Regional Rundown: What’s In Your Plug Bag? - The Fisherman

Regional Rundown: What’s In Your Plug Bag?

dave
New Jersey surfcaster Dave Adamchick caught and released this 38-inch striper on the beach at Sandy Hook on October 11, as the fall striper run appears to be in full swing.

It ain’t over til it’s over,” is what the great Yogi Berra once said.  No, not the bear, the baseball legend; and truth be told, this year marks the 50th anniversary of when he uttered those now infamous words to describe the 1973 pennant race!

As you sit down to read this month’s edition of The Fisherman, the 2023 World Series is just getting underway, though the fall run of striped bass should still be going strong.  With three regional editions of the magazine covering a wide expanse of Striper Coast territory, each of our regional editors sat down together to discuss the concept of the November plug bag, with contributions from a few local experts along the way.

New England

By Dave Anderson

It’s almost unfair for me to have to cover such a gigantic region when compared to Long Island or New Jersey/Delaware, because the striped bass run is going to be vastly different in November when you compare Newburyport, MA; Newport, RI; and Norwalk, CT. While the Plum Island surf will be seeing its final push of stripers around the middle of this month, South County, RI might be experiencing herring blitzes with potential for fish eclipsing the 40-pound mark! Additionally, there’s a huge area of uncertainty on our November map, that basically begins around Plymouth, MA and encompasses all of Cape Cod and the Islands, Buzzards Bay and all the way out to Point Judith, RI where literally anything is possible. Anywhere north of that range is likely to be experiencing the last pushes of stripers for the year.

In light of these facts, a November plug bag packed for any location along the New England coast should be versatile; meaning there should be options for matching up with a wide range of bait sizes and sizes of striped bass. And it’s inevitable that we’re going to see prolonged runs of schoolie stripers during the eleventh month, so we’d like to urge all of you who partake in fishing for these pint-sized bass to use single hook lures and crush your barbs—those fish are the trophies of the future.

I don’t travel to the North Shore in November so I called in my friend and hardcore Plum Island surfcaster Jim Jewkes to fill in the blanks of the November surf bag for his region. He said that most of the fish they catch after Halloween are on the smaller side, but you can’t rule out a few bigger fish. He said for daytime fishing he relies heavily on the BigFish Bait Co. 1-ounce Pencil Popper in yellow and the Super Strike 2-3/8-ounce Popper in bone. At night he likes a simple white 9-inch Slug-Go rigged on an unweighted swimbait hook or a ‘smoky joe’ Red Fin. He said a 1-ounce gold Kastmaster has proven to be deadly on late stripers, he thought maybe it was a good match for the late-running silversides they get in the late season.

november
November in New England is not all schoolies and stragglers, cows like this 46-pounder caught and released by David Hazard are landed every year by dedicated casters.

Most of my surfcasting takes place in a huge swath of water where some years see good pushes of bigger fish while others fizzle with frigid temps and last gasp schoolies. Some areas, like the Cape Cod Bay shoreline and the Canal, seem to shine brightest before or after a storm, others, like Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeths, tend to benefit more from extended periods of stable weather. For nighttime surfcasting I lean very heavily on needlefish, for two simple reasons: that they mimic many of the baitfish we see at this late juncture and that they are made in a wide array of sizes. From sand eels to sea herring and mackerel, needles of various sizes do a fine job fooling the stripers eating them.

Metal lips are another must have, I carry them ranging from 5 to 8 inches, and most of the ones I use in November will run on or just below the surface. This again, is in response to the types of baitfish present at this time, the scup and blackfish have all gone to deeper water so I feel that I’m mostly trying imitate pelagic, schooling baitfish. I will rarely fish without a Red Fin or Hydro Minnow in my bag because of their slender profile and versatility across many Bucktails and soft plastics on light leadheads are my last must-have lures. For soft plastics I’ll use anything from Albie Snax to an 8-inch NLBN paddletail, depending on the bait and sizes of the fish.

