“Windy fall nights call for a Bottle Plug.”
I saved this column for the end of the year because so many of the legends of the Bottle Plug happened during the fall. The Bottle Plug was invented by Stan Gibbs back in the 1960s or 70s. I have my own theories about how it the first bottle was born and you can read about that here. But what most likely began as a mistake, became a must-have plug for windy, rough surf or fishing crosswinds in heavy current.
The lip of the plug digs like nothing else we have in the surfcasting arsenal and that big face creates a ton of resistance. Combine this with the ‘Polaris’ or ‘little-neck’ shape that shifts the center of gravity further to the rear of the plug which automatically translates to longer casts and you have the makings of something that fills quite a few needs. These facts alone are reason enough for you to always have them available.
King Of The Wind
Most casters will tell you that nighttime is the best time to fish the surf and they would be correct. Some of the most historically effective nighttime plugs are swimmers, Red Fins, Rebels, Hydro Minnows, etc. Even with today’s innovations or loading, these plugs reveal some serious limitations when the wind begins to howl. And it’s not just that their waifish frames get blown around in the breeze, the main issue is that they can’t create enough resistance for the angler to feel connected during the retrieve. At best this means the angler feels blind and is not in tune with his plug; at worst it’s dragging out of the water as the wind bows-out the line and most of the cast is wasted while the angler fights to come tight. The bottle plug solves this because it rockets through the wind and creates a ton of resistance while it swims; you get longer casts and your line stays tight during the retrieve, even in a honking crosswind.
Hero In The Heave
We often run into similar problems when fishing in a strong swell, even when there is no wind to exacerbate the situation. Groundswell coming in from a hurricane 400 miles offshore doesn’t need any help from local wind to make things tough for the surfcaster. A strong heave will manhandle many of the plugs we all love and cherish, tossing them back to shore like old garbage. Many anglers will unsheathe a bucktail in this situation and no one will refute their effectiveness here. But sometimes you need a longer cast. Sometimes when the water is trashed, you might need that thump to help the fish key in on your offering, the bottle plug does both of these things. And it also digs below the waves, swimming deep enough to track in a fairly straight line through the surf.
Sultan Of Swing
A situation where the bottle plug doesn’t always get called in off the bench is in a hard sweeping current. Don’t overlook the effectiveness of this simple plug in this very common situation. A well-made bottle will dig, dive and hold in hard current. And because it gives so much feedback to the angler, it’s easy to show several modes to the fish simply by changing your crank speed, zipping it forward or, tempering it down to just a subtle drumming by letting it swing on a tight line. You can even follow it with your rod tip to reduce the action even further. The many moods of the bottle plug in current make it an extremely versatile tool that is too-often overlooked.
There are many bottles on the market today and not all of them are great. The Super Strike is an absolute ‘must-have’ plug that catches a ton of fish in all of the situations highlighted above. My personal favorite wooden bottles are made by Glen from GooGoo Man Lures. The Northbar wooden Bottle Plug is a monster that anglers should have on-hand for when big bait meets heavy surf or windy conditions and their Bottle Darter deserves an honorable mention here as well, because it loves the same situations and offers a different look and swim. Basically, if you’re serious about the surf, you need to have bottle plugs in your arsenal and that’s all there is to it.