It's that time of year again! Review what were the best plugs for 2017.
Before I go on, if you're interested in the mugs and ceramic work in the pictures, Carly has launched her own ceramic business. She is a talented artist, and is just beginning to build inventory. She also does commission pieces- please check out her work on Facebook and you can purchase directly from her (and me) from Etsy.
I made a 45 minute video detailing this post. It's long, boring, and I don't like it. So I'm going to go back to the traditional format and just write about it with pictures.
Really, 2017 boiled down to two plugs for me. These two plugs, which I get to at the end of the post, made up at least 70% of my catch, the majority of my best nights, and my largest (ugh) fish of the season.
But there were others, and I'll go through them first.
These first plugs are in no particular order....
Every year I drift further and further away from swimmers. But, 2017 I had a huge resurgence in their use. The last season I used them this much was probably 2013 and back then I was fishing a lot of sand as I tried to learn a particular beach and found bombers and SP's especially effective. Anyways, the one I have gravitated to the last few seasons is the Yozuri Mag Darter. This was on my list last year. The smaller size is still my favorite. There is something about this little plug that can lead to big catches, and some trophy sized fish. In May I had a couple nights that it produced when nothing else would. I believe it resulted in my first keeper of the season. The strange thing is, that night there was adult bunker mixed in with schoolies and small keepers. Yet, I couldn't get a hit on anything but the Mag darter. Strange. I did use the larger sized Mag darter this year, but had exactly 1 fish on it. I find it digs deeper and doesn't have quite as rapid a swimming motion. I'll give it a go this year more.
Mikes Custom Needle Fish/Stubby Needlefish
I like the needlefish. It can be great. But I'm not ga-ga for it. I know guys who are. It's probably how I am about metal lips and darters I guess. Anyways, this year I had good success with some of Mikes Custom needle fish. One night, his 3oz needle was the only thing I could punch into a 25-30mph wind, keep it down in the 5-7ft swell, and not drag bottom on a 3-5 ft depth. I tried Super Strike heavies, but they just dragged the bottom. The regular SS needles just washed away, as did my Choopy, and RM smiths did (both good plugs). I had at least 35 of the 50 fish I had that night on Mikes classic needle. And I used it a couple of other times as well.
Mikes "stubby" needle, which he only makes occasionally, are even better. They don't cast as well as his classic needle; in fact they don't cast as well as most needles. But they have a slow sink rate and much fatter profile. And I can swim them in areas with rocks where most other needles won't work. The season really sucked (see previous posts) but I think if I can get into fish, these will absolutely kill. As it was, I caught a few fish I couldn't have caught otherwise without these because they were the right profile and I could work them sssslllloooowwwww. There's no wadds anymore; no one makes any. Those that exist are crazy expensive. These are essentially wadds, aren't crazy expensive, and make up a unique profile in my bag. I'll be carrying them a lot in 2018.
The Atom 40 metal lip- CCW Jetty Swimmer, Maine-iac Little Swimmer
I love metal lips. They're big fish catchers. I had the Maine-iacs on my list two years ago. This year I wasn't sure if they'd make it back on again, but I have to throw them on here. I had an awesome, very memorable night, with these plugs in October. It was hit every cast, but you had to work them fast and erratic. My friend was fishing with me and he was using a TRL fish catcher or something like that- old plug but classic and almost identical to these two plugs I was using. I had some other fish on these plugs throughout the season as well, but not a ton. I fished even more boulders this year and one spot in particular, and I just couldn't work them correctly there. I like both the CCW and Maine-iac, but they are slightly different. CCW is a slightly better made plug, with a tougher finish. But it doesn't dig in like the Maine-iac, and has a tighter action. The Maine-iac is significantly cheaper (25%+ cheaper), especially at shows, and digs harder. It has a wider swim action. If I had to only pick one I'd probably lean slightly to the CCW because I can work it shallower, which makes more sense where I fish. It doesn't cast quite as well as the Maine-iac, but they're essentially the same. If you're on a budget though...snag some Maine-iac's for $18 at a show. One more note: these work awesome with a redgill teaser.
