Artificials for Big Stripers In The Surf – Steve McKenna

McKenna surf

Saltwater Edge Tackle and Tactics: Artificials for Big Stripers

There are many, many artificial lures on the market today. A lot of these creations, made from wood, rubber, plastic and metal, are touted as being effective for luring and catching big striped bass. Through years of experience however, I have learned that not all lures are equal. From my numerous trips to the surf, season after season, I have used a lot of these “proven killers” only to be disappointed with most of them. I have also learned over the years that all artificials will catch fish SOMETIMES but on a FEW will attract and hook bigger bass, say 20 pounds or better, on a consistent basis. Consequently, after years of field testing, I have assembled a small group of six artificials which have proven themselves as excellent producers of jumbo bass throughout the striper season. There is no need to carry anything else! The are as follows:

1. Nine inch SLUG-GO

9 inch slug-go

This rubber lure is THE BEST artificial for consistently putting big stripers on the beach that I have found in 34 years of surf fishing. When rigged, weighted and fished properly this artificial is as effective as a rigged dead eel and pretty close to being as good as a live snake. The modified 9 inch SLUG-GO must be rigged with two J-Style hooks, much like a rigged eel, and weighted with three Lunker City 3/32 oz. insert weights to produce the best results. Please refer to the video of rigging and fishing the 9 inch SLUG-GO on this website for more details. The deadly SLUG-GO rigged and weighted in all black produces best at dusk and dawn and especially after dark. Try lighter shade colors (white, pink or shad) during daylight hours. Fish these killers with a moderate retrieve, fast twitching the lure throughout the retrieve. Also, try to keep this lure subsurface at all times.

2. Seven inch Red Fin from Cotton Cordell

Seven inch Red Fin from Cotton Cordell 

This very effective artificial has taken a lot of big fish over the years. In fact this was the staple plug of outer cape and Block Island surf men in the later 70’s and early 80’s. It fell out of favor however in the mid 80’s when needle fish plugs exploded on the surf scene. Believe me, the 7 inch Red Fin accounted for some monster stripers back then with my best night with a Red Fin accounting for 4 Forty-Pound fish at Southwest Point on Block Island. To be really effective however, the 7 inch Red Fin must be tweaked a bit. First of all, the existing split rings and treble hooks must be changed to similar size 4 extra strong models. VMC or Eagle Claw are good replacement choices here. Next, the Red Fin must be weighted with water – 10 cc’s to be exact. Check out this process on the video “Loading a Red Fin” on this website. To complete this modification, drill or punch a small hole (with a hot needle) in the lure near the top of the head area. Using an eye dropper, meat baster or syringe, fill the Red Fin with water until the lure is filled to the bottom of the middle hook hanger. This is approximately 10 cc’s. When the Red Fin is altered in this fashion it casts better, swims tantalizingly and works better in rough seas and rips. The heavier gauge hooks and split rings also reduce “dropped” fish dramatically. I have found that all white color works best with secon choice going to silver with black on blue back.

3. Needle Fish

Needle Fish

As previously indicated this type of artificial plug burst onto the surf scene in the mid 1980’s. Since then it has taken a lot of nice bass up to (to the best of my knowledge) 67 pounds. My personal best on a needlefish weighed 51 pounds. The needle fish continues to catch big bass today. Although the long, two ounce plus version is and has been an excellent lure, my contemporary favorite is the shorter “Stubby” model which weighs about 1-1/2 oz. and is produced by Habs, Gibbs and Super Strike companies to name a few. All black, yellow and green back with a white belly are my go to colors. Fishing the needlefish plug is easy. Cast this lure into some fishy looking water, let it sink a second or two, then use a moderate to slow retrieve while holding your rod tip high. That’s it. Using this method allows the plug to be close or on the surface of the water which causes the plug to produce a wake behind it.

4. Lead Headed Bucktail Jig

Lead Headed Bucktail Jig

This artificial is probably the best and most versatile lure ever made. It will catch any fish that swims. For striped bass, carry a selection of jigs from Andrus or Blue Frog 3/4 oz. to 3 oz. weights. All white or all black are the only colors a surf-man needs. Also, always use corresponding colored pork rind or plastic twister tails on your bucktails. There addition to the lure makces the jig 100% more effective. Bucktails will catch stripers anywhere but they really shine when fishing rip or moving water that is deep. In these situations, cast up current allowing the jig to sink to the bottom then start reeling slowly. Arden Gardell has an excellent article that goes further in detail on this staple lure of the Striper Fisherman.

