The Best of Times, the Best of Friends & the Best of Lures

The invention of the Alou Eel, a killer fishing lure, leads to new friendships and memorable fishing adventures.

Forty years ago, Kib Bramhall was catching big stripers pretty regularly, and losing many of them. In 1966, he tried the Alou Eel, invented by Al Reinfelder and Lou Palma. The problem of losing fish was largely solved.

I was fishing under a bridge in Islamorada, Florida, one night in the spring of 1966 and struck up a conversation with an angler who was from New York and – like myself – a striped-bass fisherman. He told me that he had been having great success on Long Island with a new lure called the Alou Eel. I had never heard of it, but when I got back to my office at Salt Water Sportsman magazine in Boston, I did a bit of detective work, found the address of the Alou Tackle Company in Bayside, New York, and wrote asking if I could procure a couple of their lures to field test at Martha’s Vineyard. In short order I received a package of Alou Bass Eels with a cover letter from company president Al Reinfelder telling me to enjoy them and let him know how they worked. The Bass Eel weighed three ounces and consisted of a metal swimming head armed with a 4/0 hook. The hook was attached to a soft plastic imitation eel, which came in various colors, with a second hook at the tail end. The Alou Eel was designed by Al and his partner Lou Palma – hence the name Alou. As soon as I put one in the water and saw its swimming action, I knew that it would be irresistible to bass.

One night that July, I was fishing on South Beach with Bob Pond, manufacturer of the famed line of Atom plugs, and Dick Hathaway, renowned as one of the greatest surf-striper fishermen on the entire coast. Both men were casting Atom Swimmers, but I had decided to experiment and stuck with Alou Eels. Fishing was slow, and the bass were picky. By the time we quit, Pond and Hathaway had each caught one bass on Atoms. I had caught three on Alou Eels. The venerable Atom swimmer had been outfished by a new artificial. When I relayed the news to Al Reinfelder, I think I heard him cheer all the way from Long Island.

Later that autumn I began hooking bass in the forty-pound class on Alou Eels cast from a small aluminum boat that I would launch from the parking lot at Squibnocket and then row or motor to the nearby striper grounds. I had been fishing this way for several years and had taken a good number of large fish – up to forty-eight pounds – on plugs, primarily Reverse Atoms, whose topwater antics provoked explosive surface hits from those big stripers. But I had lost more bass than I had caught. The problem was that many of the fish would entangle the plugs in the rocks and kelp, straighten out the hooks, and escape. The biggest of those bass was the largest striper I have ever seen. It hit a Reverse right at the gunwale, and my friend Stuart Hunter and I both saw it clearly. It quickly scraped the plug out on a nearby rock and got away, and we looked at each other and simultaneously said, “eighty pounds!” It looked that big. I had caught a sixty-pounder at Cuttyhunk a few years earlier and had seen Ralph Grey’s famed sixty-eight pounder at Provincetown. This seemed a whole lot bigger. One of its scales remained impaled on a treble hook, and I sent it to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole to see if the fish’s age could be determined; however, it turned out to be a regenerated scale from an old injury and could not provide the information I sought. In any case, I felt as though I’d had ahold of a world-record striper for a few moments. Once I started using Alou Eels, the problem of losing fish was largely solved,
because the bass could not readily tangle that lure in the rocks, and if they did, the strong single hook would not straighten out the way the trebles had.
I took numerous stripers over forty pounds, to a top of fifty-five and a quarter pounds, on Bass Eels and their bigger Cow Killer cousins. I sent reports
to Reinfelder about this fishing, and the following autumn he brought his family to the Vineyard to spend a weekend and see what I was doing. I got up early on the first morning, while he was still sleeping, and launched my one-man, nine-and-a-half-foot tin boat at Squibnocket at first light; thirty minutes later I was back on the beach with forty-five- and forty-three-pounders caught on amber Alou Eels. That did it. Al would spend a lot of time here in the future, and I never again got on the water before he did.

