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This may sound a bit strange, but I have a love-hate relationship with teasers. They make fishing plugs more complicated—twisting and tangling on my line and decreasing casting distance all the time—and I often only catch small fish with them. However, the reason I lead with this honesty is because it says a lot about their effectiveness: I find them annoying, yet continue to use them anyways! Particularly on Outer Cape Cod sand beaches, they are deemed an essential piece of surfcasting kit. But it is not just the Cape where these tiny lures shine; in places like Block Island, the Vineyard, along the South shores of Long Island, and the many miles of the Jersey shore, they have likely caught millions of stripers, and many truly trophy-sized fish as well. The stories and photos of fish in excess of 40 pounds that have been caught on teasers is the sole reason I continue to use them.
Teasers are simply tiny lures that you attach to your leader to mimic small prey items found in the surf. They precede a traditional plug which allows you to cast the virtually weightless lure. There are several different options for teasers that can roughly be broken down into two categories. The first are essentially just flies styled like the flag of a plug or Lefty’s Deceiver. These use simple bucktail in a variety of colors to mimic smaller surf prey items like sand eels or juvenile bait fish. This style has been used for many decades and is still highly effective. They have the substantial advantage of being very light and less wind resistant than plastic teasers, helping them cast further. The second category are made of plastic and are molded to look like a small bait fish. The most popular is likely the Red Gill Rascal in the 11.5cm size. These have been around for many decades as well, and are my personal favorites. They have a great swimming action, and are tough enough to stand up to the attacks of many fish. However, they have become somewhat hard to get these days unless you order from overseas. There are other options from brands like Hogy and Eddystone, but I admit to having a good stash of Red Gills so have not tested those other brands. However, I have recently tested the 3-inch Lunker City Slug-go as a teaser. While it doesn’t have the kicking tail of the some of the other plastic teasers, it is very aerodynamic and I have proven it is effective around sand eels. I would suggest it as a suitable alternative, though I still prefer the Red Gill.
While teasers seem to be popular in the fall along the sand beaches of the striper coast, I have had luck with teasers all season long in a variety of scenarios; not just around sand eels. For example, prior to getting heavily into fly fishing, I would fish teasers in and around estuaries in the spring and summer. These places are breeding grounds for silver sides and other small bait, which are hard to model with traditional plugs. Drifting a teaser with a soft plastic, bucktail, or in front of a darter in an estuary mouth is a deadly technique that catches more than just schoolies. Accepting and understanding that the teaser is not just for sand eels and sand beaches, but rather seeing it as an imitator of all small baits, will help you use it effectively in more areas not just as this season ends, but as next season begins. Essentially, wherever there is small bait—no matter the structure, time of year, or size of the predators—is a good place to use a teaser. I encourage you to try them out in places you may not have thought to try previously. The exception to this is in heavy current, such as strong outflows or inlets, where the teaser can spin and twist your line and disrupt the action of the plug behind it. In these situations, I personally have encountered nothing but frustration by trying to use a teaser.
One of the often overlooked factors in teaser application is what plug you’re using behind it. In fact, I spend more time thinking about my plug choice than the actual teaser. Even if you are unconcerned with larger forage and focused entirely on small bait, the choice of plug behind the teaser can dramatically alter a striper’s response to the tiny little lure.
It goes without saying that presentation of the teaser is the ultimate consideration when choosing the plug that follows. That is, if the fish are down deep feeding on the bottom, you may need to use a heavy plug or jig to reach them. However, if the water is extremely calm and shallow, something that swims just below the surface may be the better choice. Further, if the bait is moving with the current it is important to choose something that can be swept with the current flow, like a bucktail, soft plastic, or needlefish. However, if the bait is fighting the current, or trying to get out of it, something that swims actively against the flow of water like a darter, plastic swimmer, or swim bait may be the best choice. The point being that the plug can be used to take the teaser where you think the fish are feeding.
Beside the presentation of the plug and teaser, my next most important consideration when deciding on what plug to put behind a teaser is what other likely forage is in the area which may or may not be feeding on the tiny bait you’re attempting to mimic with the teaser. This primarily stems from a single, eye-opening night on the Cape while I was fishing a beach adjacent to an estuary. I had been catching some smaller fish on teasers in combination with swimming plugs like the Bomber 16a. The bait was incredibly thick along this stretch of beach and was constantly being harassed by fish of various sizes, but mostly very small bass. It was a highly entertaining night as you could watch small fish swim through the schools of bait simply by watching the water. The surface would start to boil, the bait would begin jumping and then you could pinpoint exactly where the fish were, cast to them, leading them by a small fraction, and then watch as they zipped over and attacked your plug. Attempting to catch this on my camera, I waited until one such fish swam extremely close to me, and then flipped on my light. Instead of a schoolie, I was shocked to see a very sizeable American eel swimming through the bait!
Besides creeping me out a little (it was huge!), this made me stop and think that perhaps I was going about my night all wrong. I took off the bomber I was using, put on a 12-inch Slug-Go, and literally two casts later I ended up landing a 38-inch fish that eclipsed the weight of any other fish I caught that night probably by a factor of 3. I was totally shocked, and felt foolish for wasting so much time with the small schoolies. Confident the teaser was irrelevant at that point, I took it off and just fished the Slug-Go. To my surprise, I ceased getting any hits. Frustrated, I put it back on again (at the time requiring a full re-tying of my knots) and the very first cast yielded me a low-30-inch fish; my second largest of the night. I then went on to catch many more large (and small) schoolies and a few fish in the low 30-inch range on the Slug-Bo and teaser. While I wouldn’t call this definitive proof, it certainly suggested to me that it was neither the teaser nor the Slug-Go that mattered, but the combination of both.
