Spring Stripers: What's In Your Plug Bag? - The Fisherman

Spring Stripers: What’s In Your Plug Bag?

When waist deep into the spring action at night, the concept of “less is more” is especially important when selection the weapons for the plug bag.

When hunting down April stripers from shore, sometimes lure selection is all academic!  

Last spring I made the funny observation during my senior year at Monmouth University that I was not only studying for my degree but I was also studying what type of lures work best for certain situations and locations. You can say I was minoring in the “science of lures” instead of marketing.

During the spring semester, I would have long gaps in between my classes in Long Branch, so I would go fishing. During these sessions, I would throw a range of lures that I carried and would see which ones produced results.  Then I’d have to go back to class, sometimes leaving a good bite which is painful, and then returning during the night to fish under the cover of darkness.

Now with my degree achieved with my minor in marketing, I can sell you on some lures to have in your plug bag for this spring run season!   I’m considering this as a classic session back at my part time job at Grumpys Tackle where I would have to help a customer out with this same predicament.

Lure selection and collection can be overwhelming, especially when you have some money burning a hole in your pocket. From custom builder shows, to limited tackle shop drops, an angler – not to be confused with a hoarder – can acquire quite the collection of lures in a short period of time.  To lighten the load a bit, in your active bag as well as the length of this article, the options you’ll find here are less inexpensive, easier to get, and more deserved of being versus sitting on your mantelpiece.

First and foremost, I was presented with a challenge with this article and that’s the subject of “spot burning.” Of course I can tell you where and when to go, drop a pin on a map, and send a fleet of surfcasters on their merry way, but I am not that gal. I encourage anglers to explore bodies of water themselves and put in the work to find their own fish. With that being said, I will spill the beans but not all of the said beans.

A bucktail (hanging from the author’s bag) should always be in the spring quiver, as well (clockwise from top) as a swim shad like the NLBN, a Yo-Zuri Twitch Bait, the Current Sniper Jerkbait by Shimano, and also the Tsunami Twitchbait.

Less Is More

Following frequent trips to a few of my nondescript spring run fishing spots, I was able to limit the amount of lures to only a handful, mind the hooks. This is beneficial for the modern surfcaster as he or she doesn’t have to over-stuff their plug bag creating a mess worse than a multiple rod tangle on a party boat, chicken rig style. Traveling light creates comfort for the angler who plans to be out fishing for many hours or even the whole night. A light yet efficiently packed plug bag is part of the ticket to lunker land when striped bass fishing, no back pain, no fatigue. Another plus is the price of these lures, they are reasonably priced and affordable, so breaking one off on a piling won’t hurt as bad.

Originally called the Coltsniper, the Current Sniper Jerkbait by Shimano is the ole faithful for spring run fishing. This minnow style lure comes in a range of lengths from 5 to 6-1/2 inches and a long list of colors to choose from. I like the classic wonder bread and bone colors for during the day and any darker colors for fishing at night. This lure is very much so “slept on” up here in the Northeast but it is very popular down south with snook and other Floridian species.  But here in New Jersey it works great for the targeted spring run species of striped bass.  The “CSJ” has a weight system in which it pushes the lure forward giving it a very long casting range, a novelty convenience when fishing those hard to reach stripers in certain spots, especially when wading. This slow sink design allows anglers to work the CSJ in a range of depths enabling them to find stripers within the water column.

One thing I like to do when modifying certain lures is swapping out treble hooks. With some lures I will simply crush the barbs, but on the CSJ’s I will swap out that tail hook with a 4/0 single hook.

Of course when you have lures, comes hooks and with those hooks comes new customization options for your spring run lures. These customizations that I do for all my lures include cutting the barbs and switching out trebles for single hooks. One of the top questions we’d get at Grumpys during the winter months is “what size single hook would work for this lure?”  First, I always recommend folks bring their lure with you to the shop so you have a visual to work with. When switching to a single hook, you want to make sure the sizing is correct so it doesn’t affect the weight distribution of the lure itself, this could cause it not to swim properly. The hooks I like to use to replace my trebles are the Single Replacement Hooks XXX Strong by Owner Hooks (see chart), but you also have great single replacement options from manufacturers like BKK Hooks and Mustad’s Ruthless inline Alpha Point hook.

Go to The Fisherman’s YouTube page and check out our video fishing forecast for the New Jersey, Delaware Bay edition on November 16, 2023 (the 7:40 mark) to learn more about swapping out trebles with Mustad Alpha Point inlines.