If you asked me at the start of the season last year if I would use a bomber in 2017 I probably would have hemmed and hawed and said "probably not". Since the SP came out, I don't use the Bomber anymore. And I don't really even use the SP either- this year I caught less than 10 fish on an SP. But, wow I was wrong about the Bomber! There was a week in September that I absolutely crushed fish on the classic chicken scratch bomber long a! I had 40 in a single night, and 30+ of those, and the largest fish all between 15 and 18lbs, all came on the bomber. I broke it in fact unhooking so many fish during that week. The fish were on peanuts and they only wanted the bomber. The redfin worked, but resulted in lower catch rates, and the SP just plain didn't work at all. The later in November I had more fish on the bomber. Although there, they redfin was better. That was a sand eel bait. Just goes to show; you can't write off any plug. Have to keep an open mind, especially in the finicky, sporadic bites we're facing these days.
Super Strike Needle Fish
I'll keep this really short. The SS 1 3/4oz (largest size) yellow over white needle fish was a very consistent producer all season. I'd catch a fish here, two or three fish there, another a couple nights later, etc. I'm not sure how many this season I caught on the needle, but I'd wager it was close to or over 50. And I found it really helpful in the boulders when the wind was up- I could get it out into the deeper water but keep it up out of the snags. This plug lived in my bag all season. I didn't catch any monsters this season, but I know this plug can. There's been so much written about this, I won't add to it. Essential plug.
Mikes Custom Pikie
Ugh. No monsters this season like last year. But, I did have a few teen bass on this plug and I threw it A LOT. I had it in my bag almost constantly. The same old, beat up white one 90% of the time. I've changed the hooks on it 4 times already in the past two seasons. It's so funny to me that I can catch schoolies on this monster plug- but I do. More than a few of them. But every time I get a hit on this plug, especially in a rip, my heart skips a beat. Because it is a monster catcher. So even catching schoolies is fun for a few seconds before you realize what you have. This has become an essential plug for me. I don't really even carry the Gibbs Danny anymore, as it's redundant. I find the pikie is more versatile, as you can use it in bigger current but also in the dead calm areas. But you better have a good rod to cast it. Even though it only weighs 3oz, it's big and not aerodynamic at all. You fish boulders? You need this plug.
Musky Mania Doc Spook
I don't fish during the day, unless I'm on vacation. Period. I hope to this year more, at day break, but I just don't have time, and really didn't last year. But when I do, I have gravitated towards the fly rod. I LOVE the fly rod, and since I tend to find smaller fish during the day (and by tend I mean it's a rule), I like using the fly rod. But when I do use plugs, I fish pencil poppers and little necks. Why use anything else? They catch whatever's there, if it wants top water. And sure, I've fished spook style plugs plenty of times in freshwater, but I just never really cared for them in the surf. I don't know why. I'm an idiot I guess. But I finally dusted off the Doc Spook lure I bought years ago and used it a few times in the fall. All I can say is...WOW. What the fuck have I been doing! This plug is incredible. I caught a few schoolies and blue fish with it and I can't WAIT to use it next year. I feel like a fool for not using this sooner. I even went out and bought the "lil' Doc" I'm so pumped about it.
I don't need to write anything about these. I'll just add that I like Andrus Rip Splitters, Chucks Bucks, and prefer pork rind, which I've hoarded. I actually heard it's coming back (fingers crossed). I had a 22lb, 17lb, 15lbx 2, and 8-10lb x2 in a single night of 50+ mph winds with Andrus 1oz bucktail. When you need bucktails, they're the only thing that works.
Alright, so those are some of the top plugs, but here's the only ones that really mattered:
1) The Super Strike Zig-Zag/NorthBar Montauk Darters
A perennial best. My largest fish of the season came on a yellow-over-white super strike. Last year my second largest fish came on the same plug. Etc. Every year the same (with the large metal lip being the only other that has produced larger fish for me.).
I won't spend a ton of time writing about these plugs, because I have before. And others, much more experienced than your's truly, have written in depth about it.
Here, again, I will talk about a "tale of two darters". I think I did this last year, but I have had another season to really explore the Northbar darter.
The Super Strike is really a plug for current only. Yes, I have used it in wave action much to the shock of a fellow surfcaster (I caught; he didn't have a darter, he did not), but it's not ideal. It can DEFINITELY work. But for the most part I'm thinking rips with the super strike zig zag. That being said, the 28lb fish I took on it this year was in a boulder field with only a tiny amount of current. Just enough I guess. I only care about 1 color really, and that's yellow over white, but I use blurple and parrot a lot too, and at times I have started to think maybe parrot could be every bit as good as yellow over white. I used "Halloween" effectively this year too, interesting that night suddenly color mattered: my hook up ratio was 5:1 with that color vs. blurple or yellow. I adore the zig zag, and literally always- ALWAYS- have one in the bag. Always. No exception. Dead calm, or 70mph hurricane winds. I have a couple I've loaded too, and they work OK. But really I'd rather just leave them alone. Well over 100 fish this season on the zig zag, probably more. One bang up night where the fish savagely were crushing the plug is especially memorable- 15 between 12 and 18lbs. They were on peanuts and I believe adult bunker- they loved the darter.
