An essential plug you aren’t fishing enough!
Glide baits are more popular now along the Striper Coast than ever before. The number of custom builders making wood gliders has exploded, and the number and variety of factory-built, plastic gliders continues to slowly increase. Part of this is simply because gliders are something that is new, and new plugs are fun to purchase and fish with. However, the staying power of gliders—the fact they continue to get more and more popular every year—is a testament to how productive they are. From shore, boat, or kayak, I would argue that gliders fill a void in every lure arsenal that can’t be replaced with anything else.
Three Different Takes
Gliders are not all created equal. There are two different types, roughly, with some that cross-over, and a third slightly different category called stick baits. The first kind is what you’ll commonly find in the musky fishing world. They are a jerk-bait style lure, with slow or extremely slow sink rates that feature hard back-and-forth action when given a twitch or a sweep. In essence, you should be picturing a sub-surface walk-the-dog plug similar to a spook-style plug. If I had to pick just one type of glider, this would be my choice. I fish shallower water, and appreciate the dramatic, erratic, and very lifelike action of these plugs. They are also pretty quiet overall, often having no rattle inside. I like this in combination with the back-and-forth action, as I believe the subtle nature of both work hand-in-hand in fooling trophy-sized fish. Good examples of these plugs that you can easily get your hands on are the ERC Hell Hound (a personal favorite) and the Bitten Tackle Warlock (and Mag Warlock), but there are lots of other options out there. They also aren’t all shaped alike either—plugs like the Big Fork Sand Cat offer different profiles with a very similar action to “traditionally” shaped gliders.
The second type is what I call the “swimming glider.” These are typically what you’ll find made by custom wood plug builders. These plugs generally sink faster, and don’t have as much walk-the-dog action, but instead have a very seductive back-and-forth swim (with a slight roll) that drives fish crazy. Most also do better in stronger current, respond better to fast retrieves, and caster further, too. For wood plugs, Mike’s Custom, RG, Larson, and Surf Asylum are all in my arsenal, but these plugs can be hard to get. However, the Westin Swim SW is a great factory plastic, and affordable glider available in a bunch of sizes and sink rates that has become one of my absolute favorite plugs over the last four-seasons. It’s a true cross-over plug, which swims well but also does a solid walk-the-dog, too. It also handles a large saltwater hook without sinking like stone. The Yo-Zuri Twitchbait, which is now available in a larger size for 2023, is also a great readily available plug that falls into this category.
The third category of stick baits often doesn’t get lumped in with gliders, but in my eyes it’s just a different take on the same idea. These plugs are thinner and more tubular shaped, but the action is essentially the same as either jerk-bait style or swimming style gliders. Most stick baits I’ve used fall more into the latter category; on a straight retrieve, they swim back and forth in a regular S-pattern. Some are also pretty good at walking-the-dog, but I’ve yet to find any that have as dramatic of action as something like the ERC Hellhound. Stick baits are very popular with tuna fishermen, because they can be cast extremely far and fished very fast; they are aerodynamic and stable, and many are super heavy. This is a problem for the striped bass angler, having something that is very heavy makes it hard to fish in shallow inshore waters, and also at the more lethargic rate that most stripers require. For this reason, I’ve only incorporated a few into my regular rotation. My current favorite is the Madd Mantis Quake, because of its slower sink rate and wonderful flutter if you stop it and let it sink. It also comes in two sizes, the larger of which is on-par with legendary Super Strike plug sizes, and the smaller is more similar to something like an SP minnow. Other relatively slow-sinking options include the Shimano ColtSniper, Savage Gear 3D Mack Stick, and Rapala X-Rap Magnum stick baits.
A Prolific Profile
One of the major reasons I carry the larger, deeper-bodied gliders is because they represent a bait profile that is impossible to match with any other lure. They are tall, while being thin, which is a very common baitfish body shape in the inshore world. While I’m not one to get excited about the details of the way a plug looks, the overall shadow it casts is important. Even more important, is the kind of vibration it puts out. This is what stripers and most other types of predatory fish key in on – at least at first – when pursuing prey. Gliders, especially those without rattles or very subtle rattles, put out a very unique, subtle vibration signature that I believe is different enough from darters, needles, swimmers and soft-plastics that it makes them an important component of my arsenal.
While stickbaits may look similar in profile to other plugs you might use, their action is unique for their shape. That is, most plugs with the same size and profile have some kind of lip that makes them wiggle. These, instead, track in a wide back and forth S-swim that is more reminiscent of a darter than anything that looks similar on the shelf. They also cast like a rocket, which makes them a powerful tool if you are casting into a wind, or the fish are on the other side of the bar. One suggestion I have for building confidence in stickbait glides is to view them as a different take on a slow-or-moderate-sink needlefish. In many of the same places I would throw a 24/7 lures seven or nine-inch needle, I can also effectively fish a Madd Mantis Quake.
The other, possibly even more important, aspect to gliders and stickbaits is their versatility. With very few exceptions, they almost all sink, and none have lips. Most will sink at a rate that is somewhere between slow and moderately-fast (with the exception of some blue-water stickbaits and the super-heavy Sebile Stick Shadds). This sink rate means you can put the bait exactly where you want it in the water column, and no lip means it can handle a much broader spectrum of current and retrieve speeds. With one of my favorite gliders, I have no problem fishing from the surface to 10 feet down, at a variety of speeds, in anything up to a moderate sweep. I can go fast and slow with it, make it splash, let it sink level, dart it to the surface, and a whole host of other actions.
I think I can really drive home the “versatility argument” with the fact that with three gliders of different builds and sink rates, I can fish from the surface to 30-feet deep, in everything from completely slack water to inlet-strength current, flat wind to full-gales, or glassy smooth water to pounding waves. That covers virtually every surf and inshore situation you might encounter, with just three plugs. The only other plug that can do this is needlefish, and maybe bucktails or lead-head soft plastics, which aren’t really plugs. But, none of those three have the profile and presence of a glider. But even if we accept that both needles and bucktails are slightly better than gliders, to suggest gliders are even in the same elite company should leave enough of an impact on you to prove my point.
One of the final critical aspects of gliders is how well they cast, when put in the context of their size. From small to jumbo, they all cast somewhere between very good and outrageously amazing. They tend to be heavy—even if they sink slowly—and their blade-like shape helps too. If you need to get the biggest profile out as far as possible, there is nothing equal to the glider. While you might argue a giant pencil is even better, I’d fire back that a pencil is a niche lure that does one or two things, while a glider is a blank canvas, ready to be delivered exactly where and how you want it, no matter the conditions.
This just scratches the surface as to the utility and versatility of gliders, and I hope it’s gotten you thinking about all the places you might put them to use. I encourage you to add them to your rotation this fall, and I think you’ll find they’ll fill holes in your arsenal you didn’t even know you had. They’ve changed my fishing forever, and you’ll never catch me out in the surf without at least one in my bag.