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article202_1.jpg (25191 bytes)Bill Hurley's Striper Magnet

Commotion the Ocean or Piddle in a Puddle?

By Peter Budryk


My first cast with a Striper Magnet provoked a powerful strike! Instantaneously the fish overpowered the flex of the rod and the set of the drag, pulling the 14 lb test line off the reel on its initial run.

Turning the reel handle merely added more octane to the run so the line left the reel even faster. Then, just as suddenly, the rod straightened and the line went slack. Reeling in I could see that the line had been severed, so-like the fish- I was off! In my case, I was off the knot-failure-hook.

Rather than continue this demonstration of competence and take the steps the cut-off dictated, I immediately tied on another Striper Magnet, again without wire or a shock tippet. I just had to get another lure into the water as soon as possible because I sensed what was going to occur when I did.

Sure enough, the very next cast produced another jarring strike followed by a deep rod bending and a blazing run! After several minutes of a see-saw battle of line-out/line-in/line-out/ line-in the fish was close enough for me to identify- as well as to see the lure pull free from the fish's mouth. Then a third cast, an immediate hit,run,and, a few minutes later-a fish in hand! ( More about this first experience later.)

Three casts with the Striper Magnet produced three consecutive violent strikes; one lost lure; and one fish landed. An impressive debut for me by Bill Hurley's creation. This is a creation that has a number of devoted users all abuzz and a much larger number of potential users ignorant of its very existence. Have you heard about it?

article202_4.jpg (20636 bytes)This fast track success posed an unanticipated problem for me. When I
first thought of writing on the subject, it occurred to me that a reader might think I had a vested interest in making the lure sound good.  After all, that is what always seems to be the case with so many new product reports in magazines that sound like the manufacturer wrote the piece. This is often payback by a writer for a trip, free equipment, or other payola from the manufacturer. As the living legend, Lefty Kreh, says about writers and equipment manufacturers,

"First as a writer, you hope you'll get a discount on equipment. Next, they give it to you for free. Finally, they pay you to use it."

I had no reason to do a puff piece since I had never used the lure, met or spoke with Hurley and, bottom line, I had a commitment to my own integrity as a writer. I simply had some rave reports on the lure and I wanted to check it out myself. After tracking down Bill Hurley for an interview, I paid him for some lures to field test. For better or worse I'd report the results as they occurred, knowing full well that, in the final analysis, the fishing community would be the arbiter of my objectivity. Would they believe what happened on my first three casts? I had difficulty believing the results of my first three casts. You be the judge and let me know what you think. I myself will always place more trust in the views of a hundred fishermen over the opinion of a single angler, myself included. I am, after all, merely Peter, a fisherman, and not Peter, The Fisherman.

So how did I discover the Bill Hurley Striper Magnet for myself? To a guy who had fished for stripers for many years in MA, CT, and RI and who now has the great good fortune to live and fish on Cape Cod from May through October, it was somewhat embarrassing the way the Striper Magnet came to my attention.

My youngest brother, Frank, lives on Cape Cod virtually year 'round but not until recently has he begun to fish its waters. While he no longer holds his fishing rod so his spinning reel is above the rod while he reels it with his right hand (so what if he has to reel backwards), he brings much more passion than finesse to his new found love of angling. He has graduated to chunking, live-lining, and eeling in the Canal, or grappling with the stripers and the colorful cadre of crazed characters who vie for elbow and forearm and herring-snagging purchase at the Charles River Dam. To date this comprises the alpha and the omega of his striper fishing adventures. And, despite my best teaching efforts, he still can't tie an improved clinch knot.

So, fishing snob that I am, to be introduced to a new striper lure by my baby brother- no Lefty Kreh-was somewhat humbling. (By the way, I think Frank will forgive me; most assuredly so if I pass along a few of the lures I field tested, as the following will indicate.)