For the Canal rat with a “never say die” attitude, your November bag should exemplify the phrase “shrunken redundancy”. There’s no reason to overthink things from the blitzes of summer, carry the same Magic Swimmers, Sticks Shadds, Pencils, Savage Sand Eels, Boss Macks, Poppers and jigs—and then pull all the same plugs and plastics in the next size down. This will ensure that you’re prepared for anything, from acres of schoolies and slots sipping on butterfish to a stampede of late giants smashing sea herring.

plugs
Southern New Jersey surfcaster George Bucci recommends a number of tried-and-true hard and soft plastic baits for the fall run, but stresses that casters not forget the teasers.

The south shore of Rhode Island is definitely the fall run capitol of New England and it sees a lot of action in November. With the three breachways, plus a bonus outflow, miles of sandy beaches, numerous rocky points and boulder fields and being framed by two historic hotspots; Deep Hole and Nappatree Point. For daytime the choices are simple—a 6- or 7-inch Pencil, a spook of the same size, a Danny, a mid-sized tin and a Bucktail. After dark it will depend on whether you’re fishing the beaches or the breachways. At the breachways pack Darters, Bottle Darters, Bottle Plugs, Stick Shadds, plastic swimmers and jigs. On the beaches, I really like needles between 6 and 8.5 inches, the Beachmaster Wadd is a favorite. I carry two metal lips, a 6-inch Danny and a something mid-sized and subsurface like an Atom Junior or a CCW Jetty Swimmer. A Super Strike Bottle Plug is a must have for bigger surf or in places where the breachway currents are close. Finally, a skinny-tail soft plastic like the Super Snax or the Bomba Shad on a light to medium weight jighead rounds out the arsenal.

For Connecticut there are really two plug bag configurations that need to be considered, the Long Island Sound bag and the river bag which would be used in places where striped bass over winter. I tapped in my friend and Fisherman field editor John Hanecak for the Long Island Sound bag. Much of his fishing is centered around late schools of bunker and the large fish that are often nearby. He said five baits he will not leave without are the Super Strike Darter, a surface Donny (or similar large metal lip) a shallow-diving Donny, a 9-inch level-sink needlefish and a JoeBaggs BI Eel rigged on a half- or 3/4-ounce jighead.

For rivers, like the Housatonic or Thames, where striped bass winter over, much of the fishing is done with soft plastics on leadheads. Many anglers wait until December to fish these spots, but some of the best fishing happens in November. You’ll want to have a variety of sizes of slender soft plastics ranging from 5 to 9 inches. Albie Snax on light heads are often a crucial piece of the puzzle, on the larger end 9-inch Bomba Shads or Mega Shads catch a ton of fish. Head weights range from 3/8-ounce up to 2 ounces, but most anglers will tell you that a lighter head will get a lot more bites. For plugs, you’ll want to have plastic swimmers like the 6-inch SP Minnow and the 7-inch Hydro Minnow. Another deadly plug for swinging in these river currents is the Yo-Zuri Mag Darter – all sizes will catch fish.

In truth, an argument could be made for all of the plugs and plastics mentioned in the New England portion of this story to be included for use in all of our ‘micro regions’. The best advice in the late-fall is to be flexible and to listen to what the fish are telling with regard to what they’re eating and what they’re reacting to.

SHELL-MASTER-BOX
When running the beaches in his 4WD, surfcaster Shell Caris is able to bring along just about everything (short of the kitchen sink) to keep his guided charters armed and ready for any situation.

Long Island/Metro NY

By Matt Broderick

Some casters might consider the period from the latter portion of October into the month of November prime time for surfcasting around the island/ Metro area. I, for one, have had some banner nights in the suds during the period of the year for stripers on the sand and will be out both day and night searching for that banner bite again this year. Having the right set of plugs for both daytime and nighttime scenarios will up your odds at success, and at least sticking to a few general rules of thumb will have you covered on all bases in the event that a certain surf fishing situation makes an appearance.

