There are many varieties of plugs that surfcasters use when chasing striped bass and they all have their time and place. Most feature a seductive “wiggle” or other built-in action that catches bass almost as well as it catches fishermen. The primary exception to this rule is the needlefish – a plug that’s been called a “do nothing” lure because of its lack of action and because anglers need do little more than simply reel it in slowly to make it work.
For such a seemingly simplistic lure, it’s amazing how many needlefish variations are available these days. Just about every significant plug maker offers one and they vary in shape and size, come in wood or plastic, and have various applications for just about every set of conditions a surfcaster might encounter. Along with the original four improved needlefish (Super Strike, Gibbs, Spofford, and Gags), you have Afterhours, Stetzko and a myriad of others. In fact there are so many different needlefish that an angler would be hard-pressed to find room for all of them in his surf bag.
But if needlefish are so effective and easy to use, what more do you need to know about them? Well, for starters, understanding the finer points about choosing and using needlefish can help you select the best one for the conditions at hand and match it with the optimum presentation technique. That alone should help increase your odds of success when catching stripes is the end game.
First off, anglers need to be aware that most needlefish plugs inherently sink. They drop toward the bottom as soon as they hit the water but glide toward the surface upon retrieve. On or close to the surface is how most casters fish them. Some needles come to the surface by barely turning the reel handle (such as the Gibbs and Gag’s). Other needles (such as the Super Strike) will work mid-level water depths or close to the bottom, depending on retrieve speed and whether or not the caster allows them to settle deep. So, a needlefish can basically be called a surface skimmer that can at times be effectively fished deeper in the water column.
Needlefish are also very versatile plugs and it would be a mistake to set hard and fast rules on how to fish them. Just as in any type of surf fishing, many variables may affect your decision on which needlefish to use. These include location, water depth, water clarity, current, surf conditions, time of year, type of bait present, wind speed and direction, etc.
The ways I use needlefish on the Cape don’t necessarily work when I’m casting on Block Island or along the Jersey coast. What works when the wind is screaming onshore may not work in flat water (or perhaps it will). So, I have my “preferred” methods of using needlefish for every location I fish, depending on the conditions, but acknowledge that it is also important to be flexible in my presentation techniques. Many surf fishermen, for example, won’t bother to throw a needlefish in areas devoid of sand eels. That can be a big mistake because these plugs can be extremely effective even when there isn’t a sand eel around for miles. Needlefish work whenever adequate forage is available, be it squid, bunker, silversides, sand eels or whatever.