How did he stumble upon the Striper Magnet? Late last summer, after yet another striperless trip to the Canal, he started to pack up to leave when a nearby angler, who had been watching him fish, and no doubt felt an mixture of pity and gratitude for the entertainment said, "Wait a minute, my friend, watch this." He cast out a lure into the Canal, let it sink some, twitched his rod, reeled in the slack, and then reared back to set the hook on a striper. After releasing the 24" fish he said, "Watch, I'll do it again." Cast. Twitch. BANG! Catch. Measure. Release.

article202_5.jpg (38589 bytes)He handed Frank several lures, instructing him to use them the way he had just demonstrated, and departed. On the first cast a striper hit it. And on and on til he lost the last lure to a fish that cut it off on the rocks. Who was  that generous unmasked man and were those silver bullets he left with my brother? You've probably guessed, right? Before he left, he had introduced himself to Frank as Bill Hurley and had given him several of his Striper Magnets. So impressed with the lure's effectiveness, my brother, after losing the last lure, scavenged a mangled Striper Magnet Hurley had missed getting into the trash barrel, took it home and Krazy Glued it back to life, to fish again until he could find a store to resupply. My brother did that! Frank, who ties on his lures and hooks with an unimproved slip knot! When he told me of this experience, I was intrigued.

Before moving on to Bill Hurley's creation and whether it warrants your investment of money and time, let's look at a fundamental question regarding artificial lures:
ON WHAT SPECIFIC BASES DO WE JUDGE A LURE'S EFFECTIVENESS?

  • Fish Catchability-do fish want it?
  • Castability-can you get it to the fish easily?
  • Durability-can you catch a reasonable number of fish with it?
  • Affordability-what is its fish:cost ratio?
  • Applicability-limited to one or varied species,situations?
  • Excitability-is it fun to use?
  • Availability-easily purchased ?

FISH CATCHABILITY
My brother's and my limited experience with the Striper Magnet is of some value on this score, but it lacks the validity of a wider sampling of users over a longer period of time. For this test I have surveyed a sampling of tackle stores in the Northeast with this question: "Based on fishing results you have had personally or witnessed reports you have received from customers and fishing guides, and sales records, what are the hottest new or established striped bass lures?"

RESULTS:
Generally, the folks at the stores who spoke with me provided reviews ranging from ignorance of the lure, to not stocking it because it seemed too similar to other lures, to luke warm endorsements, to raves. Lure "wisdom" was imparted to me by several wily angler/storeowners: "The success of certain lures is a function of the peculiar micro-conditions of different areas that may not be transferable to other areas. For example, the Cape Cod Canal almost always calls for certain standard types of lures-big, heavy-and certain standard presentations-mostly deep."

"The best striper lure is the lure you use the most because then you catch most of your stripers with it."

Really??

Dave Warren, owner of Pioneer Sporting Center in Northampton,was the first store to carry Hurley's Striper Magnet in 1997. Bill had taken Dave fishing to the CT River in and to the waters off Stonington,CT in order to demonstrate the lure. "We caught fish almost every cast. It has a walk the dog action, unlike most soft baits. It's so effective even novice fisherman catch fish,which is the best thing about it. While I rate Gibbs and Pencil Poppers best in rivers, the Striper Magnet is the top ocean lure in my view. It's the number 1 selling striper lure in my store."

Don Stromeyer, owner of Red Top in Buzzard's Bay, doesn't carry the Striper Magnet because he feels there are too many similar type lures available such as the Slug-Go and that, in his neck of the woods, there are many other time tested, proven lures like the Crippled Herring, Gibbs Pencil Popper, Polaris, Yozuri, Luhr Jensen, and of course the Canal staple-the bucktail jig in its full array of colors, sizes, and shapes .