I’ve seen it in years past — a later October/November sand eel run that fueled striper and bluefish bites along both the North and South Shores of the island. Some sort of wind usually pushes this slim bait in along the shoreline, and the fish are right behind them, sometimes setting up for weeks at a time feeding. The number one rule upon discovery of these thin sand lances in the surf zone would automatically be to replace those wider profile lures in my bag with those that have thinner ones. I’ve said it before, but you absolutely cannot go wrong with the true and tested Ava Jig in the 007 to 447 sizes, depending on the wind and wave heights.

shell-spook
When bunker is on the striper’s menu this fall, the walk-the-dog style of a spook (top) is a necessity as is (bottom) the enticing wobble of a metal lip swimmer.

Of course, the rougher the conditions, the heavier the jig should be used, and the calmer would call for the lighter 007 jig. Green and white tubes are standards, but I’ve had and seen wild success with that fluorescent red tube. I think the obvious difference in the florescent red stands out to fish and encourages them to strike the offering over the green or white that may blend in at times. Another favorite of mine for when the sand eels show is the Sand Eel model of the Charlie Graves tins. This tin casts a mile and is molded to look exactly like a sand eel that you would find in the surf. It’s a timeless classic that still slays fish to this day.

Other day bag choices for me include an array of different topwater choices. I’ve stumbled upon some decent bunker runs during this time of the year, and tossing big surface plugs during the day normally does the trick, raising stripers to commit. In my opinion, one of the lures that does the trick for me time and time again is a large wooden pencil popper in either yellow or white. I’ve been carrying models from Beachmaster along with Gibbs. Don’t rule out plastic pencils as well. The Panic Pencil from Savage yielded some great results from me, and if you are looking for a good bang for your buck on a plug that still catches fish, try the Tsunami Talking Popper. One neat thing about the Tsunami is that you could work the lure as either a pencil or a pencil popper, depending on what the fish what that particular day.

Those cold fall nights see a totally different lineup than the days. When the sun goes down, and I know there has been a sand eel bite during the day, lead jigs get swapped out for different offerings, still following suit with the thin profile.

sandy-hook
Jersey Shore surfcaster Shell Caris (center) launches a metal lip swimmer into the Sandy Hook surf last fall as a pair of fellow anglers to his left and right prepare to dehook and release their catches.

It took a while for me to gain some confidence in this one, probably due to the lack of the plug giving anything back when I retrieved it, but the Super Strike Needlefish, with some dedication on my part, showed its worth to me over and over. The plug is very simple to fish. It’s pretty much just a straight retrieve along the bottom with a little twitch once in a while from the user. Others like to incorporate other kinds of action into the lure, but I found this to work best for me. Typically, the “red eye” models get the nod from me. I’ve also stuck to green and white color patterns, similar to the daytime jigs, but on the darkest of nights, a black or purple needle can be lights out.

Just like those daytime bunker runs that I’ve encountered recently, the night bite calls for something a little different than your typical sand eel run. Two plugs that come to mind for me when fishing a bunker-fueled night bite for stripers in the colder months of the run are a Super Strike Zig-Zag (Darter) and the larger sized (6-1/2 inch, 2-ounce) Mag Darter from Yo-Zuri. Now, you might call me simple, but once again, yellows or white/bone colors are always my first choices. The darker nights do see play once again from the blurple color.

One other plug that slips its way into my night bag for this type of scenario is the Northbar Bottle Darter in both small and large sizes. This lure combines the back-and-forth motion of a darter with the wiggle of a bottle plug for some serious action and fish-catching results.

tins-li
If sand eels make a showing along the South Shore of Long Island the fishing could be rapid and having a few different variations of a slim-profile tin in your day bag would be beneficial.

