New Jersey Death Machines

Bill Wetzel

I pretty much eat sleep and dream surf fishing. Just last night I had a dream that it was early season and I found some casters poaching a few of my Montauk rocks. Yeah I said MY rocks! With that said there isn’t much I dislike or especially hate about surf fishing, but I have to tell you that I can’t stand the New Jersey death machines, aka pencil poppers. Take a fall trip to Montauk. Go to Camp hero during a daytime bite. Watch a zillion guys throwing the same plug and catching stripers like crazy. Then ask them “where ya from”? After you get your answer you will know why I call them NJ death machines. I guess I will not mention how the NJ boys kick ass with these plugs during their prized bunker blitzes that have been taking place over the past 10 years or so. Just think about how silly it is working this plug. An eleven foot rod locked in-between a grown man’s legs, while the grown man takes the rod with one hand and bounce’s it back and forth, not side to side mind you, and reels it at crawl( if worked properly) with the other hand. It’s almost like an extension of ego, or perhaps the super ego if you’re into Freud. So now you have about fifty or sixty grown men with wet suites in three feet of water violently stroking their super egos. Makes me want to hurl! I will rarely join the crowd, but when I do I will throw something else just to show my New Jersey buddies that stripers also like bucktails. However when I am somewhere deeeeeeeep on Montauks south side and no one is looking I will secretly whip out my New Jersey death machine and watch it zig and zag until a wonderful being with stripes on its side engulfs this weird looking piece of wood ,putting a smile on my face that lasts right through the winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here is my personal theory on why the NJ death machine is such a kick ass plug, that I can’t stand. I have had many conversation and heard of many baits that the plug imitates, but ya know what? I don’t think it imitates anything. I mean have you ever in your life seen a bait fish swim or look like a pencil popper? If you have I want to hear about it, because I have not.  A striper will hit this plug almost any time of year.  What that tells me is that if the bait is big or small, the water hot or cool, Mr. or Mrs. Striped bass will pounce on this piece of wood, but why? I really believe that the plug just pisses them off. Yep, pretty much as simple as that. Think about a large school or white bait (bay anchovies) that have been pushed in a small area. It probably took a lot of work for a striper school to push this bait, and here comes a three ounce piece of wood causing all kinds of havoc, thereby dispersing the bait. The next thing you may see is that wood knocked up about five feet in the air by one pissed off striper. You rarely will see any other plug get hit like that.  And, yes. I am in the mind of a striper and I know damn well what they are thinking! Believe me, they love to screw with the surf guys. Do you want another example of how this death machine pisses them off? How about the times you are throwing everything in the bag into the froth. You know the stripers are there, but why are they not hitting? Many times stripers are there, but I believe to be at a resting state. This is typically at a time when the tide is not optimal. Along comes the death machine and its game on. Did it piss them off? I think so. Do me a favor. If you see me throwing one of these things, don’t tell anyone. Thanks!

Editor’s note;

Bill Wetzel is what we like to call “The Hardest Working Guide in the Surf”. A quintessential Montauk Regular Bill works hard at teaching his clients the secrets of Montauk coves and consistently puts them on the fish. No wonder most of his customers come back for more year after year. Bill also runs a Surf Rats ball, Subscribers only forum at There he exchanges ideas with his subscribers and of course, logs each and every one of his trips for all to read. Check it out at



16 comments on “New Jersey Death Machines

  1. CTMatt

    I don’t think I ever imagined a more vivid, interesting description of a pencil popper and their owner lol. Only from the mouth of Wetzel lol.

    (in the voice of that Dos Equis guy)
    “I don’t always toss pencil poppers…but when I do…I am an egotistical a-hole stroking my ego lol”

  2. Joe

    It’s very strange for me to read about the pencil popper referred to as a “New Jersey machine”; even though I fish mostly New Jersey because of where I live.
    I learned how to use a pencil popper (properly) in Montauk in the mid seventies. For me, the bucktail and the pencil popper are/were (and always will be) a Montauk technique. Just a different perspective!

  3. Jim J.

    I love the description Bill give everytime I read some of his stuff puts a great big smile on my face THANKS BILL

  4. mattm

    Bill you’re the best when Marisa and I booked you this past fall and you gave me a pencil and i wasnt excited about it. You looked at me sideways cause im a jersey guy n i dont like them just because they r to much work for my carpal tunnel ridden hands


    Classic Bill…:)
    Heading to the shop soon to get ready for another Cow Harbor Seminar today….

    “Wetsuit Tactics for Fishing the East End” with Adam Sotiryadis
    Saturday, March 16th (12noon-2pm)
    Free Entry & Coffee

  6. billwetzel

    Thanks guys, I appreciate the nice words and feedback. Hope to see ya over in the SRB. Looks like I will be starting to hunt again. I hear some of you have already started, or just never stoppeed!

  7. Vic D

    Now, after fifty years of chasin these fish up and down the coast, every time Ill pick up a pincil popper Ill think of Bill . GOD I LOVE THIS SPORT !!!


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