Surfcasters have been modifying the lures they throw for as long as there have been lures to throw. One lure that is famous because it so readily lends itself to an array of modifications is the Cotton Cordell Red Fin, both the 5- and the 7-inch versions. These lures are perfect for loading because the body of the lure is hollow all the way through. Unlike many other plastic Finnish-style swimmers, the Red Fin has no trouble supporting a pair of big hooks—one of the reasons the Red Fin has accounted for so many big surf bass (many over 50 pounds) since its introduction.
Back in the 1980s, when this little swimmer was enjoying its first decade in the limelight, Cordell offered them in many of the colors that are still used widely today: the omnipresent “Smokey Joe” was and is a staple, as is “Chicken Scratch.” The “blue chrome” and “black chrome” versions of the early Red Fin unwittingly created one of today’s most popular colors: “bone.” The old chrome paint didn’t adhere well to the plastic beneath, and after just a few fish, the paint would start to flake away, revealing the off-white color below. Casters began to notice that these plugs would produce even better than factory colors and a lot of guys would forego the gradual process of fishing the paint off, and simply sand the paint off before even making a cast. Bone-colored Red Fins are now available in most tackle shops and take a lot of nice fish every year.
One of the once-popular colors that the manufacturer no longer makes is a color called “Baby Striper”. This plug is exactly what it sounds like it should be—though it was a little more white/gray than what might pop into your mind when you picture a living baby bass. For whatever reason, this color was (and still is) deadly under the light of a full moon. But unfortunately, finding one is not an easy task these days: Collectors have most of the good ones and the rest have long since been destroyed by many full-moon sessions in a bygone era of big-bassing.
But since I’m slightly insane, I’ve devised a way to add this elusive moon-killer to your arsenal. All you need is a Bone Red Fin and two sharpies - a silver and a black. If you want to get really authentic (read: compulsive) you’ll want some yellow paint as well. This easy transformation came about by accident when I was trying to turn a Bone Red Fin into a Mackerel Red Fin after a massive mackerel blitz in the Canal last July. I was coloring the sides of the Red Fin with silver when I began to notice the familiar ghostly silver/gray sides of the elusive Baby Striper Red Fin. Some quick handy-work with a black marker, and I had a pretty darn close replica.
Start by removing the hooks from a few Bone “Fins” and then use the silver marker to color each flank solid silver. Then use the black Sharpie to color in around the eyes, making the face of the plug black; continue the black on top of the head and then down the back of the plug in a thin scribble. If you have an old black Sharpie with a worn tip and the ink is running low, use it to draw in the stripes; if not, just go easy with a new black one. The stripes are made up of black dots that run in lines down the flanks of the plug. The originals also showed the pectoral fin, which you can draw in with a fine-tipped permanent marker if you’re totally off your rocker (see photo). The first three lines starting at the top run the length of the plug. The fourth ends about an inch from the tail and the last two end right around the belly hook hanger. Now you may want to blot over the hot-pink eye of the once-bone Red Fin with the yellow paint (a Q-tip works quite well for this). When it’s dry, draw the pupil in with the black Sharpie. Reattach hooks when everything is dry; I suggest a pair of 3/0 VMC trebles attached with 5.5H split rings and wait the five months (ugh!) for that full moon in May or June.
I would also suggest loading this plug (before painting it). I prefer loading the lure with 10 cc of water for the 7-inch and 3 cc for the 5. A later column will discuss my findings when comparing Red Fins loaded with various liquids and pellets. Fish the “Baby Striper” Red Fin when the bright moon has the fish stubborn about other colors. On the right night—the one with the anti-textbook conditions—you’ll be surprised what a difference this insignificant, seemingly googanesque tweak can make.