How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Lures of Muskie Men

Here's an interesting article about some atypical muskie lure manufacturers from Ontario.

By: Luigi De Rose

When muskie anglers build custom lures they inject their beliefs and knowledge into their work. Each lure is a prize, each a treasure, meant to attract muskie and the anglers who pursue them. Each craftsman feels a rush of pride when their creation is locked squarely in the jaws of a monster muskie. I had a chance to meet these people. The conversation rarely diverged from muskie, but that's what I had really come to talk about anyway.

Beaver Lures
Snarled in traffic, Tony Gallucci, a bus driver for the city of Brampton, should be stressing out over the congestion, but he isn't. He's dreaming about creating the perfect muskie bucktail. Bitten by the muskie bug long ago, Gallucci, now 36, enjoys building magnum bucktail spinnerbaits and in-line spinners. The inspiration to build lures came at the end of a long day on the water. After boating three muskie, his favourite bucktail hung mangled below the wire leader. Determined he could create better lures, Gallucci honed his skills at tying bucktails. By 1995 he began selling baits under the name Beaver Lures. He now produces about 1,000 of them per year.

There are spinnerbaits, in-line spinners, and huge jigs, but the spinners dominate. Handling them, their high quality is evident. Each bait is formed from .62 gauge wire, strong enough for a lifetime of fishing.

Spinnerbaits come in five sizes ranging from 1 1/8- to a whopping 4 ounces. Each bait sports two fluted Indiana blades in silver, gold, orange, or chartreuse. One version of the 4-ouncer comes with three blades for more flash and vibration. All spinnerbaits come with two mean 7/0 VMC single hooks tied in tandem.

There are 3/4-, 1-, and 11/2-ounce in-line spinners. Unlike many in-line baits, these don't warp or kink after battling a fish. Gallucci ensures each lure performs for years. He threads solid brass or nickel beads onto thick wire to add weight and durability. Fluted Indiana blades are also on these spinners, as are super-sharp trebles that can be replaced if damaged. Muskie anglers are notoriously fussy and keeping them pleased is no easy task. Since going into business, Gallucci has never had a complaint.

"My number-one seller is black bucktail with silver blades, and black/red bucktail also in silver would be second," he said. However, his favourite is Halloween, black bucktail with orange blades.

Beaver Lures,
Tony Gallucci,
180 Via Carmine Ave.,
Woodbridge, Ont. L4H 1Z8

Crusher Baits
At only 28 years of age, Macari is new to muskie fishing, but is a quick learner. A bass and walleye angler since he was a kid, he was soon fishing exclusively for muskie. As his desire for muskie grew, so did his tackle collection. Befriending Tony Gallucci, Macari used Beaver Lures with great success until he started making Crusher Baits in 2001. Macari titled his lure the Kawartha Crusher because fish really do crush it.

This silicone-skirted spinnerbait is beyond heavy duty, it's muskie duty. "I took a bass bait and made a Mac truck version. It's indestructible," said Macari. Formed from .062 wire, the entire bait is handmade in the garage of his Woodbridge home. "Many people ask me 'why silicone skirts?'" said Macari. "I used to catch a lot of muskie on silicone bass spinnerbaits. Silicone is more durable than rubber skirts and easier to manage than hair."

The bait comes in 1- and 11/2-ounce models, identical except for weight. With eight colour patterns, anglers should be able to find a favourite. "I sell a lot of black/red and black/orange. My favourite is silver shiner or black/orange," said Macari.

The spinnerbait sports two blades - a No. 5 Colorado and a No. 7 willowleaf - both in nickel for maximum flash and vibration. The bullet-shaped head offers great weedlessness and has a collar that allows a 53-strand silicone skirt to sit firmly in place. Two 7/0 VMC single hooks ensure no muskie escape.

Crusher Baits,
Adrian Macari,
39 Sonoma Blvd.,
Woodbridge, Ont. L4H 1V2

J & J Lures
Jim Roberts and Jim Kelly met many moons ago during a company fishing trip. As their desire to catch muskie grew, they started to tinker. Years later, in 1998, their friendship grew into a partnership called J & J Lures.