Pat Abate, owner of River's End in Old Saybrook, CT says the Striper Magnet is "alright, satisfactory". The lure's greatest advantage, its fool-proof, built-in action doesn't jibe with his own personal, high energy, spastic fishing style. "At the same time that it may not be my own favorite striper lure, based on changing customer demand, I am watching my inventory of soft plastic striper lures growing while my inventory of hard lures is shrinking.It really is about time; saltwater anglers are about 20 years behind freshwater anglers in discovering softbaits."

Jack Spregal, who manages Quaker Lane in North Kingstown, R.I. says the Striper Magnet is "Awesome! We sell and I use a lot of different soft plastics, but Hurley's lure is just that different in its shape, color, and action that it stands head and shoulders above all of the others in catching fish. My favorite colors are the black and the pearl. Man! They are massively productive. More so than even most of the hard baits. Use whatever you have to to find stripers, but once you've located them switch to the Striper Magnet-the bass devour it. It's among the top 10 selling lures in this shop."

Bill Edwards of Goose Hummock in Orleans rates the Striper Magnet "Third best striper lure, just behind Gibbs Polaris and Gag's Mombo Minnow.We go through quite a few of them here. I've used everything. The Sriper Magnet works as well as, if not better than, most lures.  It works like a charm."

In addition to the tackle store survey, I have researched the media to mine the evaluations of professional anglers-commercial and sport-and outdoor scribes. IN-FISHERMAN'S 2000 GUIDE-BASS "The World's Foremost Authority on Bass" has some nice things to say, "New England guide Bill Hurley designed the hefty 7 3/4 -inch Striper Magnet Plus for big bass as well as stripers. It is a killer in open water."

Closer to home, Tom Rock, who writes the outdoor column for Long Island's NEWSDAY, talks about the lure's fish catchability, obscurity, and the Beany Baby craze among anglers to get their hands on the lure: "Last spring tackle shop owners across Long Island were asking 'What's a Hurley lure?' One owner said,'I've had 50 people ask me and I have no idea what it is. I thought it might be something fictitious. I have no idea what it looks like and I've been in the business for 30 years."

"The reception of this thing has been unbelievable" said Fred Roth of Smithtown Bait & Tackle, one of the first shops on Long Island to stock the Hurley. "Fishermen are typically very skeptical, but if you're standing next to someone using this thing and being outfished 10-1, you're going to start to believe." ( My brother bears witness to this point, Author) "I've had dozens of calls from other tackle shops asking where they can get this thing," said Roth "It really works." Rock the writer refers to it aptly as "the hottest lure since Chanel No. 5."

On the topic of the lure's fish catching successes, Hurley showed me a photograph (of too low quality for magazine reproduction) of a New Jersey angler hefting a 50 lbs striper he landed on a Striper Magnet last year.

CASTABILITY
Categorized as a "soft minnow" of the Slug-Go type jerkbait, Hurley's Striper Magnet is the product of over $25,000 he invested in research and development for a lure that not only would catch fish but would also be easily castable and swimable at the appropriate depths. The result is a hefty profile lure with large, 3-D rattling eyes that Hurley says are a big reason for its appeal to stripers. "They attack the head of the lure and the eyes really attract them." His diamond sharpened weighted hooks-he has been issued patents on both the lures and the weighted hooks he   designed-slide into the belly of the lure so the eye is exposed for tying on at the front of the lure and then pulled back slightly to hide the eye and knot. The exposed hook serves as a keel to keep the lure from spinning in the water.

The lure casts well and catches fish with no special rigging, but Hurley advise affixing an 18 inch length of flourocarbon to the eye of the hook to reduce the line's visibility to the fish. He also suggests tying on a barrel swivel to the end of the flourocarbon where it will attach to the line on the  reel. This will minimize line twist. On the Striper Magnet Plus Hurley sells the lure already set up with the flourocarbon leader. This modification provides no more of a casting hinge than a standard shock tippet.

