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I guess you could say we were “reverse surf-fishing.” 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.
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.
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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 saltwater-ready 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 tried-and-true warriors.