For two old fishing buddies, a ‘last stand’ in Southold

05/15/2015 10:00 AM |

Fishermen Chuck Purificato and Chris James spent each frigid day this winter in a shed off Main Road in Southold, hunched over work tables and warmed only by their heavy coats and the kerosene heater that would spit choking smoke back into the room.

“No water, no nothing,” Mr. Purificato boasts. “All winter! And it was cold this winter, boy.”

He laughs in short, gravelly bursts.

Their goal behind the madness? To craft Long Island’s best bucktail fishing lures.

Over the decades, Mr. Purificato, 65, has run several tackle shops across Suffolk County, but the other businesses dried up. A store in Ridge was open for years, but closed in 1994. He relocated to do business in Freeport before shutting that down, too.

“Things happened,” Mr. Purificato said. “I got sick — just life in general. It’s the whole nine yards of growing up on Long Island.”

Mr. Purificato holds a new bucktail lure in his hand. The bucktails only take about a minute to make each. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Mr. Purificato holds a new bucktail lure in his hand. The bucktails only take about a minute to make each. (Credit: Paul Squire)

He worked on the side a bit, making lures for friends, and Mr. James, now 48 years old, helped as an apprentice of sorts. Now, the longtime friends have decided to give it one more go and open up another shop.

“I said to Chris, ‘Let’s make a last stand,” Mr. Purificato said. “Let’s make it happen.”

Their newest storefront in Southold, a tiny set of rooms set into an former antique shop, is that last-ditch effort.

“We did it,” Mr. Purificato jokes. “We weathered the storm.”

The pair met, unsurprisingly, while fishing. Mr. James was fishing the Shinnecock Canal when he ran into Mr. Purificato. The two began chatting and Mr. James mentioned that he’d recently purchased a set of lures called Chucks Bucks.

He had no idea that it had been Mr. Purificato who made them.

“That was it,” Mr. James said. “We exchanged numbers, starting talking. We fished every day for, like, the next year.”

Between them, the two have more than 100 years of fishing experience. They joke that they are pirates born hundreds of years too late.

“You take that knowledge and put it into this stuff? It’s a winner,” Mr. James said. “With the amount of knowledge he has, I’m always learning something new.”

“We don’t want to sit in bars,” Mr. Purificato said. “We don’t want to get in trouble. We want to go fishing!”

Mr. Purificato focuses on the task at hand: finishing another lure. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Mr. Purificato focuses on the task at hand: finishing another lure. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Two desks are set up on opposite sides of the small Southold shop. One each one are small clamps and scissors and piles of dyed deer hair. This is what they’ll use to make the bucktails and other lures. Mr. Purificato said it’s the twisting motion he uses when wrapping the hair to the lure that makes his special.

The pair like fishing for fluke, but make bucktails of all sizes.

“We make the big stuff because people need it, but we prefer the smaller stuff,” he said.

Mr. James points to the “most important” decorations on the walls.

One is a sculpture of a bald eagle head perched over the door frame, representing America. The other is an old crucifix, flanked by bucktails hanging from the wall.

Mr. Purificato is a spiritual man himself. He burns sage in an ashtray — it keeps away the evil spirits, he says — and the smoke trails up past his wall of tools.

The men admit they have a way to go to get their shop up and running. But they’ve already churned out hundreds of lures and plan to offer new ones in the future. This fall, they’ll host classes to teach local fishermen how to tie bucktails themselves.

“You’ve gotta start somewhere,” Mr. Purificato said. “We decided to start from the very bottom and build it back up again.”

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