter­bug for night­time large­mouth hunters. The Doc is dif­fer­ent. There has al­ways been some pres­ence of muskie lures creep­ing into the salty world, but the Doc is one of very few that be­came a true sta­ple. At least it is now. Even back in 2015, Can­telmo wouldn’t say the name of the lure in the video we were shoot­ing. There is much de­bate over who ac­tu­ally rec­og­nized the lure’s po­tency first, but it had been a hid­den gem in the ar­se­nals of sev­eral in-the-know New Eng­land captains for years be­fore it ever got on my radar. They had al­ready un­locked the Doc’s code. Un­painted models, which are the color of bone, seemed to call up stripers more con­sis­tently than any pat­tern. The bronze hooks that came stock for muskies would rust af­ter a day’s use in the brine, so they had to be re­placed right away with heavy-gauge salt­wa­ter tre­bles. See­ing that the Doc fre­quently tempted true cow bass, ex­tra-heavy split rings were nec­es­sary to han­dle the strain of a fight far more vi­o­lent than that of even true tro­phy muskies. What needed no tweak­ing, how­ever, were the Doc’s sound sys­tem and pro­file.

SMASH AND BURN

▶To my eye, the Doc isn’t that im­pres­sive in terms of cre­at­ing com­mo­tion. There are loads of pencil pop­pers and surface swim­mers that make more froth and throw more water. What ev­ery­one who leans on a Doc agrees upon, how­ever, is that the pro­file and in­ter­nal rat­tle com­bine to make the se­cret sauce. Big stripers feed on men­haden, which typ­i­cally mea­sure 8 to 12 inches. The Doc is one of the few top­wa­ters that match that size while main­tain­ing pretty good casta­bil­ity. Its abil­ity to mimic this large prey is also the main rea­son why it has earned such a rep­u­ta­tion; when a fish rises to the Doc, it’s usually a big one. The clack of the heavy steel bear­ings in­side as the bait walks can also be heard from a long dis­tance, which many—my­self in­cluded—be­lieve gives the Doc its un­canny abil­ity to make stripers ap­pear when noth­ing else will. Since the lure has be­come a must-have in my salt­wa­ter kit, I’ve used it to make heavy bass ma­te­ri­al­ize out of a dead ocean on days with nary a blip on the sonar, when live baits, boxes of other lures, and even meth­ods like trolling that of­ten pro­duce dur­ing slow out­ings have blanked. Ten years ago, if you posted a photo of a bass with a Doc in its mouth on so­cial me­dia, you were lam­basted. The term “Doc burn” was even coined as a com­mon re­sponse to such posts on Face­book and Instagram. But now, the se­cret is out. Un­like other lures in the bass and wall­eye are­nas that were the hot ticket for a time un­til the fish got smart, the Doc doesn’t seem to have lost any of its magic de­spite more an­glers throw­ing it. Even Drifter Tackle, which owns Musky Ma­nia Lures, fi­nally wised up and be­gan of­fer­ing salt­wa­ter­ready models and col­ors, help­ing the com­pany get a direct piece of the ac­tion in­stead of sell­ing un­painted Doc bod­ies to East Coast tackle shops. I haven’t got­ten my hands on one of the new models yet, and I’m not sure I re­ally need one. The Docs I al­ready own have been with me for sev­eral years now, and al­though I know I may eventually lose them, it’s fun to keep adding scrapes and scars to my triedand-true warriors.

One of the au­thor’s bat­tle-scarred Musky Ma­nia Docs.

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