The Yo-Zuri Mag Darter is a staple plug that every surfcaster should have in their bag.
Plugs, any surfcaster will tell you that you can never have too many. They are our arsenal, our ammunition, and our ticket to big fish. Some of which may be too pretty to cast and act as more of a fancy wall hanger. Then there are the other plugs, the ones with just specks of the original paint left from the amount of times they have been hammered by fish. We all have our go-to’s, some of which are consistent and some that vary among surfcasters. Though this is true, there is one plug that I feel should be carried in every surf bag on the striper coast: The Yozuri Mag Darter; let’s see if I can convince you.
I remember the first time I saw a Mag Darter. I thought to myself “what is this weird thing?” It is not your typical plastic swimmer and it has the word “darter” in the name but it is certainly not like any darter I’ve ever seen before. After a little research and actually trying one for myself, I found that if you could combine the action of a Yo-Zuri Hydro Minnow with a Super Strike Darter, you’d have a Mag Darter. On a steady retrieve, the mag darter will wobble on its lateral axis just like your standard plastic swimmer, but every several feet or so it will dart out to one side, similar to a typical darter. This creates a random and erratic pattern that perfectly mimics any sort of fleeing baitfish. The Mag Darter comes in three different sizes in a long list of colors.
So, how do you use this thing? Because of its versatility, It would be hard for me to feel like I could give you all the details on that, but I may be able to guide you in the right direction. We have a lot of specialized lures in the surf but there is also a short list of highly versatile options; needlefish, bucktails and soft plastics certainly belong on that list, but if you ask me, so does the Mag Darter. It can be fished fast, slow, twitched, stop-and-go, to-and-fro; there is literally no wrong way to work this thing! Which explains, in part, why I cannot tell you how to fish this plug, I recommend fishing one and developing your own personal style and confidences with it. I will break down some key scenarios for when and where mag darters are effective with success stories that could help you land your next big fish.
Where And When?
A good rule of thumb for the Mag Darter is; “if the water is good for a darter then it will be a good for a Mag Darter”. In short, the conditions where these plugs really excel are both fast-moving currents and sweeping currents. One tip I can offer here is that if they current is especially fast, stick with the largest Mag Darter, the smaller ones can’t really hang in the really fast stuff. It’s also been my experience that a Mag Darter does its best work at night. The one exception to this rule is the smallest Mag Darter, which has been a great choice in the fall when peanuts, or especially, finger mullet have been present in the surf.
Another scenario where the largest Mag Darter really proves its value is when you are fishing around schools of adult bunker and you know there are large stripers around. And, yes, this would be in the dark. I have found that the solid yellow one will outperform nearly every other option – excluding a live bunker – and seems to call in some truly large fish. Over the past four years, this scenario has produced several 30- to 40-pound bass for me, and it’s been the yellow Mag every time.
One more tip, if you’re crushing fish on something like an SP Minnow or other plastic swimmer, make a conscious choice to switch out for a Mag Darter – I know it’s hard to take something off that’s working. I don’t know what it is, maybe the more subdued swimming action, maybe just the lack of a lip, but on multiple occasions, the Mag Darter has accounted for larger fish in these situations.
Big baits catch big fish right? Well, not always…just ask Erica Martin who caught the fish of a lifetime on the medium-sized Mag Darter during the spring of 2021. Erica and her husband, Paulie, headed out for a spring night in the suds somewhere between North Jersey and western Long Island. Being that they were unfamiliar with the area, they had done some daytime scouting and planned to hit a few that stood out.
The first spot they pulled up to was empty, with only one other guy fishing but they noticed loads of adult bunker. The couple dashed for the shoreline and, almost as soon as their plugs hit the water, stripers were eating them! Erica was using the ‘bone’ colored, medium Mag Darter and she said, “[Paulie] and I were on slot and slightly over fish for hours, non-stop!” She described her technique as a ‘slow retrieve with ‘a couple twitches here and there’ – a pattern she uses often (and so do I). She went on to say that most of the strikes were coming on the pause, after a twitch. This is most likely due to a very cool characteristic of the Mag Darter; its extreme buoyancy. When you pause the plug it will quickly rise to the surface which has proven to be downright irresistible to any trailing fish.
After hours of catching fish, Erica said she had landed so many fish that she was actually just about to call it quits, when it happened. Erica launched a cast and started her retrieve, nice and slow, then twitch-twitch-pause, twitch-twitch-pause. When the plug was about 15 yards off the rod tip, she paused, added two more twitches, and BANG! The water exploded and a heavy fish ran off with her darter. After a battle for the ages, Erica landed a beautiful 52-inch striped bass that was bursting with bunker. She never weighed the fish, but it’s easy to see that this fish inaugurated her into the 50-pounder club. Her Mag Darter was immediately retired and now sits in her living room as a constant reminder of a night she’ll never forget.
Just like Erica, my biggest fish caught on Mag Darters have come when adult bunker were present. I had been temporarily relocated to northern Massachusetts for work for a couple of months, the area was completely new to me, but I was sure there were big bass around. After doing some research, (see Greg’s article on scouting new water in the October 2021 issue of the New England edition of The Fisherman). On my first night, pulled up to my hotel and geared up.
The weather was horrible, torrential rains and winds eclipsing 30 mph, so I had to choose my spots wisely. I chose a spot that gave me some shelter from the wind and when I arrived, it looked fishable. As I walked along a tidal estuary, I swore I was hearing fish blowing up bait, even over the howling wind. As I crossed a small bridge, I shined my light into the water and saw a ton of bunker with some of the biggest bass I had ever seen harassing them from below! I froze for a couple seconds with my jaw dropped and then broke into a full run, over the bridge and down the muddy path to the water.
“I’m right on them,” I thought to myself, “it’s about to happen!” I seemed to be in a perfect spot, the bass were well within range, the current was moving just right, and everything was lined up for an absolute rodeo. I started casting with large metal lips that mimicked the size of the bunker, no luck. Then I switched to some standby plastic swimmers, Red Fins and SP’s—nothing! By now the rain and wind were starting to subside and I could clearly see how big the pods of bunker were and how many giant fish were blowing up on them. The bunker flooded the narrow waterway and every couple of seconds I would hear what sounded like someone dropping a bowling ball from the sky, these were big, BIG fish, and I could not get them to bite.
At this point the current was starting to slow down and the blowups had been going on for a solid hour. I’ve thrown just about every plug in my bag at these fish without a strike. I knew this bite couldn’t last forever and would probably die with the tide so I had to make something happen! I had one more plug to try before I resorted to trying to capture some bunker; a big yellow Mag Darter. At the time, I was still building confidence in this plug and I was throwing it more out of desperation than confidence.
I launched it as far as I could down-current, took two cranks and a fish crushed it immediately, a good one too, 25 pounds. Cast again and start a moderately-fast, but steady retrieve and boom I’m slammed again! The rest of the tide played out the same way with big fish slamming my Mag Darter nearly every cast, when they wouldn’t even take a swipe at anything else. Unreal but true, and it happened to me so it could happen to you. My biggest fish on the night weighed in at 33 pounds. This was an all-time night in the surf for me, and it was all thanks to that big yellow mag darter.
The Mag Darter is a proven big fish lure. If you do not have this plug as part of your arsenal yet, I hope this article will encourage you to give it a shot. One thing I do know, is that if you take the time to learn it, and use it in the right situations, you will be well on your way to catching your next cow bass.