Surfcasters are finally taking advantage of some of the technology used by our freshwater brethen.
Some surfcasters look down on freshwater fishing. How do I know this? Because there was a time when I used to look down on it. I used to say that catching largemouth bass would be like catching bait for stripers—which, I suppose is true. I guess I felt like I had moved on from it, growing up chasing freshwater bass and then “graduating” to stripers from the surf. I have since seen the error of my ways.
That said, I am always thinking like a surfcaster and I don’t think that will ever leave me. And one of the things that I am consistently aware of is that freshwater fishing is eons ahead of surfcasting with regard to lure technology. This isn’t to say that everything they make for freshwater fishing is better than the best things we use—on the contrary, with a multi-billion dollar industry comes a whole lot of useless junk that is only designed to net a bunch of gullible fishermen into buying them once. But when you see multiple companies making essentially the same bait, then it’s safe to say that those baits are catching more than just fishermen.
Using the word swimbait conjures images of 10-inch trout imitations designed for giant largemouth bass, but somehow there are two major classes of bait in freshwater fishing that are called swimbaits. The original class is the giant, multi-joint wood baits designed to bust a 10-pounder, but the more recent version is a soft bait with a paddletail that utilizes either hollow or ribbed bodies to accentuate action while maintaining a beefier silhouette. In my estimation the frontrunners are the Yum Money Minnow and the Keitech Swing Impact Fat Shiner—the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue—but the Keitechs have the best action. However, the Yums have the best look—so take your pick. These baits utilize a hook with a weight placed strategically on the hook shank to balance the swimming action and control the sink rate. The Keitech and Yum baits don’t come in sizes that scream surfcasting at 5.8 and 6.5 inches respectively, but they are plenty big enough to get some attention in the rivers and bays this spring and they are a great option when the finger mullet swing through in the fall.
These baits are catching on now and some early pioneers have stepped up to the plate to supply the demand. The baits that fit the bill best are made by the guys over at Bobby J’s Bait and Tackle in Milford, CT. Their upstart lure company—Housatonic Lures—is based around the soft swimbait style offering sizes from 5 inches right up to a massive 10-inch model coming out this month. Of course, just like every other lure in the bag, there are limitations to soft swimbaits—for one they are not going to outcast a pencil popper. But there are numerous rigging options to get a variety of swimming styles—unweighted Texas Rig, weighted swimbait hook or threaded onto a leadhead. One thing surfcasters have over freshwater guys is ingenuity, so look for some really cool rigging options to pop up in the coming years as these baits gain traction.
Most ‘traditional swimbaits’ are too expensive to throw to fish that could destroy them in one bite—a 10-pound largemouth is one thing, but a 40-pound striper is a different animal for lures that often cost well in excess of $100 and beyond! Freshwater big bait technology puts huge emphasis on sink rate; this is something of which most surfcasters mistakenly do not pay much attention.
There’s a fellow New Englander that’s making some impressive baits for largemouths that slay stripers and they’re affordable by comparison to most other similar baits on the market. RealPrey Swimbaits are made from silicone, they are durable, easy to repair and they are molded to look exactly like several prey species that stripers adore—pay particular attention to the Herring and the Mega Shad. I would recommend buying the bottom-hook versions, the hook is connected to a 310-pound test swivel—‘nuff said. Joe Rainville, the designer of RealPrey baits has put a lot of time into matching slow-sink rates with a super-slow tail kick. That plays right into the style of calm water, big striper fishing that I love, and you can throw them without the same kind of fear that might be associated with similar baits that fall at the high end of the price range.
Oh, The Suspense
Suspending jerkbaits are a favorite of mine in freshwater, and I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t a good suspending option for the surf. Shimano has come along to change that with their Coltsniper Jerkbait—technically the Coltsniper is a ‘slow-floating’ jerkbait, but that’s even better for shore casting because if you bump into a rock it will rise up and you can swim the bait over it.
So what’s the big deal with a swimmer that suspends? The big deal is that a slow-float is a million times more natural than a swimmer that has to be reeled constantly to keep it in the zone. Baitfish rarely just swim, they do a lot more sitting still—when not being pursued—than actually swimming. This bait allows you to swim and stop, swim and stop—making for a natural presentation. Fish these plugs across a sweeping current with intermittent jerks and pauses and you’ll be showing the fish something they see every day. The other thing I like about this plug is that it’s longer than the SP, so you’re getting a bigger target with a unique action—tuned to saltwater applications and environments.
These are just a few of the things that have been (or can be) adapted to work in the surf. Hey, we might as well reap the benefits of the billions of dollars freshwater lure companies spend on R&D! As a surfcaster approaching my 20th year of ‘service,’ I’m not interested in another Atom Junior; if I’m going to try something new, I want it to offer a unique look, swimming action or a new way to present a bait within the water column—the freshwater world has all this and more. It’s almost embarrassing the amount of money that is spent every year trying to fool a fish that has a brain the size of a shelled peanut. But hey, here I am, take my money!