Gene Chague: Plugging away while heading out for fishing
When we were youngsters, my buddy Jerry Zink, then of Lenox, and I were avid bass fishermen.
In those days, we would clip out advertisements from sporting magazines and send for free fishing catalogs from Heddon Co., Creek Chub, Fred Arbogast, and so forth. Jerry would send for some and I would do likewise and after checking them out, we would swap catalogs. While our friends were trying to get a hold of "girlie" magazines, we were drooling over color pictures of beautiful bass plugs. Weird kids, eh?
By the time we were 13 we had summer jobs and had amassed enough money to send for some of those bass plugs. I remember well my 1956 order from Heddon: Two River Runts, two Meadow Mouse plugs, and two Punkinseed underwater plugs. I had a dollar or so left over so I ordered a frog-colored plug called the Baby Zara. When my order arrived, I was pleased with the plugs except for the Baby Zara. It was a torpedo shaped floating plug that didn't wobble, gurgle, rattle, dive or do anything. It just sat there in the water. I put it in my tackle box and forgot about it for the next five years.
One summer night in 1961, some of us guys decided to go to the shores of Stockbridge Bowl at night and hang out for a while. Because my parents were suspicious of our activities, I brought along my fishing rod to make it look like I was going night fishing. Not being serious about fishing, I chose the one plug that I didn't mind losing, the Baby Zara.
After horsing around with the guys for a while, I decided to cast the plug into the darkness. Not seeing where it landed I started giving it sharp jerks hoping to hear or see it. All of a sudden there was a strong silent jerk back. After a fierce battle, I landed a 5-pound bass. After a period of jubilation, I cast the plug out again, made the same sharp jerks and the same thing happened -- another 5 pounder! What unbelievable luck, especially with this ho-hum plug.
I'll never forget the look on my father's face when I walked into the house that night with those two giant bass. He immediately began sharpening his fish cleaning knife. (We didn't practice catch and release in those days. The only fish we released were into the frying pan.)
The following day I went fishing during daylight with this plug to see what in the world attracted those fish. Nothing happened. Then I remembered that I was sharply jerking the plug the night before and when I did the same, the answer became obvious. When the plug was jerked hard, the plug nosed down into the water and then it would pop 2 or 3 inches into the air, just like a small fish or frog would do chasing an insect. It immediately became my go-to plug until I lost it sometime later in a fish. I didn't order another one as I knew I wouldn't be home fishing for several years.
Having just gotten out of the Service in June 1967, I started bass fishing again. Although I had other plugs, there was no Baby Zara, and to make matters worse, it was no longer listed in the Heddon catalog. I wrote to the company to see if it was possible to order a couple of them.
They responded that they no longer sold that plug; but if I ordered a box of 25, they would send them to me. The cost would be around $35, which was about half of my pay in those days.
I asked Jerry Zink if he wanted to split the cost of the box of plugs. I don't think he was as enamored with them as I, but he went along with it any way. Hey, what are friends for?
The supply of them was getting low when in the 1990s they showed up on the market again. My wife Jan, stepson Lance and I bought a few of them. I should have bought more for after a year or so they stopped selling them again. Later on they came out with a similar version but the eye placement on the plug was in a different location and it didn't work the same. It just didn't jump when jerked.
Fast forward to last summer. I was fishing alone on Ashmere Lake in Hinsdale around 5 a.m., with one of the remaining plugs from the 1967 purchase (yellow one with a silver fishbone design on its side). All of a sudden the morning silence was shattered when a big bass swirled, grabbed the plug on its second attempt, and jumped two feet out of the water a couple of times.
When I finally got it near the boat it made a powerful dive and broke the line. I never saw that fish nor the plug again. I really felt bad, not because the fish got away (would have released it anyway) but because it took the 45-year old plug.
Upon returning, I told our neighbors Mike and Claire Shepard about the incident. For the next week, Jan and I searched all over the lake for it but to no avail. Oh well, at least that old plug went down fighting.
Ten days later, Mike called. His daughter Meredith and her friend Nick were kayaking on the lake and found it floating not far from where I had lost it. They returned it and I was absolutely elated.
That plug is now retired and hangs on a roof rafter right next to my red and white BassO-Reno and other old retired bass plugs.
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