DURABILITY
A soft plastic bait, the Striper Magnet can appropriately be considered a consumable lure with a relatively short, productive and useful life, depending upon the type of fish that try to eat it. Stripers will eventually chew it up but depending on the severity of damage, a commercial sized Krazy Glue type product will extend a lure's life and leave a few bucks in your pocket a little longer. However, it won't last as long as that Krazy Krawler in your tackle box.

AFFORDABILITY
At under $5 for 5 packs of the 4 inch or 5 inch models (each package contains one weighted hook) or a 3 pack of the 7 inch or a 2 pack of the 9 inch sizes (with a weighted hook in each lure), the lures easily meet the affordability criterion. Compared to other over priced lures-exceeding $30 each, ouch!!!- it is a bargain. The smallest version has a split tail, unlike the broader paddle tail of the larger lures, and is specifically designed to target false albacore and bonita. Hurley demonstrated their effectiveness with these fish on a past episode of New England Outdoors with Dennis. Hurley's lures come in more than 20 different colors.  Hooks may be purchased separately, and a 12" giant will be offered in the future.

APPLICABILITY
Hurley's lures are quite versatile, appealing to a variety of species and applicable to different conditions. In addition to stripers and bluefish, anglers have attested to their success fishing the 7 " size for fluke and weakfish, either alone deep or as a teaser fished above a bottom squid strip. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are regularly caught on them.

article202_2.jpg (22231 bytes)Getting back to my initial trials with the lure described at the outset of this piece: having met with Hurley in January in snow-covered Northampton, MA where he makes his home, I personally have had no opportunity to test his lures yet in New England waters. In early February, however, I broke several of them out, first, at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers, Florida and again in the backwaters of Little Hickory Island in Bonita Beach, Florida ( compliments of our good and generous friend Ronnie Gormley of North Reading who made her lovely beach front condo available to my wife, Elinor, and me). The fish that grabbed my first three casts of the Striper Magnet, as I described, were Jack Crevalle which resemble Pompano and which hit and fight harder than any other fish of similar size I have been fortunate to catch-maybe false albacore and bonita are comparable. A voracious schooling and frenzied feeding fish, they perhaps would have taken a cigar stub with a hook-I have too little experience with them to say for sure, but I failed to notice any nearby anglers hooking into them and I did get several screams from across the pass, "Hey, mister, what the h--l are you using?"

My nighttime efforts for spotted weakfish and giant snook met with follows and only one hit. And by 3 A.M.the night herons began to look at me strangely and held their ground too long for my comfort, so I wobbled back across the island to the security of the condo.

EXCITABILITY
Depending on water clarity, you feel rather than see most hits. At least that was my own limited experience in the surprisingly silted Florida backwaters I fished in February. I did see as well as feel one monster jack that hit the lure mid-channel, overpower my equipment and my limited expertise and broke me off on a barnacled pier. Other than that type of fishing thrill, the nature of the lure dictates the senses its actions can appeal to. It lacks the visual excitement produced by a popper, but the tactile excitement was intense.

AVAILABILITY
After my brother put me on to this lure, I tried to buy one at a Canal tackle shop late last fall. When I asked the proprietor if he knew of and carried any of Bill Hurley's striper lures, which I described to him, he looked at me as though I had asked him if he sold Cheverolets. He shook his head, muttered something under his breath I couldn't make out, and went back to sorting his sandworms. Not wanting to let him think he had intimidated me- after all I was wearing a fly fishing vest, I pretended to look at some of his stuff for a few minutes before heading out the door. "There, on the counter near the door, in the wooden box. But it's empty and I can't get any more," he said sheepishly finally giving in to admitting he had stocked them in the past. It was finer than many cigar boxes I had seen, some with Cubans inside. No Striper Magnets but the guy was nice enough to give me Bill Hurley's address and telephone number. As always, demand drives supply. Goose Hummock Shop in Orleans on Cape Cod runs out their supply of the large, black Striper Magnets early in the season. It turns out that some clever commercial fisherman discovered that they are deadly on stripers when sandsharks are giving live birth to their young which are a dead ringer for the lure. The stripers target these freshly born fish during their birthing period in mid-late summer on the Cape.