Now, the lesser known other plastic darter is the NorthBar Montauk darter. I was suprised to talk with someone who loves darters who said he doesn't fish it. He said he keeps meaning to, but doesn't. Well, I am a little leery to even talk about it, but this plug is FANTASTIC. I mean, I'm not saying I'm replacing all my SS zig zags, but....I now always carry one of both, unless the wind is huge, and then the NorthBar stays at home. Here's the thing about this plug. It digs deeper and harder than the super strike. Period. You would think this would make it worthless in boulders, shallow areas, etc. You'd be wrong. In fact, it makes it BETTER. Why? You can cccrraaawwwlll it along and it will dig in. There can be no current, and it will dig. It will dart, even without a rip. That is something the super strike just won't do. So I have used the NorthBar effectively in shallow areas, over boulders, etc. Slow, slow, slow. I mean, I'm just bbbaaarreeellllyyyy moving it along. It is right under the surface. And here's my thinking. So what if it's not really darting? It's under the surface, and gliding. Now, it's just a big chunky needle that has a sway to it. Why isn't that OK? It is OK! At this point, I feel like this is almost a secret weapon, but if you're reading this, you are in the know. I have yet to read, talk to, or see anyone doing this. I had a few teen bass this way, tons of schoolies, and lost a really nice fish before I lost access to the spot I was using this plug at. I then took it elsewhere, and while the fish were far and few between, it continued to catch.
Don't fear the darter. Stop with the excuses. Get one, and fish it.
2) The 7" Redfin
Again, I'm going to lead right in with "I'm an idiot". I've had Redfins since I began surf fishing 10 years ago. I've fished them some. I've caught some fish with them. I've read aaaaallllll the articles about them. Yet, for some reason, I didn't fish them. I thought they were cheap, junky old school clunkers that really were better suited for large mouth bass than Stripers. I had bombers, SPs, yo-zuris, and various other swimmers, so why bother?
Well, again, let me say it again- I'm an idiot. If I hadn't had the redfin this year, I'm not sure I would have had at least 100, if not 200, of my fish. I would guess 250 of the 460 fish I had this year were on the redfin, and again, at least 100 of those wouldn't have been catchable with out it!
The key is in the versatility. Load it with water at various weights and it does different things. You can keep it on the surface, or get it under. You can have it swim aggressively, or load it up and have it just swim really subtle. Or, don't load it at all, put 1/0 hooks on it, and it'll swim on the surface no matter how fast you fish it. This was key for me in November when I was fishing a very shallow sand eel bite on very clear nights. They would hit the loaded redfin, but they LOVED the unloaded one. Yes, it casts about as well as a piece of tissue paper, but if you can cast it- USE IT.
One night in particular I had 37 fish on the redfin. And they were all fun size and up- all 25-27" up to maybe 15lbs. And would-be fish #32 would have been the fish of the season had I not had my drag locked, and the 4x VMC and 88lb split ring hadn't bent.
I prefer chicken scratch, but blurple is like a secret weapon. When they're on it, they sometimes won't even touch the white or chicken scratch! Take it from me...
I like to load the plug a little lighter than most guys. I fill it with water to slightly lower than the top hook hanger, which puts it around 1.4oz- most guys like 1.5 or even a little more. I put a big 3/0 up front though- which may be why I load it less with water.
If you want to catch A LOT of fish- use the redfin. If you want to catch a lot of fish and also have the shot at big fish- use the redfin. If you don't want to catch small fish...don't use the redfin. It will catch whatever is there, most of the time, regardless of size. This can be a problem.
Did you read Steve Gallants story in Surfcasters Journal? I read it lllooonnnnggg after I had my "season of the redfin"....maybe it was something about last years bait situation....
Which brings me back to November. I think in the other months I could have caught a lot of the "redfin" fish on other plugs. But in November, it's the only thing they'd touch in the shallow sand eel invested waters of the Cape. I couldn't get them on ANYTHING else.
Either way, I'll have a redfin permanently in my bag again after a hiatus for 2018.
Now, think spring.