Although relatively new in the lure-making business, these guys aren't short on experience. Many of their friends kindly refer to them as the fisherman and the builder. Kelly has been chasing muskie for decades and has been an active member of Muskies Canada for years. He's the fisherman. Roberts, a former pilot, refocused his passion for flying and building model aircraft toward creating monster crankbaits. He's the builder. Fusing their depth and breadth of fishing and building knowledge, they've created a line of superb muskie plugs. How well they compliment each other is surprising. Two muskie anglers agreeing on anything is remarkable, but actually working together is unusual.

Their Depth Master crankbaits are available in 8-, 10-, and 12-inch versions. All are one-piece, but jointed plugs can be specially ordered.

When you view a Depth Master crankbait, three things catch your eye: its huge metal lip; brilliant eyes; and flawless paint job. Each stage of building is done by hand, even cutting the enormous aluminum lip. Sculpted from clear white pine, each lure incorporates a straight wire construction. "It's not an easy task, but it's worth it," said Kelly.

Each lure is born in the confines of Roberts' basement workshop in his Aurora home. The 3-hour building process is well orchestrated. Once the body is shaped, a thick wire is guided through the lure, creating the hook loops and line tie. Next, the lip is secured with glue and a screw, then encased in paper to avoid tarnishing when painted. Roberts' steady hands guide the airbrush over the lure, creating a smooth image. After the lure dries, he applies a hard, protective Envirotek coating. The final phase is to secure several 5/0 Mustad or Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp trebles. The 12-inch crankbait is issued 7/0 trebles. This is not mass production. Only 100 baits are made per year. Anglers pay for craftsmanship. They range in price from $85 to $105.

"We provide a wide variety of finishes, but if a customer has something special in mind, we do offer custom paint jobs," said Kelly. The three best sellers are firetiger, jailbird (yellow with black bands), and black back/silver. Roberts loves firetiger, but Kelly refuses to divulge his favourite.

J & J Lures,
20 Oak Crt.,
Aurora, Ont. L4G 3J6
Jim Kelly 905-939-7240
Jim Roberts 905-727-9357

Joe Kielbowich, a roofing contractor by trade, has been making muskie tackle and equipment for more than a decade. "I started with tackle boxes, but in 1994 I came out with my 10-inch Shad crankbait," he recalled.

Like many anglers before Kielbowich, his passion changed from just catching muskie to catching trophy muskie. To achieve this goal, he changed lakes. Making the switch to Georgian Bay, particularly the Moon River basin, and the Niagara River, he encountered deep, rocky waters that required specialized tackle. Rocky bottoms were merciless on lures, so he designed stronger, deeper-diving crankbaits.

"I started with the 10-inch Shad, but soon after I created an 8-incher. Now I also make a 10-inch Minnow, and a 6- and an 8-inch Banana Shad crankbait. Both Banana Shads can be cast or trolled; the others are strictly for trolling," he explained.

All baits are crafted from white cedar and sport large stainless steel lips. Kielbowich, who likes steel's strength, has a company in Burlington water-jet cut the lips, but the rest of the lure he shapes, paints, and assembles by hand in his Mount Hope home.

Instead of an internal wire, Kielbowich uses long screws to attach the hook assembly. "I've never had a customer rip a hook from one of my lures," he said. His baits have tamed brutes like the 51-inch 44-pound lunker he landed from Lake Erie last November.

His five crankbaits cover all depth ranges. The 8-inch Shad runs the deepest, 50 feet down with 60 feet of line out. The most versatile is the 8-inch Banana Shad. In perch or firetiger, it's tops with customers and one of his best producers. All baits are available in standard baitfish finishes, but many anglers favour tiger-striped versions. All lures get several coats of paint from an airbrush and then a finishing epoxy coat for extra durability.

Kielbowich keeps busy producing 350 to 500 plugs a year. Prices range from $15 to $60.

oe Kielbowich,
8296 Airport Rd.,
Mount Hope, Ont. L0R 1W0

Renny Baits
Big muskie are suckers for big baitfish. Nothing matches the profile and action of a wounded minnow quite like a hand-crafted wooden plug. Ian Rintamaki meshed this knowledge and his desire for catching big muskie and began building super-sized crankbaits.

