Remembering Bill Couch and his Pond Darter

Bill Couch was a generational icon in the Northeast striped bass fishing community.  He was the owner of Couch’s Cedar Works, through which he designed, built, and sold top quality plugs at an affordable price.  He was universally loved and admired by a group of fishermen who could squabble, bicker, and get nasty over any subject regardless of how mundane or trivial.  

Like many, I have had terrific fishing experiences using CCW plugs.  Fisherman and plug builders develop a unique bond less based on personal interaction and more upon working towards a common cause that gives each other purpose.  They build plugs, you catch fish.  While Bill and I never spoke and our single interaction was a thank you note he sent with a plug order I was sad to hear he was struck with MDS, a blood cancer.  Bill passed away in November of 2020.

I fell in love with the CCW darter at the end of a terrible year of fishing.  My home life was a mess.  A newborn with colic screamed 3 hours a night while her older sister, struggling with the change in family dynamic, suggested we throw the baby in the garbage.  My wife was struggling with postpartum depression some nights getting 30 minutes of sleep.  Unable to pop out for my normal sunset fishing I tried the dark.  I could not catch a cold.   Dark days, sleepless, and fishless nights. 

One fall Gloucester morning my buddy urged me to get up early.  “Stand here, cast there” he told me.  I brought my shiny new CCW darter.  I proceeded to catch my first 30-plus-incher, and three dinks on five casts.  The plug was shiny no more.   

Confidence struck me like a lightning bolt.  “I can do this”.  I returned home giddy and energized and took all my tired girls on a Starbucks and Target run for the ages.  My wife said, “You are never this happy, you need to fish more.” Fishing grew from an excuse to get out of the house into an obsession.  The positivity gained from fishing spread to all aspects of my life.  I credit the CCW darter for sparking my fishing journey.  Fishing helps energize me, often lifting my sleepy girls. 

Bills plugs were designed to be top quality, affordable and he was passionate they should be fished.  After his passing, hording by collectors drove his plugs’ prices from 25 dollars a plug to as much as $200.   

I cannot control how others behave but I am in control of my actions and happiness.  I decided to build a plastic version of Bill’s Pond Darter.  I ordered the Alumilite hard bait kit.  I purchased a drill press and hobby paint sprayer from harbor freight and watched every YouTube video on plug building.  The result was not pretty, but my plastic pond darter caught fish in 2022. 

I shared the plastic pond darter with my friends, and we all connected with striped bass, creating terrific memories on some picturesque, gorgeous fall Gloucester conditions – 6-foot surf, white water and an ocean that’s churned up creating a hard day for peanut bunker and a feeding frenzy for striped bass.  

They only hit the plastic pond darter. The small profile and ability to dig and hold in large surf proved to be the winning combination. 

Bill’s Pond Darter was built strong enough for the ocean, was affordable, and marketed for freshwater bass. My plastic version was lovingly rebuilt and repurposed successfully at a price I can throw with confidence knowing if it snaps off, I can create another without dipping into the kid’s college funds. 

My friends and I had fun.  We caught and safely released fish. We snapped lines and lost several plugs.  Thank you, Bill.  You improved my life and helped me on my path to being a happier better person.  Tight lines. 

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