There are times when even a plug designed to “swim” will catch better when it is retrieved so slowly that there is little or no action to it.
Fast might be better for some things in life, but that’s not always the case when it comes to fishing, especially surf fishing. And, slowing down your retrieve is not always that easy these days given the high speed ratios of some of the reels on the market. There are many situations where a slow, and sometimes v-e-r-y slow retrieve will be the difference between you catching fish while other casters wonder just what the heck you are doing as they go fishless.
Let’s start with fishing metals like diamond jigs, Hopkins, Charlie Graves and similar type lures referred to as tins or metals. Unless there are fish blitzing on the surface, and even when that is the case, a slowly worked metal dragged along a sandy bottom will outfish a lure worked quickly near the surface far more times than not, especially when sand eels are the dominant forage. Stripers and even bluefish will feed by rooting sand eels out of the bottom and that lure being dragged and kicking up puffs of sand can look pretty tempting.
One of many, many examples over the years occurred just this past fall. I was fishing a popular ocean beach with a long line of casters picking away at short stripers feeding on sand eels. Most of the fish were falling to diamond jigs with tubes, and most of the casters were retrieving at what I would call a moderately fast rate, especially those with fast retrieve ratio reels. Within a half hour of each other I hooked two big bass by crawling my diamond jig along the bottom while other anglers continued to connect with nothing but shorts.
Regardless of the type of forage, very often, you can catch smaller school size fish with a faster retrieve but bigger bass and bluefish are often feeding below the smaller fish picking up the pieces. Big bass are lazier by nature and less likely to chase down a fast moving metal. When weakfish are in the surf, especially when mixed with bass or blues, you will almost always do much better with the yellowfins by dragging a tin along the bottom.
Working a top water plug is no different during those times when bass or blues are feeding on the surface. A slow, rhythmic retrieve with intermittent pops will far more often outfish a popper that is reeled quickly along the surface, especially when bass are the target, and the bigger the bass, the truer that becomes. I’ve also seen numerous times when a slowly worked popper outfished a moderate or fast retrieve on bluefish. Yes, bluefish can be just as fussy as bass at times. Pencil poppers are no different. The most effective retrieve is to create that tantalizing side to side slapping action of the plug, while being able to crawl it along the surface at a snail’s pace.
Success with swimming plugs, whether they be minnow types like Bombers and SP Minnows, or conventional darters, Mag Darters, or bottle plugs, is often dictated by the speed of your retrieve. While common sense would dictate that you should always retrieve these plugs at a fast enough rate to make them “swim,” that is not always the case. When “swinging these lures through a rip or strong current, there are parts of your retrieve when you can stop reeling altogether and the resistance created by the current will create the swimming action. There are also times when even a plug designed to “swim” will catch better when it is retrieved so slowly that there is little or no action to it. One of the surest ways to draw strikes from fussy stripers feeding in quiet waters was to work Hellcats at such a slow pace that the plug barely moved. This was extremely effective on the beaches of Long Island Sound, Nantucket, Montauk’s north side and the backside of Fire Island’s barrier beach. The Hellcat is out of production but you can still pick them up at flea markets and garage sales. I still have a good supply but these days, narrow bodied swimmers like the SP minnow should be equally effective.
The needlefish is another plug that can benefit from an extremely slow retrieve at times. Many times on Block Island, a very slow retrieve was the ticket to success on a particular night, even though more times than not a moderately slow and steady retrieve was the answer.
The important thing to remember is that there are no absolutes in fishing. Think out of the box, experiment with your retrieves and give slow a chance. You won’t be disappointed.