Insider Tips

The Secret Weapon

by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish

The text from my buddy Greg said, “The morning bite has been hot at Point O’ Breakers. Let’s hit it tomorrow.” Greg is a hard charger who puts in his beach time fishing for striped bass. I knew that his information was solid, so we agreed to meet around 4:00 a.m. and fish until we had to leave for work. This was in early June a couple of years ago and the striper fishing had been sporadic. Greg and I fished hard that next morning, with each of us picking up some short fish (less than the 28 inch minimum) in the darkness.

Shortly after sunrise, a friendly young man named Nick Whitbeck arrived and started casting next to us. He hooked a fish almost instantly. Beginner’s luck, right? Wrong. Nick caught and released a half dozen fish, most of them keeper size, in about twenty minutes while Greg and I simply practiced our casting with no bites. Needless to say, we made our way over to see what magic Nick was using. He showed us an amber colored plug that looked as if a needlefish lure had mated with a pencil popper. Neither Greg nor I had seen this lure before. Nick could throw the lure a long way and then pop it slowly on the surface, a perfect replication of a squid trying to escape from hungry predators. Wow, where did you get that lure, we asked? “I make them,” Nick replied.

That was our introduction to the Hellfire 180, the secret weapon. It truly was the fishing lure that I had been waiting for my whole life. The Hellfire casts like a dream, utilizing a nifty combination of a rear ball bearing weighting system and a tapered body design. It splashes just like a squid would do. And man oh man, does it catch fish. It is truly a perfect choice for Nantucket surfcasters.

Word spread like wildfire through the Nantucket beach fishermen. Stripers, bluefish, and even false albacore crushed those things! Soon there was a Hellfire (or six) in every tackle box on the island. The lures cut through the wind better than any topwater plug I had ever thrown. And there was almost no way to fish them incorrectly: the Hellfire was truly the plug I had always dreamed of.

Nick is simply the most likable guy that you could meet. He grew up in Plymouth MA and has always loved to fish. He jokes that he fished on the rocks behind the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant when he was a kid, trying to avoid the security guards. Nick’s love of fishing, coupled with an inquisitive mind and an engineer’s eye, has developed his company, Island X Lures, into a major player in the northeast salt water fishing arena.

photo by Steve Tornovish
photo by Steve Tornovish

“The Rhode Island show was huge,” Nick told me, speaking of the New England Saltwater Fishing Show, held this past March. His products sold like crazy and, best of all, Nick got a lot of feedback from a wide variety of fishermen. As he manned his booth, Nick learned that fishermen in other locales fished the Hellfire in vastly different ways and still caught fish. “One guy that I knew from Plymouth told me that he would cast it out, wait until the lure was on the bottom and then reel it in painfully slow. And it worked!”

The 2023 fishing season is going to feature the big brother of another Island X product with a great reputation: the Sidewinder. The original Sidewinder is a tiny lure, comparatively – 3.75 inches long and weighing .75 ounces–but is a nifty little bait in certain conditions. I love throwing it in the harbor, particularly early in the season when the striped bass are keyed in on smaller bait like sand eels. Greg uses it everywhere, including in the surf on the south shore. Stripers generally hug the shoreline so those fishing for them do not have to toss a bait out for any great distance. The Sidewinder, true to its name, swims in a tantalizing S pattern back to the fisherman.

The new version of this lure is the Sidewinder XL. This plug is six inches long and weighs 1.75 ounces. Nick told me that this plug was developed for night fishermen who felt that they needed a lure with the action of the smaller one but with a larger profile for night fishing. The XL comes in a floating version as well as a slow sinking model. Nick showed me some testing videos that he had shot of the plug sliding through the water. Yeah, let’s just say that I don’t think that anyone fishing against me in a tournament should use one of these. Nope. Not at all…

Several cases full of the new Sidewinder XL were stacked in Nick’s garage. Nick told me that those cases were about to be shipped to Larry’s Tackle Shop, a great fishing tackle store on Martha’s Vineyard. “They’re all bright pink or bone colored for the Vineyard.” Nick explained that certain color patterns tend to work better in certain locations. For example, mackerel patterns are a favorite of fishermen on Cape Cod, including the folks who fish “The Ditch,” aka the Cape Cod Canal. The Nantucket crew love the amber colors, the olive and white patterns and the “electric chicken,” my favorite mid-summer pattern, which is bright pink on the top with a lateral holographic stripe down the center and bright yellow on the belly. Hey, don’t judge me – the fish simply love them! Finally, there’s a universal favorite of all bass fishermen: the night fishing color of “blurple” a black and purple mix. Darker colors show up better against the relative light of the night sky than lighter hues. Blurple became the optimal combination of the colors at the dark end of the spectrum.

Nick’s lures all feature single hooks as opposed to treble hooks. He understands the importance of releasing fish with a minimum of trauma in order for them to continue to breed and thrive. Nick is always thinking about the next lure to fill a gap for us fishermen. Currently, he is working up clay models for a segmented soft plastic minnow that can withstand the teeth of a bluefish. “There’s a lot of frustration, plenty of ups and downs. I’m not trying to mimic what’s on the market already. Finding the sweet spot for the weighting is the biggest challenge. I just tinker with them until I get it right.”

Has Nick got it right? I certainly think so, as do my clients and fellow anglers who now swear by the Island X line. “I want these products to be every fisherman ’s confidence lure,” Nick told me. Mission accomplished, Nick!

Steve “Tuna” Tornovish is a Nantucket native who has spent his life fishing from the beaches of his beloved island. He loves to introduce clients to the joy of fishing with his Nantucket Island Fishing Adventures:

Articles by Date from 2012