This past Sunday marked the passing of a true legend of our sport. Plug making pioneer and accomplished surfcaster, Bob Hahn, died at the age of 66. Always willing to help out his fellow fisherman, Bob’s plug building skills were only surpassed by his generous heart. A true friend to NJ Saltwater Fisherman, Bob was one of the first people to respond when I started looking for people to donate to our NJ Saltwater Fisherman inaugural banquet back in 2008.
I stopped by Capt’n Hippo’s Bait & Tackle in South Toms River, NJ to offer my condolences to Bob’s younger brother, Lenny Hahn, and to talk about Bob’s life.
Born in Weehawken in 1947 and raised in Woodridge, NJ, Bob fell in love with fishing at an early age. The story goes that when Bob was a small boy his father took him fishing for the first time. Demonstrating a cast, his dad told him, “This is how you do it, son.” With that, he promptly let go of the rod and launched it into the water. Bob was hooked ever since.
As a young man, Bob moved first to Hazlet and then to Keyport where he enjoyed fishing Sandy Hook and the Long Branch pier. Around 1977 he moved to Point Pleasant after purchasing his parents’ home. It was in this home, in 1986, that he built his first plug, which was a surfster.
“I’m not sure why he started building them, other than he just had a love for fishing,” explained Lenny. His love for fishing showed in the 200 plus days a year he spent fishing the local surf. He would get up at 5:00am to get in a couple hours of fishing in the morning before going to work at his day job, as a master carpenter.
It was during one of those mornings, while he was out fishing with one of his early plugs, a fisherman noticed him catching and promptly bought the plug from him on the spot. Thus, the legend of Bob Hahn Plugs was born. Bob’s plugs quickly earned a devoted following amongst the surf fishing community. From his early surfster model, Bob’s offerings grew to include Dannies, poppers, jointed eels, needles and many other popular styles of plugs.
Bob was a very generous man who often gave away his lures to charitable organizations, tournaments, and other events - especially to those that were geared towards children. Today, nearly every plug builder signs their name to their creations. Bob almost never did, except for one reason - charity. Lenny explained, “Bob would only sign one or two plugs a year. They were given to St. Jude’s (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) to be raffled off for the kids.”
About eight years ago, Bob moved down to Florida with his girlfriend, Brenda. He continued to make his plugs until a few years ago when he suffered a stroke. According to his brother, “The stroke affected the fine movements in his hand.” His attempts to work the lathe after the stroke proved stressful. “With the loss of movement in his hand, he was afraid he would lose his fingers in the lathe.” It was at that point that Bob made a decision. It would be the end of the line for Bob Hahn Plugs.
That night he made a fire and threw everything in it. Every plug that wasn’t finished yet, from the ones he had just turned to the ones that were almost completed, were burned. Even his original plug templates were engulfed in that fire, ending over 25 years of plug making and putting a final exclamation point on the Bob Hahn era.
Some have wondered, as I did, why he didn’t sell the name or the rights. Lenny’s son even expressed interest in continuing the company and the Bob Hahn name. “They were his plugs and he didn’t want anyone copying them. He didn’t want the name to go on without him,” explained Lenny Hahn.
In light of some of the newer, more modern plugs, Bob’s plugs would not be considered fancy. A “working man’s plug” might be an apt description of them. Unfortunately, it has become almost popular in some circles to disparage these great lures. That’s a shame. Because to those who have used them, including myself, they are nothing short of beautiful. They swim right and catch fish. And that’s what it’s really all about. Isn’t it?
Bob’s family is planning a private ceremony in Florida after which he will be cremated. His ashes will then be sent back to NJ for Lenny to carry out Bob’s wishes to have them taken out to sea and scattered upon the ocean.
Tributes to Bob have been showing up all over the internet from fishermen everywhere. One that Lenny shared with me, and was especially touched by, was from popular surfcaster, author and seminar speaker, Crazy Alberto Knie. Knie described Bob as, “…indeed a sharpie and well respected within the surfrat community… I will cast his lure on my next outing in respect for all he has done and offered to our sport.”
When I asked Lenny if there’s anything he’d like people to know about his late brother he said, “Just that he was a great plug maker.”
Of that there is no doubt.