Once the saw stops, Rintamaki brushes the dust from a 13-inch flat-sided minnow-shaped slab of cedar. He favours a flat-sided profile because it produces a pronounced wobble. He selects cedar over other woods for its durability. Although the outline of the bait is complete, it's nowhere near ready to hit the water. The next steps can be the hardest. Threading wire through the entire bait, Rintamaki creates the hook assembly loops and the line tie. Next, a large aluminum lip is fitted, glued, and screwed tight.

Rintamaki described his crankbaits as "shoal shockers." They're meant to take punishment. He's so confident in his craftsmanship that he'll repair for free any lure damaged while fishing.

Once the hardware is added, Rintamaki grabs the airbrush. A personal touch is the charm of custom baits, and nothing is more personal than colour. He will duplicate any pattern his customer dreams up, but he also offers standard proven patterns. Most popular are a red-headed stepson (red head/white) and all white/grey tail. His favourite is purple with a black back, like a cisco. After the paint dries, the lure receives a coat of Envirotex the eyes are glued in place and 7/0 Mustad trebles are attached. Production varies from 40 to 50 lures a year. All lures are $100.

Renny Baits,
Ian Rintamaki,
R.R. 3,
eorgetown, Ont. L7G 4F6

Wishmaster Big Baits
Fishing has run through Rolf Balansiak's veins all his life. He caught muskie fever more than two decades ago and has yet to recover. "I'm still after that one fish of a lifetime," he said.

In the early 1990s, he switched to fishing for muskie in Georgian Bay, particularly the North Channel. Georgian Bay is a bad place to troll. Lures get abused.

Frustrated, Balansiak started designing his own lures. "I would copy any lure I could. I just made them larger," he said. "I learned a lot from listening to experts like John Perry (creator of the Perrywinkle) and Jim Huchison." They were advocates of wire-through construction in muskie plugs. Balansiak tinkered until he got results. By 1998, he felt that his lure's action and design were refined enough to put his name on and sell to the public.

Wishmaster Big Baits come in three models: Little Wish 14-incher and Big Wish 18-incher in a tapered baitfish profile, and Whitefish 18-incher in a straight body. This year, Balansiak introduced a jointed version. Each lure has a huge aluminum lip, wire-through construction, and three 7/0 Mustad trebles.

The true beauty of Balansiak's work is in his painting. He takes more than 21 days to make a lure. During that time, it receives 30 coats of paint and tough epoxy.

Many anglers feel these lures are too pretty to use. Although well suited as showpieces, their true home is in the water. Although firetiger and perch patterns are tops with clients, Balansiak's specialty is custom exotic finishes. Even traditional patterns can never be duplicated exactly. It's part of the charm and appeal of his work. They're all one-of-a-kind. "My lures will last far longer that I ever will," he said. Considering the complexity of the finish, he's probably right. Each bait is signed, dated, and numbered, and the owner receives a matching numbered certificate.

The Internet has allowed Wishmaster Big Baits to hit the world. "I get collectors and fishermen from all over North America buying my baits. Many never intend to get them wet," said Balansiak. He only produces about 100 lures a year, so availability is limited. The Little Wish is $375 and the Big Wish and Whitefish are $425.

Wishmaster Big Baits,
Rolf Balansiak,
25 Beacon Ave.,
Hamilton, Ont. L8T 2N4


At 2:12 AM, Anonymous ice fishing shanty said...

Hi freelancewritingdude: I came here looking for information on ice fishing shanty and found your post on The Lures of Muskie Men. Although it's not quite the information I was looking for, I appreciate the chance to have a read. I'll definately be checking back in. I'm off to look for more resources for ice fishing shanty. If you have any more great suggestions, please post them here and I'll come back to check. Thanks again!

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Bill Bandwell said...

This compnay makes some great baits too. Good quality and about 50% less tahn buying retail. They are teh ones who make the SuperD swimbaits for musky and pike fishing.

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