Jim Gronaw: Lure making a labor of love

Jim Gronaw: Lure making a labor of love
Each and every custom lure that Jim Reeves designs and completes gets his personal seal of approval with his signature. (Jim Gronaw photo)

“Yeah,” said the charter boat captain, “I’d like to have three dozen of those. Can you have then to me in two weeks?”

My longtime friend and fellow angler, Jim Reeves, was at a bit of a loss for words.


He had just shown the good captain a few of the hand-carved, wooden lures that he had designed for big, off-shore gamesters such as dolphin, wahoo, king mackerel and giant striped bass. Super strong and heavy-duty, they actually looked more like a creation that belonged in a glass display case, rather than on the business end of a barracuda or giant trevally.

Meticulous paint job with triple heavy split-rings and treble hooks. Multiple lacquer coats and each individually signed by Reeves himself.

These weren’t just “lures,” they were a true labor of love from a man who has a keen eye for detail and purpose.

Reeves went on to explain that he couldn’t possibly supply the man with such a volume of baits, as he was indeed retired, but did this as a past time from his small shop at home, by himself. Others had seen and requested numbers of the lures, but again, he couldn’t keep up with what they wanted. He explained that he didn’t want to be a slave to his work shop for his golden years … he wanted to get out and do some fishing as well.

Jim Reeves and I go back pretty far, almost 50 years, as we used to hang out together and fish and enjoy crazy things in our youth. Recently, we somehow got back together and shared our joys of creating fine things — me, jigs and fly-tying, while he got into custom rod building and custom salt water lures. It’s both fun and rewarding, especially when you get reports of big fish caught on your baits.

But it requires time, effort, and a strong measure of patience.

The “big swim bait craze” is nothing new to today’s angler, as many manufacturers and companies are producing gargantuan lures that mimic specific bait fish species and even small amphibians in the never-ending quest to capture the biggest bass, musky, striped bass and more from freshwaters across the country and beyond. Some are made from resin and poured in molds. Some are plastic and pliable to enact more action. Still others are made from wood, like they did back in the “good ole days” of the 1940s and 50s. Wooden plugs were once a time-honored creation that were literally pasted down from one family member to another, even spanning several generations.

With today’s synthetics and diverse materials, the pure wooden lures of long ago are often items you might see at a collectors’ event.

Lure maker Jim Reeves of Manchester eyes up a couple of hand-carved lures he recently finished with an intended date with some big, salt water gamefish.
Lure maker Jim Reeves of Manchester eyes up a couple of hand-carved lures he recently finished with an intended date with some big, salt water gamefish. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Reeves makes his lures out of either white pine or fir. He cuts out the original shape on a bandsaw, gets it close to the desired form and dimensions, then does much of the rest by hand, which takes time. Once he gets the body style and the shape he wants, he through drills and counter weights the plug to get in balanced and swims at the depth he wants. Some baits are balanced forward, others more to the back and some run deeper than others.

Stainless steel metal lips also determine depth at specific retrieval speeds. Heavy gauge hooks and split-rings are secured to the through wiring to ensure solid hookups with saltwater gamesters. Reflective eyes and various paints are used to create lifelike baitfish images and both air brush and hand-painted details are utilized on every lure. Multiple clear coatings are then applied and then they are sealed so no water can get into the center of the plug, causing retrieve deformities or awkward travel. Then, he heads to the lake to take note of swimming action with a test run and he’ll make some more notes. Then, Reeves weighs each and every plug, scribing it on each one, and signs his name when he is finally happy with the product his hands have made.

It can take many, many hours to make a single lure, but to Reeves, it’s all a labor of love.

Most swim bait anglers are not afraid to spend high dollars on a specific lure, especially if they think it will catch a huge fish. The current “top dog” in the giant plug world is the $400 Roman Mother which is a resin-based, jointed lure that has gained recognition worldwide. Back down here on Earth, most swimbaits are going from $60 to $100 apiece or a little more, making them the highest-priced individual lures other than marlin and tuna teasers and trolling lures.

Most of Reeves' hand-carved wooden plugs are designed with salt water speedsters in mind such as dolphin, wahoo and big striped bass in the surf.
Most of Reeves' hand-carved wooden plugs are designed with salt water speedsters in mind such as dolphin, wahoo and big striped bass in the surf. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Additionally, durability and toughness are needed, as most are attractive to fish based on their swimming characteristics and their size. Most of Reeves lures run from six to eleven inches long and display the slim-line minnow dynamic so often seen in many saltwater baitfish profiles.

He recently designed and painted a yellow perch lure that looks to be a real killer. It is actually larger than most of the fish I catch!


However, I plan on tossing it in and around some places I know hold some big fish. Maybe this is the year I’ll get that trophy musky from the Susquehanna or the Potomac, or maybe just a giant largemouth bass from one of my favorite lakes. We’ll see.

Jim Reeves currently has a limited supply of finished lures that are ready for the big dogs. His modest business, Dead Eye Dog’s Custom Rods and Lures, has been an enjoyable retirement venture that has kept him busy while supplying friends, family and some charter captains with high-end lures that you just don’t see every day.

Residing in Manchester, he additionally constructs custom surf rods for those Hatteras-bound anglers who seek the myriad species from the surf. Give him a call at 410-259-6580 and check out the craftmanship and diverse lineup of lures — he may have just what you’ve been looking for.