Surf: Plugging Perfection - The Fisherman

Surf: Plugging Perfection

Making the right plug choices will lead you to bigger fish and better results overall.

Reading the signs that reveal the perfect recipe for big bass.

There is no shortage of folklore among surfcasters regarding strategies that yield big fish. We have all heard the adage “big plugs equal big fish.” While this can be true, I’ve endured countless nights when heaving big lures into the whitewash yielded little more than a sore rotator cuff. But why? It seems obvious that no “rules” in fishing are absolute. On any given outing there are dozens, if not hundreds, of macro and micro “ingredients” that are at play. Despite what’s boiling in the surf around us, one constant that we always control is plug selection. On the backside of the June New Moon, I had the rare occasion of being gifted a combination of ingredients that helped form the recipe for a bass over 40 pounds.

If large metal lips have the propensity to elicit strikes from the largest fish in a school, then why not cast them in every scenario? While I always have a metal lip or two in my bag, they’re almost never my first choice.  Instead, I typically rely on my “fish finders” which are generally mid-sized as to imitate a wider range of baitfish that may be present. My favorite offerings, particularly needles and darters, cast extremely well and calm my anxiety that fish may be just out of reach. I’ve never doubted that large metal lips are in fact “big fish plugs,” but their “flavor” alone does not complete the recipe without the support of some key ingredients. It’s up to us, however, to recognize when the ingredients are present and to use them wisely.

I arrived at the spot which offered shallow water being swept with heavy current thanks to a large adjacent outflow. While wading out in knee deep water I started seeing large swirling shapes in the water as I advanced. My eyesight in the darkness is not what it once was, but all at once I said out loud “those are fish, huge fish.” I couldn’t believe they were stacked in less than 24 inches of water. First ingredient revealed; big fish are present. Rather than going to my desired location I started casting, first with a needle. Two casts and nothing. Then it occurred to me, the fish are at my feet, literally, so why am I casting 50 yards away? I reached in my bag and pulled out a Franktown Donny, a beefy plug, almost 8 inches in length with substantial girth. On my first cast, I barely cranked the slack out of my line and was slammed, a solid bass in the 36-inch range. A second cast resulted in the same. A few casts later I changed the angle of my approach so that I was retrieving straight against the outgoing current versus my original casts that had the current swinging my plug. Swing and cross current are often what we want in the surf, but something about the swing with the metal lip just didn’t feel right. First cast after adjusting my approach yielded a 25-pounder; getting bigger!

That fish coughed up another important clue, an adult menhaden. This was another ingredient that fell into place (by luck) and explained the success of the Donny, as the profile is similar to an adult bunker. Despite this fact, I made one more rotation through my plug bag as the tide was running out and I couldn’t resist trying a few different plugs to see if I could pull out a larger fish. I moved closer to the edge of the actual outflow and tried swinging a bottle plug in the current, but this resulted in two smaller fish snagged in the side. Back to the metal lip. It was close to slack, and I knew with the current dying I would have a short window where I could cast the Donny in any direction without it rolling or swinging unnaturally.

I made a long cast and halfway back a fish exploded on the surface but missed the plug! I kept retrieving without pausing and she came back, eating the plug with a solid thump. The fish then splashed wildly for a full 8 to 10 seconds, feverishly annoyed at the piece of wood stuck to the side of her face. I didn’t know how big the fish was until the splashing stopped and the fish made the most cheek-clenching run I had ever experienced. There was no turning this fish until she was ready, so I maintained tension, gaining one crank at a time, eventually getting her to slide in on her side.

It wasn’t until she was at my feet that I realized I had just caught the largest bass I’d ever seen hit the sand. After a quick weight and a few photos, she kicked off strong. I went home thankful that on this night, the big metal-lip folklore rang true, if only in the context of a series of conditions that came together by chance. My only contribution was following the recipe, and tossing in the secret ingredient before the simmering came to a halt.


Surf: Shorebound Fluke Finder

An A to Z rundown for catching fluke from the beach.


Surf: Hooks & Splits & When & Why

The when and why behind cut hooks and split rings.


Surf: Are Eels A Non-Purist Method?

Over the last decade, eel-slingers have been stigmatized, do they deserve it?