I had taken an immediate liking to Al. He was easygoing and intense at the same time, and passionate about striped bass and life in general. We did some surf-casting together, and he was clearly an excellent fisherman. I learned that he was also an environmental activist, a lecturer, a musician, an artist, and an author. He wrote a lovely poem about his final Sunday of that trip, and I felt I had only scratched the surface of an extraordinary man. I invited him and his partner Lou Palma to come back the following year, along with another friend who was also a lure manufacturer – Art Lavallee, president of Acme Tackle Company in Rhode Island. Al brought along his own tin boat, a twelve-foot Starcraft, and I had upgraded to a twelve-foot Aero-Craft, so the four of us – two in each boat – could launch at Squibnocket and fish the rocks with Alou Eels in the morning. We took big fish regularly, and then we fished the beaches in the afternoon and evening. At night, joined by Dan Bryant – and with plenty of Scotch whiskey under our belts, along with wonderful dinners cooked by Palma – Al and Lou taught us the secrets of bridge fishing, which they had honed to a fine art on Long Island, where the practice was illegal and where they had to keep one step ahead of the cops. Al wrote an article about it for The Long Island Fisherman entitled “Outlaws on the Bridge.” He had developed a jig called the Bait Tail that we cast from the up-tide side of Anthier’s bridge into the tide and then let bounce back toward us. Bass would hit when it reached the shadow line caused by the moonlight, and with heavy tackle we would try to hold their heads above water so they could not swim under the bridge and cut us off. The thrashing sounds of those lassoed fish were like small cars falling into the water! It was exciting stuff and a grand way to end those full days when four friends were whacking bass almost around the clock, always goading each other with sharply barbed wit. And this was just the beginning. During the next few years, Al, Lou, Dan, and I fished together innumerable times, frequently joined by Nelson Bryant and Spider Andresen, and it was the best of times and we were the best of friends.

Within a couple of years Al had bought land on the Island and built a cabin for himself and his family, and there were wonderful evenings there and in my house listening to Al play his guitar and harmonica and sing his favorite songs surrounded by our families and friends. He had upgraded from a tin boat to a nineteen-foot Mako, and won the boat division of the Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby in 1969.

He and Lou became regulars on the fishing scene here.

After asking God’s forgiveness for what he was about to do, Al introduced us to live-lining bunker or menhaden for striped bass. It was an absolutely deadly method that had not been used here before. In 1971 the three of us, fishing together in the same boat, took first, second, and third place in the boat-striper division of the Derby, using bunker that we traveled all the way to New Bedford to snag. My forty-seven-pounder was the winner, despite Lou stomping on it in a failed effort to make it regurgitate the contents of its stomach (these bass were eating menhaden weighing one to two pounds each, far more than enough to create a winning margin in the Derby). My winning fish, however, was taken on a jointed Creek Chub Giant Pikie with an eelskin stretched over it. Al and Lou were using live bunker that had raised a school of big stripers, including mine, and gotten them into something approaching a feeding frenzy. I was trying to be a purist with an artificial lure, but convinced no one, myself included, that the bass would have acted so aggressively had it not been for those frantic, live-lined bunker in the water.

Al had become a luminary. In addition to designing lures for the Garcia Corporation, which had bought out the original Alou Tackle Company, he was a writer and a champion of several causes that sought to preserve our natural environment. He was investigating, writing, and lecturing about ecology as well as fishing, and he brought to everything he did a charisma and a contagious enthusiasm that attracted people to his causes. He became president of the Striped Bass Fund, which tried to protect the future of the species. He seemed bigger than life: a wonderful father, husband, and friend; a superb fisherman; a philosopher; a writer and performer of music that I could listen to all night long. His energy and life force seemed boundless. And then, on May 18, 1973, he was gone, killed at the age of thirty-six in a canoeing accident on his beloved Delaware River. A bright and shining light had been extinguished and with it the joy and meaning he had brought to so many lives. His friends were devastated. Lou Palma quit fishing for more than fourteen years. I resigned from Salt Water Sportsman a couple of months later to pursue a career as an artist. I probably would have done so anyway, but I often wonder whether his death was not a strong factor in my decision. With Al gone, the fishing world was never the same.

Happily, however, Lou returned to the Vineyard and to fishing in the late 1980s, and we were gradually able to reestablish strong vestiges of the old days. Hanging in my tackle room on extended loan, I still have his original stock certificate for ten shares in the Alou Tackle Company, dated August 29, 1966. And we sometimes still cast an Alou Eel, even though that lure has long been out of production and is now a collector’s item.