5. Skin Plug

This lure, like the Red Fin, has fallen out of favor during the last 15 years or so, probably because it takes patience and some time to make. However, if you are not using this lure presently you are certainly missing out on some great action. The skin plug is one of the best producers of striped bass ever developed. It was first shown to me back in 1974 by the late Oliver “Gil” Gliottone. I have been catching quality stripers on this lure since then and I will never travel to the surf without one. The skin plug is basically a hybred artificial – part lure – part bait (actually the skin from a dead eel). The foundation for a good skin plug is a 1-1/2 oz. to 2 oz. surface style wooden swimming plug. A short eel skin is then fitted over and fastened to the plug. You can skin your own eels or purchase them ready to go in a few local tackle shops. Gibbs, Tattoo, Troublemaker and Beachmaster make great swimmers for skins. Ideally skin plugs have a groove in which to tie down the skin. Remember, when the skin is fitted on the plug it should only extend 1 to 2 inches behind the end of the swimmer. This will ensure that the skin plug swims alluringly on the surface where it is most productive. Longer skins have a tendency to sink the plug because they make the lure too heavy even if the swimmer is “tuned” to swim on the surface. Also, use the reverse side of the eel skin which is a distinctive mottled white and light blue color. Finally, two important notes on skin plugs; these plugs are unaccountably much more productive than skinless, stock surface swimmers. For some reason a skin plug will out fish a bare swimmer five to one. Secondly, although skin plugs work great after dark they really shine at dusk and dawn and even during the day. The next time everyone is fishing popping plugs during those hours clip on a skin plug. You’ll out fish that crowd to the point of embarassment.

6. Darter Plug

Darter Plug

This is another artificial which can be deadly on cows but not used as much as it should be by surf striper men. Probabbly because it doesn’t have much inherent action like a swimmer and must be “worked” by the surf caster. This particular style plug is very, very effective however, in flowing water such as you would find in inlets, or in rips that form around ocean points. The darter is also the ultimate rough water lure because of its stability and enhanced action in such seas. This plug is also primarily a night time choice but can be productive during the day in stormy, overcast and rough conditions, particularly during the fall run. My top selection in darter plugs is made by Gibbs Lures and weighs approximately 2 oz. Colors choices include: all black, yellow or white which all seem to produce big fish consistently. I like to fish the darter plug in the following manner. Cast the lure into moving water in turbulent seas. Allow the plug to “bite” into the flow then start twitching the rod tip slowly to moderately throughout the retrieve, much like a pencil popper or Zara Spook style lure. Remember though to keep the darter subsurface throughout the retrieve. This method of retrieve causes the plug to dart haphazardly from side to side which stripers just can’t seem to resist.

Fishing the “Super Six”

Any surf-caster using the aformentioned selection should feel very confident but might want to consider the following general tips before making a cast into his or her favorite striper hole. First of all, since you will be chasing bigger stripers and using lures up to 3 oz., choose your tackle accordingly. Select at least an 8-1/2 to 9 foot rod, either spinning or conventional, with at least a medium action. Match this stick up with a good quality reel that has a smooth drag capable of handling a couple of hundred yards of 17 to 20lb. test line. I prefer monofilament. When chasing big bass, shocker leaders are a must. Large stripers are long, spiny and have big scales which will cut running line quickly. Plus, most striper fishing is done around very abrasive rocky, reefy areas that will surely weaken even the best of casting lines. Therefore, use a trace of at least 40lb. test, mono or flurocarbon, in lengths of 36 inches or longer. Furthermore, I would strongly recommend connecting your running line to shocker with a high quality ball bearing barrel swivel (color-black). This will prevent line twist which which can be a nightmare, particularly with spinning outfits. Also, at the other end of the shocker trace, tie on a top shelf snap, also in color black. This will aid in changing lures and will provide added action to your artificials. Moreover, any of the six mentioned lures that have trebles should have the stock hooks replaced with 4 extra strong models. Large stripers can exert unbelievable pressure on treble hooks and the stronger hooks will definitely increase your chances of landing a 30 pound plus fish. VMC or Eagle Claw make super strong short shank trebles that ease the disappointment of dropped fish. When fishing tese fakes try to use darker colored plugs at night especially around new moon periods or on cloudy full moon nights. During bright full moon evenings or during daytime hours, utilize lighter shade artificial. Also, while fishing lures vary the speed of your retrieve and please don’t be afraid to give different plugs different action. Sometimes twitching a needlefish works well while dead drifting a SLUG-GO is the only thing that produces. Experiment! In addition, don’t be averse to trying all six lures during the course of a surf fishing trip. Occasionally all six will take bass, other times stripers want just one – usually the 9 inch SLUG-GO. Finally, white water always increases the effectiveness of these six lures as well as all other artificials, especially if you’re a day time or low light surf-caster. In rough weather try bigger versions of these artificials. In turbulent seas larger offerings mean more stability and provide a better target for that hungry cow.

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