By Dave Anderson
Most striper fishermen have heard of Danny Pichney, it’s his name that is attached to the timeless wooden swimmer known as the Danny Plug. Metal lip swimmers had been popular with striper fishermen since Creek Chub introduced their Pikie swimmer in 1921; several manufacturers followed suit through the 1940s and 50s, many striper anglers would argue that Danny perfected the surface swimmer with his line of Danny Plugs sometime during the 1970s. Danny passed away in 1988 at the age of 66.
Back when I was working as the editor of The Fisherman Magazine (New England Edition) I received an email that said it came from Dan Pichney. Knowing the Danny was no longer with us, my immediate reaction was that one of my ‘friends’ was trying to dupe me with a bogus email account and when I clicked on it I was ready for a laugh. But when the text popped up on the screen there was no elaborate hoax, no silly photo or ‘gotcha,’ instead I was drawn in by a thank you note of sorts from Danny Pichney’s son, Dan. To this day, it stands among the most thoughtful notes I have ever received, and I will never forget it. Dan said that someone had given him a copy of one of my articles detailing how to build a replica Danny swimmer along with some of the history behind the plug. He said he wanted to thank me for helping to keep his father’s legacy alive. After trading emails for a few days, Dan invited me to his home on Long Island to see some of the plugs his dad left behind. As a student of the plug making trade, an avid surfcaster and devoted follower of surfcasting history, I jumped at the chance.
I arrived on a still and overcast day in early May at a small house that looked like the idyllic 1960’s home. The exterior was immaculate, fresh paint, a manicured lawn, flowers bursting from the perimeter… it felt like family, like home. Dan greeted me in the yard and brought me inside where we sat at the dining room table. Dan disappeared into the basement and emerged with two boxes of history. When he set them on the table I found myself looking into the mind of one of the most respected plug makers in the history of striped bass fishing. There was a small armload of packaged plugs, a few projects in progress, some papers with plans and notes scrawled on them and lots of unfinished plugs. But the things that really grabbed my attention were what appeared to be some of Danny’s master copies, plugs made to spec for duplication and gauging the placement of hardware, lip angles, length of line tie. I held those old plus in my hands as my mind descended through the past to a time before my birth. I have always felt an intrinsic connection to history when I can hold it in my hand, touch it—it’s a rush, something that blossoms from an otherwise inaccessible corner of my brain. It feels like all the atoms in the universe align for a split second and my mind can see through time. Holding these plugs, that were essentially tools for duplication, lit that same fire. Danny Pichney had long been a bit of hero of mine, and these were made for a purpose, written on by his hand, used to replicate thousands of others made and sold.
Dan had never gotten into plug making like his father and he wasn’t sure what a lot of the plugs were or what they did in the water. Our conversation transformed into an equal passage of knowledge—Dan was giving me unknown history and I was filling in the blanks on the names of the plugs, their approximate value and how they swam, etc. It was a very enjoyable day to say the least. I think I was there for more than three hours—and I could have sat for three more—but I had a ferry to catch and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I thanked Dan for his time and hospitality and told him that I had a boat reservation.
As we stood to shake hands, Dan was not putting things back into their boxes he was just standing there, looking over the legacy of his father sprawled out across the table. He looked up and asked if there was anything on the table that I’d like to have. Talk about fighting with the Devil on your shoulder! Of course there were things on that table that I’d like to have! But the Angel won and I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable taking anything from the small collection of things left behind from his father’s passion.
Dan was adamant that I pick not one, but a few lures to take home, saying something like, “I wouldn’t even know what these things are.” I chose a 2-ounce Darter in herring color because it exemplified what a Pichney plug should look like and I chose a green mackerel Diving Danny because I thought the color was really cool. He urged me to pick one more.
There was a small plastic tub containing these very small lures that I had never seen anywhere before. I asked Dan if he knew anything about them and he said that he believed his father had made them for himself. “He used them from the piers in the city to catch small stripers in the springtime,” Dan told me. He said he didn’t think his father had ever sold them. There were less than a dozen of them in the tub painted in two color patterns—one was silver with black stripes drawn onto it and the others were the classic Pichney green/silver. There were only two of the silver ones so I asked if it was okay if I took one of the green ones, he nodded. Dan then picked up a few unfinished bodies and handed them to me—I think he thought I would finish them and fish them, but I still have them.
I have never gotten the pier plug wet, but I think it might be one of the earliest attempts at creating a paddle-tail shad. The body is heavily weighted and, as you can see in the pic, the line tie is on top of the head. A small aluminum blade is attached to the tail with a split ring and a single #1 treble hangs from the belly. My guess is that the plug sinks and the tail flaps side-to-side on the retrieve. One of these days I might have to make one just to see what it does.
This little ‘no name’ Pichney plug stands as one of my most prized possessions. Several ‘high-line’ plug collectors have tried to get me to give them Dan’s email or phone number, I refused. Those boxes of striper fishing history will come out when Dan and his family are ready. I just couldn’t let the wolves in.
This was a truly special day for me and one that I would never have experienced if I hadn’t taken the chances to work as a writer and editor. I don’t love writing about myself in this way, but hearing that my little article on the Danny swimmer reached the Pichney Family and that they were happy with it, made all of the research and agonizing over sentence rhythm and comma placement worth it. And I have never forgotten that. Thank you Dan.