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PROFILES IN THE SURF: JACK "THE PROFESSOR" FRECH

His casting ability was legendary, but he was better known as an innovator who contributed greatly to the sport of surfcasting as we know it today.
By Frank Pintauro
Tags: surf, special, general

Rich Hasenzahl’s first encounter with Jack Frech happened at False Bar in Montauk in the fall of 1965. The way he remembers it, this bigger than life shadowy figure came out of the night mist with three 30-pound bass on his back. From that moment on, Rich knew he had to get to know who this very secretive Montauk sharpshooter was. They would go on to be great friends and fellow High Hill Striper Club members.

Fred Schwab, another High Hill member and striper sharpie himself was a fishing partner of Jack’s for more than two years. He noted that the most valuable thing he learned from Jack was the discipline and routine he brought to the sport – something that Jack learned from his days as a Marine in World War II, where as a Captain in the Corps he fought in Okinawa, Peleliu, and the Philippines.

My first recollection of Jack was the “how to” articles in the Long Island Fisherman that got many a striper addict through the long winter months tinkering in their basements, trying to make a Beluga, Banana Plug, W-Y Popper or Montauk Darter. Jack was as meticulous with his plug making as he was with every aspect of surf fishing and plug making gave him the competitive edge he always sought. It is likely his body of work is small due to the fact that he did not sell lures but would only give them away to friends and fellow club members.

From exploring an untapped striper resource in Nantucket to pioneering wetsuits in Montauk to his lure making innovations, Jack was always at the head of his class. His untimely death in a boating accident in 1982 off the North Shore of Long Island was a shock to the fishing community.

What follows is an interview with Willie Young, a good friend of Jack’s who adds insight into his unique character.

FP: Tell me, do you remember when you met Jack?

WY: The first time I met Jack I was stuck with my Volkswagen bus at Montauk and we got it pulled out and Jack yelled at me for not filling in the hole. That was my first introduction to Jack.

FP: And when was that…?

WY: I would say 1967 or ‘68.

FP: And so how did you get to be friends?

WY: I really became friendly with him by joining the High Hill Striper Club. Jack was a member and that’s how I really got to know him.

Jack was as meticulous with his plugmaking as he was with every aspect of surf fishing and plugmaking. This gave him the competitive edge he always sought.

FP: Where was the High Hill – where were they based?

WY: They used to meet in Wantagh. By the old German Bavarian place there. Jack was a member for a long time.

FP: As you were?

WY: Nah, I just joined about ‘69. Jack had been in years before.

FP: And did you know right away that Jack made lures and stuff like that?

WY: It was common knowledge because I was fishing heavy with Frank Arendt and Chip Albion. Frank and Jack fished a lot in Montauk. They were Montauk fishermen.

FP: Where did Jack live?

WY: Jack lived in Mineola. He built his own summer home in Southhold. Then he had a place eventually in Nantucket, also at the same time. A three house thing or three houses and a garage there.

FP: What did he do for a living?

WY: He was a principal. When I knew him he was a principal in junior high school in Great Neck.

FP: Oh that’s right, Great Neck. And so did he ever sell lures to guys?

WY: No, he never sold anything. He never sold lures. When he came across a good lure he designed, he wouldn’t tell you for a year. And then he would give it to you. He had a very competitive nature. Jack had to be the best. No matter what, he had to be the best. He was driven by that.

FP: So when he made the darters, he only made a limited amount and then used them himself but would give them to select people?

WY: Yes, he gave them to select people.

FP: So if somebody went up to him and said – I hate to be so specific but it’ll help us figure out the body of work that he did – “Hey Jack – would you make me six darters?” Would he do it?

WY: I don’t think so. Somebody found one of his darters once – that he had lost the night before and the guy wanted to make his own from it. He convinced the guy the only way you’re really gonna know how to make it was to cut it in half. The guy did it and so he never could fish it.

FP: Faked him out, right?

WY: Yes, he did. But Jack was good. He was very good at like, the banana plug. He always came up with new ideas and new stuff.

FP: Did he fish that banana plug a lot?

WY: Oh yeah.

FP: Did you ever use it?

WY: Oh yes.

FP: Did you catch with it?

WY: Yes. Not as good as Jack though. That first year he used it he did very, very well with it.

FP: And I assume it was to simulate bunker, right?

WY: I only used it when there were bunker around.

FP: I can’t imagine it’s easy to cast.

WY: It doesn’t cast very far. I think he started making them in 1971 or ’72 when there was bunker on the North Shore of Long Island.

FP: So did he give stuff to you to fish with?

WY: Yeah, I gave him a plug that I had made and caught a lot of fish on – after that we became real tight.


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