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Psycho-Beads and Other Crazy Stuff

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to tour the new Cousins rod building facility right around the corner from my shop in Huntington Beach. In addition to creating their stunning new line of rods the cousins, Bill Buchanan and Wade Cunningham, are also resurrecting the Sevenstrand lure business that once produced the vast majority of marlin lures and skirts sold here on the West coast and beyond. During the course of my visit I was looking at some new jigs in Wade’s office and one in particular caught my attention, the modern version of a venerable classic, the green Psycho-Bead. I picked it up and told the guys I needed to borrow it for a while for an article I was thinking of writing…but the back story has far more history.

The jig served as the catalyst to help me solidify my storyline. But it was just the beginning and I knew then I was going to have to dig a little deeper into my archives and I knew where I needed to look.

Up in the overhead of my store, graced with a 20-year old layer of dust and rat poop is an old wooden chest and inside those four drawers is a wealth of history and the story of my youth is told by the tackle of the day.

Poking around among the memories was like opening a time capsule but I found what I needed for this project. We’ll save the other stories for another day.

There’s never been a time when I’ve looked up to see a boat with a marlin flag flying that I didn’t have to do more careful investigation. So imagine my surprise as a 16 year old kid working down in the bilge of my Dad’s boat when I looked up to barely notice the distinctive blue on white fluttering from a tall radio antenna. I crawled out to get a better look and was shocked to see boat doing a victory lap with a marlin onboard…tied crosswise across the bow. The head hung over one side, the tail draped over the other and it had the desired effect. Mesmerized, I shot out of the bilge and ran up our dock and over a couple of gangways to where the sport-fisher was pulling in to tie up.

I didn’t know the man or guys with him and didn’t want to intrude. So I waited respectfully until the rest of the crowd thinned out before asking any of the questions that had all but consumed me. When I finally did get the chance I was shocked at the kind and patient way he took to answer them all at length; and then the most extraordinary thing happened. In a quiet and unassuming way he posed a question to me that was to change my life. He suggested he had a problem and maybe I could help him solve it. He wanted to go back out that Wednesday, didn’t have a crew and asked

“Did I know anyone that might be able to go?” It took me a second to realize what he was really asking; “Would I be able to go out with him?”

It took some fast talking to get my Dad to let me take off over the horizon with a total stranger but ultimately it was all worked out. We left Tuesday night, went out to the now-removed Humble rig in front of Alamitos Bay to catch our mackerel for bait and then ran slowly down towards the compass rose off Oceanside before we slowed down to start trolling. We worked hard that day, spent the night in Oceanside harbor and came back out the next morning.

The rigs were simple back then. We were skipping two sewn flying fish off the outriggers with broomstick rods and Penn 6/0’s loaded with 50# Dacron and had a “teaser” boiling and crashing short down the middle on a “heavy” outfit. It was an ugly jointed monster called a Knuckle Head, with red and silver skirts cut from metallic vinyl automotive upholstery material and sporting an old rusty hook the size you would expect to see on the end of a gaff. We probably scared off more marlin than we ever attracted.

Our first bite came on one of the flyers. The fish tailed in, popped the bait out of the release on the rigger and after the proper time Ed threw the reel in gear and set ‘em up. There was “no muss, no fuss”, we worked together like we had done it for years. The fish put on a great show, I got to handle a twin-screw boat for the first time and the angler did a masterful job on the rod. It wasn’t long before we had the marlin up to the boat, gaffed it and as Ed’s 33’Chris OVich “Lazy Bones”had no swim step we just pulled it onboard. I was absolutely blown away by how calmly, quietly and professionally it was all accomplished. Ed Martin is an amazing man.

That marlin was the first of countless other fish we’ve caught together over the years. I was accepted into his family and fished with them virtually every weekend for the next 10-12 years. There were trips to the outer banks to chase albacore and tuna. He had fished them commercially so knew an amazing amount of tricks for those tough days and they served us well in the tournaments. We pounded San Clemente in the spring for the yellows and big grumpy calico bass that were stacked up in the lush kelp beds that graced the front side back then. But billfish were the major focus of our efforts and it was a totally different world back then.

You have to remember that back in the late 60’s we didn’t have any of the luxuries we take for granted today.

No computers or cell phones so no instant information or real-time seawater temps. No GPS, so we never knew exactly where we were. No tiny two speeds or spectra and no tackle store with walls of jigs and skirts in every color of the rainbow.

As far as lures go, about all we had were the Knuckle Heads I mentioned earlier, double stacked El Pescadors or an assemblage of smaller skirts topped by an albacore feather that we called “Caterpillars”.

A double stack of El Pescadors with our non-IGFA “secret” trailing hook. It was back about 2’and almost always grabbed something!!!

A “Caterpillar”…early-on we caught a lot of marlin on these. My girlfriend and I spent many late nights working out the perfect combinations.

These lures caught fish but there was a huge amount of room for improvement. Fortunately, Ed was (and is) an inveterate tinkerer and had set out to “kick it up a notch”. One afternoon I had gone over to his house and he takes me out to the garage and proudly shows off a whole row of small v-shaped bud vases, all with various colors of “stuff” in them. He explained he was making some new jig heads and showed me how the color being cast in the center of the heads were stacks of various colors of tri-beads. It was an impressive display and I was intrigued by the concept and couldn’t wait to try out his “Psycho Beads”. It didn’t take long to find out they worked. On a slow day in the very early 70’s off the East End of Catalina we jigged up three fish while the rest of the fleet caught very little. It was obvious we were on to something. Trolling the smaller jigs at higher speeds helped our catches to skyrocket.

Most of the jigs we trolled were the standard version. But I had a blast coming up with variations from the norm. I cut the head and made them two-piece. An all-black one was a real winner but was ultimately lost one day. I would turn them around to make “pushers” for the real calm days and cast in extra stuff to make them unique. The one with the pennies for eyes had brand new coins…dated 1972. It’s never been fished and I still remember making it and wondering what the future would bring.

Ed ultimately worked out a deal with Sevenstrand to produce them commercially and he donated all the proceeds. For years they were labeled “PsychoBeads” by Ed Martin and then they eventually evolved into the “Green Machines” and are still one of the best-selling lures on the East Coast.

One of the originals I poured and a later Sevenstrand version.

Those jigs I grabbed from Wade’s office truly conjured up some great memories. The late 60’s/early 70’s were exciting times here in SoCal as all of this “jig jive” was totally new to us all and it was sure more fun than the drudgery of sewing up flying fish. And I was so fortunate to have been there through it all; to grow up fishing under the tutelage of one of the true architects of the fishery.

To this day Ed still loves sharing his decades of knowledge and it’s been a blast being a part of the whole experience.

The “Green Machine” as they’re made today.

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Well-known California captain, writer, speaker and tackle shop owner, Capt. Mark Wisch has been helping anglers catch fish along the West Coast for decades. As an author, Mark has written three books, including “Between Two and Twenty Fathoms,” “In The Gray” and “Lessons from a Lifetime on the Water.” He's currently working on his fourth book, “Way Out West, a Private Boaters Guide to Fishing Offshore Waters.” Mark owns and operates Pacific Edge Tackle (www.pacificedgetackle.com) and manufactures a complete line of live bait tanks. He also specializes in outfitting sport-fishing boats with electronics and fishing equipment. Mark graduated from Cal Poly, Pomona, with a degree in marketing and currently resides in Huntington Beach, California, with his wife Chris and their dog Emma.