Three essential backup lures for the fall surf
In the fall, you need to be prepared for anything. While I’m a big believer in studying patterns, and staying focused on tidal, and wind-driven bites along migration routes, sometimes you just have to be ready for random bites that pop up. Add to this the fact that weather is constantly changing, often dramatically, and the weatherman isn’t always right… therefore it pays to be ready for the unexpected.
Having the right plugs to cover any scenario you might encounter becomes paramount in the fall. That being said, I just can’t carry around every possible niche plug for every possible scenario at every possible moment. Even in my vehicle, there just isn’t space for every color, size, and shape. And most of us also can’t afford to have 1000 plugs loaded up into our buggies, ready for anything.
For this reason, I usually just keep a few must have selections either, always in my plug bag, or in my car all fall, which helps me stay prepared for surprise scenarios. You could call these “emergency” plugs, or “back-ups”, or maybe even “catch-alls.” No matter what you call them, these three lures make me feel that even if I miss something with my normal complement of plugs (which changes almost nightly), I can fall back on these staples in a pinch. They never leave my (and I usually have multiples of each, just in case), and in the fall I almost always carry them on my person, regardless of conditions; dead-calm seas, to raging storms. They don’t represent my favorite plugs, or even my most productive, but instead help fill in the holes that might exist in my curated selection for where I’m fishing.
1. 1-1/4-Ounce White Bucktail
If you’ve been fishing for any amount of time, you probably expected this. The bucktail is one of the most versatile lures of all time, and it can be used in just about any weather, wind, bait, or depth scenario. I like a 1-1/4-ounce because typically if I’m pulling out a bucktail, the weather and seas have gotten rough. I find this weight to be heavy enough to fish in winds exceeding 30 knots or in strong current (like small inlets), it’s also light enough that I can fish it quickly in shallow water and boulder fields if I feel the conditions dictate. I like a bulky bucktail, which will keep it up in the water column, and I can always trim the hair on-the-fly if need to get deeper or cast further. A bucktail imitates just about everything, and with the right trailer can work virtually anywhere and anytime.
2. 1- to 1-1/2-Ounce Pencil Popper
What happens if I’m driving to a night tide and see breaking fish on the way at sunset? What if I stay up all night because the fishing has been great and they stop hitting my nighttime plugs? What if I just need something to punch through the wind to reach feeding fish on an outer bar or reef? Having a pencil popper eliminates the “what if” from all of these scenarios. I particularly make sure to carry one if I fish any late tides that might stretch into morning. A pencil is my choice because they don’t take up much room in my bag (or vehicle), they’re cheap, and they can be used in strong winds to reach fish anywhere they might be; nothing casts further (except possibly a tin). They give me an aggressive topwater option that I know I can fall back on if the fish start showing up on top. My preference is the Gibbs 1-1/2-ounce, the Tsunami 5-inch Talkin’ Popper, or even a very inexpensive Cotton Cordell 1-ounce pencil. Remember, these are backups, and don’t have to be fancy: they just have to be there when I need them.
3. Small Plastic Swimmer
No fall essential list would be complete without some kind of plastic minnow plug. I know that some of you rely on these all the time, but I do not. However, I would be very uncomfortable without a Bomber 16a, Daiwa SP Minnow, or particularly a Yo-Zuri Mag Darter in my bag in the fall. When there’s a lot of smaller bait around, these plugs are absolutely critical, but I’ve caught fish around adult bunker and mullet with plastic swimmers when nothing else would work, too. Genuinely, I can’t tell you how many nights have been saved by the thought “why don’t I just try a swimmer quick.” I have also found that sometimes I can pull larger fish from daytime blitzes by dragging these plugs under the schools of bait, versus using poppers on top. But they work all the time, and for that reason alone I always have one. These days, my preference has been to carry the 5-inch Mag Darter. I find it is the most different from the typical plugs I carry, works great around small bait (including sand eels) day and night, casts fantastic, and works in calm, rough, and fast moving water.
CAPTION: Three essential lures for the surf, and all three have the power to the save the day or night.