A new lure to the market that should be coming out just in time to fish this spring is the Tsunami Twitchbait. It’s already making waves at all of the fishing shows and expos and it’s easy to see why as it’s a perfect bunker imitator. This lure can be worked by just simply reeling it in; the lure really does all the work, and you can add your own little style to the retrieve like a twitch in the rod to make it look like an injured baitfish twitching after being tail smacked by a 50-pounder. The 2-1/2-ounce model is perfect for imitating adult sized bunker, can cast far, slow sinker which works well in the water column. This bigger model is through-wired and rigged with the Tsunami Salt X treble hooks making it a sturdy lure that can handle those bigger fish. Good news is this lure is available this spring at your local tackle shop, just in time for what should be another amazing April into May run of striped bass.

If you read my article in the September, 2023 edition of The Fisherman where I discussed how bucktails make an excellent lure for the fall run, well, guess what? You can use them in the spring too!  I like using a bucktail in the spring at certain spots in which I’d need to get to the bottom where the bass are hugging the rocks in the strong underwater current.  My bucktail of choice is usually 2 to 3 ounces for where I’m fishing and when I want to get on the bottom fast. Colors of course reflecting back on the September article would be the classic red head with white hair style, my personal Jen X style made by S&S Jigs. I like adding long feathers to the bucktail, white in color, to give it extra flow to tempt the stripers lurking below. I like to pair my bucktails with a nice alluring trailer like the Q8 Superbait white curly swim, another popular southern import now gaining momentum here in the Northeast.  Just remember that working the bottom has its drawbacks; since getting snagged is practically inevitable, I’ll usually carry four or five bucktails depending on if I plan on hitting the rocky bottom spot that night or not.

Coming all the way from Nantucket is the Island X Lures’ Hellfire. You can really feel the heat from this pencil as it is one of my favorite lures for topwater bites. Already equipped with single hooks, Island X Lures saves you the step of swapping out your treble hooks. Island X is a proficient lure company that is proactively aware of the difficulties being faced within the striped bass population and make their lures with striper conservation high in mind.  The Hellfire comes in a range of sizes from 4.75 to 8 inches with weights ranging from a little over an ounce to 2 ounces. The Hellfire can cut through the wind and reach those distant stripers swirling on the surface under the lights. Hellfires are weighted, providing them with that striking bullet-like casting distance and can be fished from a slow to fast retrieve based off of the topwater splash action you want to have when working it back in. This weight system also gives them a rattle that stripers find to be irresistible. Sometimes when the wind is not on your side this lure defies it all and makes rough conditions that can easily discourage an angler get on a bite in solitude and prove the weathermen wrong.

“Whadya Catching ‘Em On?”

There have been many spring run nights where I see fellow anglers absolutely hammering fish and I rub my eyes and try to see what they are throwing. All anglers are guilty of this and at least you’re using your eyeballs instead of crossing their line and reeling in the lure to see what they’re throwing; be advised not to try this or else you’ll get a sinker to the cranium.

Here are some other “red hot lures” that are also commonly thrown during the spring run.

Yo-Zuri Twitchbaits and Hydro Minnows: The Twitchbait is a natural bunker imitator that not only looks the roll but acts it too. With a steady retrieve, it comes in on a wobble and give it a twitch, it flutters like a bunker that just got tail-smacked by a 50-pounder. The Hydro Minnow can defy windy nights with its long cast design and weight transfer system. Both of these lures are built to last and have been taking down big stripers every spring season.

NLBN 5 Inch Paddle Tails: A cult classic that has taken the Northeast by storm, this swimbait dominates the market. What makes NLBN (No Live Bait Needed) so great is the screw lock feature on their jigheads. “No Super Glue Needed” cast after cast your bait will stay tightly secured as hefty lunkers hammer down on the NLBN swimbait.

Custom Plugs: From Scabelly gliders to Couch’s Custom Works classic Danny, a plug made by your favorite custom builder can always do the trick during the Spring Run. Custom darters, metal lip swimmers, pencil poppers, and gliders are always a must have in your surf bag for the season and catching stripers on a custom made plug is rewarding for the builder for gifting the angler a plug that they’ll actually fish, instead of hanging it up on the mantelpiece.

These are some of lures that never seem to fail me, and whether you choose a different make I just hope the model itself doesn’t let you down this spring. Of course when you catch fish on any particular lure, share it with the builders because they all love seeing their lures put to good work; essentially, it’s a reward on both ends.

I always enjoy sharing intel (without oversharing of course) to help benefit the fellow surfcaster as they prepare for the upcoming season, just as others have shared with me.  Just keep in mind this spring, whether you’re holding a “personal best” or a schoolie, the future is in your hands!



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