It’s always fun to see what the hot plug style is going to be for a given season. In the early 2010s, the surfcasting public had a seemingly bottomless appetite for smaller needlefish—owing to a few good sand eel runs in the Long Island and New Jersey surf. Around that same period, you could set your watch by the sunrise topwater blitzes in the Cape Cod Canal on the full and new moons, leading to a run on compact, long-casting pencil poppers. Toward the middle of the last decade, demand shifted toward super-sized metal lips as large schools of adult bunker swarmed the Northeast. The latest craze, which began as the 2010s ended, is the glidebait. For once, I was almost ahead of the curve.
I bought my first glidebait, a bunker-colored Musky Snax, in 2003, after seeing it written up in the old New Jersey Angler magazine. The slab of hand-carved wood featured a menhaden bunker profile, lifelike glass eyes, and masterfully hand-painted details like the fins and spots. It cost a princely sum of $45 (which, accounting for striper plug price inflation, would cost north of $100 today) so, naturally, I feared losing it too much to even cast it. Over the next 15 years, that beautiful lure moved from a basement in Philadelphia to a basement in Massachusetts without ever touching salt water until 2019. After losing a favorite glidebait, it made the rotation and caught its first fish.
A glidebait, or glider, is a baitfish-shaped slab of wood or plastic that swims in an S-pattern on a straight retrieve. They are generally laterally compressed, unlike the cylindrical bodies that form darters, poppers, and most metal lips. The larger, flat profile is meant to catch the water on the retrieve, causing the lure to swim to the side for a short distance before course-correcting and swimming the same distance to the other side, all with just a steady reeling action.
While similar in appearance, they are different from “stickbaits,” the popular bluefin tuna lures, in that a stickbait has considerably less action on a straight retrieve and requires more angler input. Then again, when it comes to fishing lure taxonomy, some of us just make it up as we go along, so there are some lures that fit both definitions, like the Berkley Stick Shadd.
Gliders (That You Can Probably Buy Today)
Originally made for largemouth bass, the heavy-duty construction and large profile make the G-Ratt Pete collection perfect for calling up from the freshwater minors to the surfcasting big leagues. Like Westin, G-Ratt is adding some saltwater patterns to their already extensive color lineup.
Alan’s Custom Lures
Out of Bristol, Rhode Island, Alan’s Custom Lures makes resin glidebaits in several different styles and a wide variety of colors, including custom orders. As an added bonus, a number of tackle shops throughout the Northeast stock Alan’s gliders.
Fight Lure Co. Frenzy
Constructed of hand-poured, durable resin and finished off with a multi-layered epoxy topcoat, the gliders from the New York-based Fight Lure Co. are made with stripers in mind and come equipped with a VMC 3/0 treble hook on the belly and 4/0 inline single hook on the tail.
Westin Swim SW
Originally designed for pike, fishermen saw the potential for this bait in salt water, and the company has since responded, adding saltwater-specific colors and beefed-up hardware.
From a surfcasting perspective, the lure most likely to draw comparisons to the glidebait is the darter because both lures swim in a fluid S-pattern on a straight retrieve. For my money, glidebaits are more versatile. While darters need more resistance to get moving, glidebaits swim well when fished down-current, as well as across and against it. Most glidebaits sink, which gives you more control over where they are in the water column. When you sweep the rod quickly in the middle of the retrieve, the lure’s action goes from a lazy S-turn to a tight, vibrating wobble, like a Rat-L-Trap. That abrupt change in action, like a baitfish just learning it’s being pursued, has triggered many shoulder-dislocating strikes for me.
Fishermen have found success with glidebaits in back bays, sandy beaches, boulder fields, and the Cape Cod Canal. They are available in sizes than can imitate everything from peanut bunker to full-size menhaden.
When rigging glidebaits for stripers, fishermen often add a swivel above the treble on a plug with a “fixed” belly-hook hanger. This takes away leverage from a bass that could otherwise twist open the split ring or hook. Most anglers skip the tail hook in favor of a hookless flag that adds length and action to the bait.
My one knock against glidebaits is their limited availability compared to other striper plugs. Most glidebaits today cost in the $40 to $70 range, which is still somewhat of a “princely sum” for something I intend to repeatedly launch into the ocean. However, it’s a price I’m happy to pay when I can actually get my hands on one—the law of supply and demand at work.
Part of the relative scarcity of wooden gliders made for striped bass comes from the fact that fewer plug builders make them. While darters, bottle plugs, pencil poppers, and all the traditional wooden striper lures can be shaped and sanded on a lathe, the asymmetrical shape of a glidebait requires more work and hand-sanding, which lengthens the building process.
But, don’t abandon hope. There are some plastic models, not necessarily designed for stripers, that are more readily available. Largemouth bass fishermen have known for a while that the snaking, realistic action of a glidebait draws bites from supersized fish. Unlike a one-piece wooden glidebait made for stripers, a largemouth glide usually features a midway joint that gives it an exaggerated action.
“We have been playing around with two-piece glidebaits for stripers for a while now,” said Mike Gleason of TAK Waterman, “and the G-Ratt Sneaky Pete and Poppa Pete looked like the best options as far as a ‘production bait’ goes.”
Gleason, who you can credit for bringing the oversized flutter spoon to the striper scene, especially likes the Poppa Pete for its 10-inch profile and super-slow sink rate. Its 5-ounce size requires a sturdy rod to cast, which wears on the shoulder after a night of fishing, but it turns the heads of big stripers. It’s equipped with swivel-hook hangers to help fish stay buttoned.
“They are a deadly bait for me,” said Gleason, “and are now my confidence bait in many scenarios from the surf or in a boat,” adding that he has his best action on them at night.
The presentation with the two-piece glidebaits is similar to the one-piece, though jointed baits seem to work best at a snail’s pace retrieve that allows for a natural wide-gliding action. “I’ll throw a twitch with the reel handle when fish follow or boil it to get them to strike,” said Gleason.
Custom gliders made for muskies and pike, like my old Musky Snax, often have painstakingly detailed patterns, giving lifelike representations of suckers, walleye, or other plus-sized prey. Some striper glidebait builders, like Alain Tremblay of Fatty Lures, have carried this over to some lures, with realistic sea bass and herring patterns; however, when it comes to colors, legendary surfcaster Shell Caris says to keep it simple. He sticks to bone or white because those colors stand out to stripers in the chaotic surf environment. For super-sized gliders, Gleason believes the bone works well, but he likes taking the blanks and spraying them in chartreuse and white or straight yellow. While I’ve caught plenty of bass on my finally-fished bunker Musky Snax, solid or two-tone baits seem to have the edge.
Now, I haven’t sold all my darters and replaced them with gliders, and I don’t plan to. Those old standbys will always have a place in my ever-heavier plug bag, but gliders are definitely my favorite lure of the moment. Their effectiveness in a wide range of locations, the savagery with which stripers hit them, and their ability to draw strikes on slow nights makes them a must-have for any surfcaster. If you do get your hands on one of these highly coveted lures this season, just don’t make the same mistake I did, by waiting a decade-and-a-half to fish it.
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