My search has been going on for many years to find one fishing lure that would consistently catch year after year. Not only numbers of striped bass but large striped bass. Well, I think I found it. Back in the early 1990s, I spent much of my time fishing the back bays of New Jersey, stalking the sod banks and the hard-flowing waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, where smaller baits like grass shrimp, spearing, juvenile bunker, and mullet would spend the summer. All these baits would get swept into the main channel from the many tidal creeks, and striped bass would be lying in wait. My most productive presentations were small 4 1/2-inch Bomber Lures and 4-inch Yo-Zuri Mag Darters. The fish, most of which ranged from 24 to 32 inches, could not resist them. I even caught stripers to 38 inches on these small swimming plugs, which is a testament to why I now use big minnow plugs for striped bass.
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Big Water, Bigger Plugs
In the mid-to-late-90s, my home waters started to get a better run of striped bass on the ocean side, in the surf and inlets. Given the much different conditions in the bigger water, I needed larger lures. So it was time to step up the size of my lures, and I turned to the 5-inch, 1-ounce Yo-Zuri Mag Darter.
One night in particular, I was walking out the dunes to one of my favorite places to fish in the middle of the night, where very few, if any, other fishermen are around. I was greeted with a stiff northeast wind in my face and large waves breaking pretty over the sand bar. Unable to wade out to the sandbar in those conditions, I noticed that to the south, there was a hole between the sandbar and the beach with enough water in it to possibly hold fish.
As the waves crashed over the bar, I guessed that stripers could be sitting on the inside, waiting for a free meal to be washed into the trough. I clipped on a new, “Ghost Black” 5-inch Mag Darters and proceeded to catch more than 60 striped bass one after another, casting the lure into the wind and swimming into the feeding zone. By the end of the outing, there wasn’t any paint left on the lure.
After that night, I longed for a larger lure with the qualities of the Mag Darter that might provide the opportunity to catch larger fish in even nastier weather. Qualities such as the internal weight-transfer system, the consistent swimming depth of 3-to-5 feet, and the heavy-duty construction.
Many fellow fishermen felt the same at the time, and dreamed of what we could accomplish with a longer and heavier weighted version. A few custom lure builders made their own versions, but these were difficult to get, and while I caught some of my largest fish ever on them, I was always afraid of losing them, because of the difficulty in replacing them.
Beefed Up Minnow Plugs
Around 2017, a number of companies began producing larger minnows: Daiwa came out with a 6 ¾-inch version of the popular SP Minnow; Shimano had the larger Coltsniper Jerkbait that measured just under 7 inches and weighed nearly 2 ounces; Bomber produced the Long Shot at 7-inches; and Yo-Zuri produced a larger size of the Mag Darter at 6.5-inches and 2-ounces. All of these had internal weight transfer systems, rugged through-wire construction, and big fish appeal. Today, there are even more minnow plug options on shelves, including the shallow-running minnow plug/darter hybrid, the JoeBaggs Swarter.
- 6-3/4 inches; 1-5/8 ounces
- Dives to 3 feet
- 6-3/4 inches; 1-7/8 ounces
- Dives 3 to 5 feet
- 6-1/2 inches; 2 ounces
- Dives 3 to 4 feet
- 7 inches; 1-3/4 ounces
- Dives 4 to 8 feet
- 7 inches; 1-1/2 ounces
- Dives to 2 feet
Over the past several years when targeting big striped bass making their way up, and then back down the coast, I have regularly caught trophy fish on these lures. They are usually the first and last plug out of my surf bag, just as they were the first and last out of my back-bay bag in the early 90s.