Saltwater Classics - Striped Bass Fishing
(# 18 in a Series)
A Rhode Island Legend
by Frank Pintauro and Ed Poore
t has been more than 35 years
since Jerry Sylvester suffered a
fatal heart attack while he was
out fishing for striped bass; yet
he is still remembered by Rhode
Islanders as having done more to
bring attention to striper fishing in
that state than any other person.
Sylvester was born in Port
Deposit, Maryland in 1896. When he
was three months old his parents
returned to their native Italy where
he was raised on a farm. His family
returned to the United States when
he was sixteen years old and settled
in Waterbury, Connecticut.
After Jerry married, he moved to
New York City where he was
employed for more than 16 years as
a chauffer for Mr. Thomas Ewing, Jr.
The Ewings owned a surfside mansion in Narragansett and took Jerry
with them when they vacationed
there. With lots of spare time on his
hands, Jerry soon discovered Rhode
Island had plenty of stripers. When
Jerry brought the Ewings back to
New York, he would hit the
Rockaways and fish those beaches
very hard. By 1939 he was so hooked
by the sport that Jerry and his wife
Edna decided that he would leave
his chauffer job and open up a Bait
and Tackle shop in Narragansett. He
fished day and night with local
sharpies, Chris Boldt and Honk
The "Notice" that came with this plug strongly indicates World War II
vintage, with its reference to "the shortage of manufacturing materials."
Sylvester with a load of schoolie stripers
taken on light bait casting tackle in the 1950s.
Sylvester with charter boat Captain Dick
Lema and a huge catch of stripers and blues
caught night-fishing with eels off Charleston,
R.I. Three of the bass were over 40 pounds.
Carved-eye Flaptails with rare brown box; c. 1945.
Hunting & Fishing Collectibles Magazine
Two early 1940 surface swimmer prototypes attributed to Jerry
Sylvester. These pieces came out of an auction in North Kingston, R.I.
along with 5 brown boxed Sylvester plugs featured in this article.
Sylvester on the cover
of Outdoor Life Magazine.
Glass-eyed Flaptails from the early Fishmaster Sporting
Goods era. The middle plug was a non-catalogued color and is
Two more Jerry's Jointed lures. This top-lure variation came
out of a Philadelphia tackle shop.
Circa 1945 version of Sylvester's Blue Mullet sub-surface swimmer.
Package is very rare and came out of the North Kingston, R.I. "find."
Sylvester was written up in
many national magazines and
books, but in 1956 he reversed
roles and tried his hand at
writing his own first book.
Super slick glass-eyed model Sylvester Flaptail in the early brown box. It
is unusual to find these baits in the brown boxes.
Sylvester ad in June 21,
1946 issue of Salt Water
Sportsman. His Blue Mullet
Plug was already beginning
to make waves with the
No-eyed Sylvester Flaptails from the later Fishmaster era.
This Sylvester ad in
the June 27, 1952
issue of Salt Water
his new Floater.
The "rarest of the rare." Glass-eyed Junior Sylvester Flaptails.
Side-panel identification of the various lure packaging from
the Fishmaster era.
Two more Sylvester Flaptail models. Both came with a
metal chin guard. The no-eyed model came with an unattached metal flapper in the box which indicates that it
was the fisherman's discretion to use it or not.
Jerry's Jointed -- A lure that dove deep and had great wiggle action.
Hunting & Fishing Collectibles Magazine
Sylvester said when you hooked a fish
that big, it was like “holding onto a
10-ton cement truck with your teeth.”
Clark, using metal squids, eelskin
lures, and eel tails while Edna ran
During World War II Jerry
worked as a checker at the Quonset
Naval Air Station, but he still managed some time to fish. On July 25,
1944, while fishing a Jap Feather in
rugged Nathan's Cove, he caught a
57-pound striper on 6-thread (18-lb
test) line which established a world
The Sylvesters sold bait, made
rods, and molded squids for their
clients. He was a keen observer of
the baitfish stripers feed on. Lucky
for us that it was the great mullet
runs of early fall that gave him the
idea for a special mullet flaptail.
And thanks to the discovery of a
1951 Outdoor Life article on Sylvester,
we can back up what we always
thought about Jerry -- and that is
that he was probably one of the first
(if not the first) striped bass lure
makers on the East Coast:
“With two years of experimenting behind it, Jerry's blue
mullet plug hit the Rhode Island
surf in 1943. Casters found it to
be a saucy, frenzied splasher
with a free wheeling metal tail
that churned foam. And how it
stirred up September bass!
Jerry's best with it so far: a 50
and 52 pounder.” (Outdoor Life,
This means Sylvester was producing lures and prototypes as early
as 1941. Pretty amazing, especially
since there was a scarcity of materials to work with during World War
With the War over in 1945, Jerry
was able to reopen his tackle shop. It
did not take long for the place to
become a central location for striped
bass information in that area.
Everyone dropped in at Jerry's for
advice, and he would gladly lead
them to where the fish were biting.
In 1948, after a strong blow,
Sylvester went with a rigged eel to
Quohogue Rock at dusk. While cast-
ing to a far off ledge he hooked a
bass he swears was 80+ pounds and
took more than 400 feet of line on the
first run. He got the fish to within 75
feet of the rock he was standing on
and lost it. Sylvester said when you
hooked a fish that big, it was like
“holding onto a 10-ton cement truck
with your teeth.”
Fish tale or not, people believed
his story. Outdoor writers around
the country like Jim Hurley, Ray
Trullinger, Ray Camp, and Stan
Smith wrote him up; and his reputation as a guide grew to mythical status as he fished with some of
Hollywood's biggest stars like Clark
Gabel and David Niven.
The Flaptail was Sylvester's
favorite lure to use in the fall during
the beginning of the stripers' migration. You can see from the photos
with this article how his style
changed from the very early carvedeye era of the 1940s to the later glasseye and no-eyed lures of the
Fishmaster Sporting Goods era.
Ever the innovator, Jerry also
developed a “splasher rig” originally intended to catch Pollack but
deadly on stripers. To this day a version of it is still used to catch early
season stripers. In his later years
Jerry Spent his winters in Florida
and began using light surf rods for
small and medium stripers.
Jerry Sylvester was considered
one of the best striper fishermen ever!
He claimed to have caught more than
22,000 striped bass over a 30-year
period, including numerous 40 and
50 pounders; and his reputation transcended his local Rhode Island roots.
He was truly a Striper Master. Winter: 954 566-1286
Summer: 336 385-6879
(Many thanks to Roy Curley and
Bob Hart for providing us with
baits from their collection. Please
know much of the information in
this article was compiled from conversations I had with Vlad Evanoff,
newspaper clippings, and sporting
articles. Readers wishing to contact
Frank Pintauro may do so by calling (516) 741-7044 or emailing