When I arrive at a beach and scan the surf line, one of the first things I do is decide if I need to adjust my lure selection. I begin by asking myself a few basic questions: What plugs will work best under these conditions? Is the surf big? Is the water dirty? Is there bait present and how can I mimic it? From these and a few follow-up querries, the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together to help me form a well-stocked plug bag that should cover the conditions of the day and hopefully result in a few hook-ups.
Long gone are the days where I jammed lures into every available space of my surf bag, resulting in an overly-heavy and cumbersome bag. It became increasingly more difficult to remove a single plug without two or three other plugs in tow, hooks crossed in a frustrating mess. Somewhere along my evolution as a surfcaster I realized that my success would increase if I set out with fewer options in my bag, each of which I would fish thoroughly and with purpose. Rather than carrying a lure of each size and color I now carry a limited selection that I know should work under the variables in front of me. This has, in part, resulted in better success overall for me.
I begin with a popper or two going into the bag. I generally pack a large, 2- or 3-ounce Guppy pencil popper, a Super Strike little-neck popper (the new heavy version has taken top-honors this season) or a bone-colored spook.
When conditions allow for it I opt for the largest spook possible. Don Giumelli of Afterhours Custom Plugs makes a spook of about 9 inches that weighs in around 5 ounces. This is not a standard lure in his line up so be sure to jump at the chance to purchase a couple if you get word that he has spun off a limited run once again. While it takes a specialized stick to throw such a plug, the rewards are well worth it!
The pencil popper and little-neck popper see the most use by me as far as topwater options and will raise both striped bass and bluefish under most any conditions. The Super Strike little-neck is not fished like a standard popper with the straight pop-pop-pop retrieve. Instead I swim the popper on the surface with a small pop now and then. This results in action similar to that of a metal-lip swimmer and the pop assists in calling in the fish. A pencil popper is a good choice just about any time of the day and can be fished under a variety of conditions.
Second only to the excitement of taking a fish on topwater, the visual excitement of the strike of a fish taking a metal-lip surface swimmer is certain to set your heart racing. For metal-lips I opt for, once again, the largest my rod can handle on a given outing. I am a firm believer in the “big lure = big fish” theory and in the back of my mind I feel better throwing an oversized swimmer. This is not to say a large fish will not take a small lure, or conversely that a small fish will attempt to feast on an oversized lure, but the odds are in my favor with this mindset and the results are there to prove it. I will say that generally your numbers go down when using this approach but the fish hooked are most likely better-than-average specimens.