New Jersey, Delaware Bay

By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

It was truly a “November to Remember” at the Jersey Shore in 2022, as striped bass set up along Monmouth County beaches for weeks on end, chowing down on bunker pouring out of the Raritan Bay.  As the days ticked by, this moveable feast of sorts traveled south, filtering out along much of the entire coast north of Barnegat Inlet.  By the close of the year, stripers moved down along the South Jersey coast, though sadly the epic scenes of bass exploding on bunker didn’t exactly pan out for Atlantic and Cape May County surfcasters.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t fish to catch in this stretch; George Bucci from the Cape Atlantic Striper Club will travel the entire length of coast where bass are on bait, but often finds success in South Jersey, primarily under cover of dark.  “Depending on day or night, I’ll go dark or bright colors,” Bucci said, adding “I’ve had many nights when a simple teaser about 12 to 18 inches in front of the lure, made all the difference, and got the majority of the fish.”   When fishing the night hours, a good waterproof headlamp or neck light is important, and Bucci advises preparedness.  “It’s a good idea to have some pre-tied leaders at the ready, in case blueish are in the mix, as well as a lipgripper, and pliers,” he said.

Of course, fall brings many variables to the surfcaster, with a wide variety of gear options.  “For peanut bunker, and other wider bodied baits, the Mag Darter, and the Yo-Zuri Twitch Bait will get the bites,” said Bucci, explaining how lure manufacturers have been improving every season with weight transfer systems to allow greater casting distance and easy-to-use swim baits.  That said, weather can play a part in what he throws.  “Soft plastics and bucktails should always find a spot tucked into the bag, for rough conditions, when the lures struggle to swim,” he said, adding “They can be worked below that rough water, and you can dictate the depth and speed, by increasing or decreasing the amount of weight.”

SWIMMERS_LI
Those chilly fall nights in the later fall call could call for some plugs with a little more size to them — something that might imitate a large bunker that stripers could be feeding on.

Wherever Jersey Shore stripers can be found this month, from Island Beach on up into the northern coastal stretch at Sandy Hook, you’re sure to find Shell Caris; come November, expect this noted Jersey Shore surfcaster either loaded for bear or just the bare necessities, as location dictates.  “If I’m not in my truck and I’m just walking the beach, I’m going to have an assortment,” Caris described.  He alludes to the fact that most municipal beaches from Brick Township in Ocean County south all the way to Cape May provide buggy permits for driving local beaches, whereas from Mantoloking north into Monmouth County surfcasters have to hoof it.

“I’m going to want pencil poppers, regular poppers like the Polaris style popper, metal lip swimmers, soft baits and shads in different sizes and generally white, regular bucktails with twister tail or pork rind if need be, and walk the dog style lures have been super important now like the Doc, the Hogy,” Caris recommended.  In terms of spook-style brands, he said “there’s are a lot of them out there that are a must to have in your bag.”

Metals of course also are an important addition to the late fall arsenal at the Jersey Shore, wide-bodied styles like Hopkins or Krocs are good for distance casting and when imitating bunker or herring, but thinner varieties like Exo or epoxy jigs and retooled (read: swap out hooks) Deadly Dicks or Slimwave metals as well.  “The key is I’m always interested in knowing what the bait is,” Caris said, explaining “if there are sand eels are around I’m not going to be throwing a metal lip swimmer, but chances are I’m going to have needlefish, metals, possibly ava jigs.”

POPPERS_LI
We all love explosive takes from bluefish and stripers crashing on topwater but when both are feeding on lager baits during a day bite, the popper could also be the best selection as well.

Caris said one of the key offerings he’s been throwing in recent years has been the Madd Mantis Quake.  “It’s a must for your plug bag in the fall, that will imitate a lot of different sized baits, even when peanuts are around or even adult bunker, and it has that slender profile to a degree and casts super,” he said.

All of this heavy duty plugging that goes on throughout the year withstanding, bait-slingers who prefer to slide their 10- or 11-footer into the sand spike to await the bite will typically turn to fresh bunker chunks as anyone would throughout the range; but fresh-shucked clam tied onto an Eagle Claw baitholder circle or Jigging World’s Zblade line circle with baitholder will certainly account for a large number of November stripers along the entire Jersey Shore stretch.

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