As my story illustrates, mimicking the intermediate predators chasing after the small bait is an effective use of the teaser, and often neglected. Shad feeding on sand eels is another great example to the one above, as is snapper blues feeding on peanuts or any other small minnows like juvenile herring. When I run into these situations, I want to try and use a very large profile behind the teaser. I specifically like sub-surface metal lips like the CCW jetty swimmer or Mikes Custom Plugs Magnum Swimmer (which is his version of an Atom 40), a darter like the Super Strike Zig-Zag or Northbar Montauk Darter, or a glide bait like the Sebile Stick Shadd. The Stick Shadd is particularly useful when there is a mixing of sand eels and adult menhaden (aka bunker or pogies). Menhaden are filter feeders, but they are often found in the same areas as sand eels where I fish. To take advantage of this, I have used a teaser in conjunction with a Sebile Stick Shadd, covering both the small and large forage profiles at the same time.
The other important consideration when it comes to choosing what plug should follow your teaser is how far it needs to cast. This is often the number-1 consideration for most anglers, and while I concede it’s important, I would urge you to think about the two above factors first. However, you can’t catch fish you can’t reach with your lures, so sometimes it is a compromise between the three factors here: presentation, profile, and casting distance. I think that it will come as no surprise then that the needlefish is my first choice when distance matters. The ability of the needlefish to cover all water depths, a variety of profiles (from thick and large, to small and thin), while also at the same time being able to reach the furthest sand bars and rocky points, makes it unrivaled as a companion to the teaser. Using needlefish simply as casting aids—regardless if the fish are interested in them—is a great way of taking advantage of their ultra-far casting abilities. However, I know many fisherman like to use plastic swimmers with teasers. In this case, the 170mm Shimano colt sniper is my most-recent favorite and unrivaled its ability to punch through on-shore winds.
Teaser Tackle Tactics
I have found that many teasers—Red Gills in particular—benefit from a substantial hook upgrade. Even if you’re catching smaller fish, it’s remarkable how large schoolies can bend and twist even upgraded hooks. However, more importantly, you do not want to lose a trophy fish because you decided to use the thin hooks that come with some factory teasers (like the Red Gill). There are many suggestions of hooks that will work well with plastic teasers or basic deceiver-style fly teasers. However, I think a great budget option that stands up well to the salt is the Eagle Claw 254 hook in sizes between 4/0 and 6/0. They are not the sharpest hooks you can buy, but I have had little issue hooking fish with them and they can be sharpened before you use them if you are unimpressed out of the box. My primary concern, strength, has not been an issue with these hooks, and they are very inexpensive. If you’re using a fly-style teaser, you can match the size of the hook to the size of the teaser, but I would suggest starting at least with a 3/0. For 11.5cm Red Gill Rascals, I like getting the biggest possible hook I can inside the body, and that seems to be the 6/0 size. However, it definitely distends the body of the teaser, the hook body extends much further towards the tail than the stock hook, and the eye takes some effort to force into the hollow cavity. If that doesn’t appeal to you, a size 4/0 may be better suited.
I like to rig my teaser on soft 30-pound monofilament. The first reason for this is I believe the 30-pound mono allows the teaser to move around and swim more naturally when compared to stiff fluorocarbon or mono that is 50- or 80-pound breaking strength. However, I also do not like going lower than 30 as it is just too high a risk of getting broken off. I am not one of those anglers that ties weak knots in the rare case that you hook two bass or get hung up so I will lose the teaser and not my plug. Frankly, I do not agree with that theory, and I’d rather run the risk of losing my plug than losing a very large fish of a shoddy knot designed to fail. A $20 lure is nothing compared to the cost I incur each year chasing the fish of a lifetime.
For year, I attached my teaser to my main leader with a dropper loop as it removed the requirement of a swivel tied to the main running line. However, I concede that using a swivel and quick clips like the Tactical Anglers 50- or 75-pound quick clip make it much easier to add or remove teasers when needed. They also allow you to replace damaged teasers extremely quickly to get you back into the action. Therefore, I have more recently become a convert of using a swivel and quick clip instead of a traditional dropper loop. Simply tie a short section of line coming from your teaser (3-6 inches) to a quick clip with a traditional clinch knot, and clip that to the loop of the swivel that is connected to the leader. Simple and highly effective.
I then prefer a relatively short distance between the teaser and the plug. I know many anglers like a distance between the teaser and the plug to be in excess of 30 inches, but I like something more modest in the 20- to 30-inch range from the tail of the teaser to the nose of the plug. This makes it easier to cast the combination of plug and teaser, particularly if you’re using a 9-foot-or-shorter surf rod. It also looks more like the plug behind the teaser is about to catch up to it if it’s closer. This last point is important specifically if you suspect there are intermediate predators feeding on the sand eels other than just stripers. However, there are no wrong answers and you should use what works best for you.
Finally, a closing tip about the tackle you are using with teasers. Consider using a rod that is powerful enough to cast well above the range of the typical plug you’re going to use. This helps rocket the teaser and plug out into the surf and offset the diminished distance that comes with using a teaser (due to the decrease in aerodynamics from the teaser). For example, if you’re primarily going to use Super Strike plugs that are in the 1.5- to 2.5-ounce range, I would suggest a rod rated to 4 or 5 ounces. Also, perhaps even more important, consider using a rod with a soft tip and moderate action. This will help offset the use of a small hook with teasers, and prevent hooks from pulling if a fish suddenly takes a hard run, or changes direction quickly.