MAN BEHIND THE LURE
Bill Hurley, ever curious and resourceful when it comes to catching fish, invented his Striper Magnet four years ago after rescuing an unproductive striper trip with a soft plastic Guido Hibdon tube jig that outfished all the artificial and natural baits that were being tossed by him and other fishermen who were being skunked til he tied on the tube jig. Building on the soft and sinking principles, he conceived of swimming, eyes, sound, and and a keel weight, and banged together a makeshift mold.  article202_3.jpg (33141 bytes)The son of retired Army Brigadier General William Hurley Sr., his father once remarked of young Bill, "He can't do much, but he can catch fish." Bill continues to prove his father half right. In the late 70s Bill made the most of a 3 year hitch as a diver in the navy, spending 2 years fishing his brains out in Turks and Caicos and one year in Iceland doing the same. He is currently Acting Deputy Fire Chief for Northampton , MA. Also a veteran fireman in the Air Navy Reserves, Bill continues to serve his country by traveling annually to exotic spots that just happen to have spectacular sportfishing. A lean and handsome man of 43, he has the easy going and likeable manner of a Jimmy Stewart and the mischievous smile of a Red Buttons. Speaking of which, he once created a salmon fly using the red hair from his daughter's Ariel the Mermaid doll. She caught on when she noticed the doll was almost bald. He claims his "Ariel" streamer is deadly on Landlocked Salmon.

In his informative and amusing book, "Amazing Lures and Flies, Rare and Forgotten Masterpieces of Fishing" Dickson Schneider says that flies and lures disappear from the market for one of three reasons:

  1. "They looked good but didn't work."
  2. "They worked but were not popular because of some aesthetic or whimsy of the marketplace."
  3. "They worked too well and were banned"

Only one lure and fly have ever worked so well they were banned. Known only as "The Lure" and "The Fly" (they were never given market names), they were so deadly that the Gordon Company which designed them, never released them. They were granted the only non military secret patent ever awarded by the United States, by Presidential decree.

While my research indicates the Bill Hurley Striper Magnet is an effective lure by most standards, and that perhaps he will become another Herb Reed whose much copied Slug-Go revolutionized lure fishing, there is little danger that the Striper Magnet will be banned since that practice seemed to have stopped with "The Lure" and "The Fly".

The Striper Magnet does look good and it works well. It won't go the way of the 1969 "Chopper" lure-Ride Hard Die Free-for aesthetics (it looked like a beat-up Harley Davidson) or a whimsy of the marketplace (a Florida lawyer designed the Harley knock-off lure after seeing Easy Rider and fled with $500,000 he fleeced from retirees who invested in the "company")

Alleging that going BIG TIME!!!-BASS pro Shops, WALMART- is economically and philososophically unattractive, Hurley controls the supply while an essentially underground (his 2000 advertising budget, the most he has spent since he entered the business, was $75-no typo!) demand builds and builds and builds. With each of his lure molds costing him from $3,500 to $9,500, and having to pay a factory's total wages for one full day to produce 5,000 of one size and color of his lure, can he continue to produce and price his lures so that " the ordinary guy can catch fish"-which he says is his major motivation?( Ask my brother Frank if you question this.) Amazingly, despite his failure to advertise, he has sold over 30,000 lures since 1997 and claims he will continue to do so in the future.

So, we're back to the title of this piece. Bill Hurley himself, the dynamics of the market, and most especially you and I -the anglers who may or may not be able to get our hands on a lure to test it for ourselves- will determine if the Striper Magnet will, in fact, be a "commotion in the ocean" or "a piddle in a puddle".

(You can find out how to get a Striper Magnet by calling (413)584-2421 or visiting the Striper Magnet website at www.hurleylures.com )

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