Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Surely, You’re Plugging Wrong… And Don’t Call Me Surely

I gotta go neck-deep into angling this week, heavens forbid.

It makes sense. It’s that glorious time of year when the fish news all but leaps out of the water. Hey, maybe some of you non-anglers might like to see how we run when on an angling roll.

I’ll use this early-on space to urge everyone to jump aboard our big bucks, 2013 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. It’s been confirmed there will be a one-time, $1,000 largest striper of the day “special prize” in memory of Frank Panzone, and a second (different day) one-day, best-bass prize of $500. That’s quite cool. It keeps the $1,000 grand prizes for both the biggest bass and bluefish alive, while throwing in these scalding hot “specials.”

All that $$ is heaped upon loads of other cash and good prizes. It proves the new-direction Classic is going to be kick-ass – providing you and everyone you know sign the hell up. Get to it. Entire clubs should rally to the Classic since the future of the event is also in their collective hands.

AH, BUT YOU’RE MISTAKEN: Below are five of the biggest mistakes made by (even good) surfside pluggers.

Don’t think for a minute I’m forwarding myself as a great plugmeister. Even though I live and breathe plugging – easily 90 percent of my fishing time – you won’t see my photo in tackle shops, sternly standing beside huge fishes I’ve bested. Along with almost always releasing fish, I often simply don’t catch them – a lot. However, I am a decent coach – you know, manager material, yelling, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I’m offering the following advice-ish reads on what many pluggers do wrong when using artificials in our fish-laden, fall oceanfront waters. It’s meant for beginners.

FISH TOO FAR: Far out ain’t always so, when surf plugging.


Traditional, straight-out distance casting all too often overshoots the hookup cause, especially in the case of stripers. There is no need to royally wing it when what you’re looking for is, literally, a-foot.

When beach plugging, think close in, first and foremost.

There’s no better time to think close than when first arriving at a new venue, i.e. the next jetty down.

The short-cast strategy takes into mind the fact that feeding bass are (most) often lurking near the wash. That brings up the associated spook-factor error of many pluggers’ ways.

Even the savviest of pluggers all but rush the beach to make that first distance cast, sometimes even splashing into the water to get added distance to the plug launch. Any wary gamefish in the swash or in the nearshore jetty vicinity is spooked to hell and back by both the angler’s splash and body motion. I realize that’s a freshwater concept but it fully applies to saltwater.

What’s more, a spooked fish’s harried flight seaward also alerts farther-out fish.

“Where the hell ya goin’ so fast, Tod!? Tod? Wait for me, dude!” Believe me, that subsurface scenario does play out.

Better pluggers I know won’t drive their buggies flush to the waterline but instead park higher up on the berm as to not alert near-beach bass. They also get covert and crouchy when approaching the water with rod in hand.

Tip: When arriving at a fresh site, hang back from the water’s edge and take a slew of short casts just past the shorebreak. After that, it’s time to go yard with far-out throws – but those should be final flings.

Sure, there’s a time for full-blown airtime casts.

THINK NORTH AND SOUTH: There were these two mullet trying out a new migratory plan: swimming east and west to head south. They went from beachline to sandbar and back again, over and over.


“Wow, that was a good run. I’m exhausted. How far do you think we got?

“Oh, we gotta be a long ways along.”

“Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that the same red truck we saw parked on the beach when we first left?”

“It couldn’t be. We’ve been swimming for hours.”

“The hell you say. It is the same one. It’s got all that crap loaded in the back.”

What’s the point of that plugging parable?

Nearly all fall, forage fish travel north and south when migrating, often flush against the beach. Yet, virtually all pluggers indubitably cast east and west, i.e. straight out to sea. Sure, some forage fish run farther out and gamefish can be caught out there but it’s surely not optimal – or natural – speaking pluggingly.

Casting parallel to the beach, maybe 15 feet out, allows a retrieved plug to assume the flow of the forage. Yes, it’s tough to keep parallel plugs from washing ashore but once you get the hang of it, your plug can swim with the forage fish – while still looking like a wounded or disabled target, the exact thing lurking nearshore predators are seeking.

A parallel cast works best when the plug is fighting a headstrong current, even when the plug is swimming headlong into arriving migrators. It swims great. Such head-on behavior is actually common to a wounded or disoriented baitfish.

When running with a current, a plug should be twitched since it can’t always get its sashay on.

Diving plugs work a bit better when working parallel to the beach.

Tip: If conditions and equipment allow, quietly wade into the water a short ways to better cast parallel to the beach. That body position keeps a plug from swimming up onto the sand.

FAILURE TO STOP: What falls from the sky, noisily hits the water and instantly begins swimming for all its worth? Virtually nothing. Hell, even Olympics-grade swimmers dive in and take this long, underwater glide before kicking it into high gear. Same applies to plugs, sorta.

The average plugger throws out a lure and all but instantly gets it a-swimmin’. That’s a-dumb.

Firstly, your plug’s splashdown likely caught the attention of any gamefish within a 50-foot or greater radius. It’ll take some time for them to mosey on over to the splashdown point. What’s more, in real life there is most often an obligatory, post-impact pause after things fall from the sky, like when a stunned baitfish is accidentally dropped by a clumsy-ass gull. In fact, that don’t-move-a-muscle pause is also a survival instinct for creatures.

By letting a plug essentially settle down after a cast, even for many seconds, a slew of goodish angling advantages are gained. Firstly, it allows those perimeter gamefish to work their way over to check things out. What’s more, it actually lessens some of the initial suspicion gamefish have over something falling from the sky. Yes, fish psychology is a vital aspect of advanced plugging.

Overdoing it: A load of practiced pluggers actually wait until the ripples from a cast plug have totally departed. For me, that’s like an offer for “Free 24-hour banking.” I don’t have time for that. (Steven Wright).

FREAKY PLUG SPOOK-OUT: Picture a perfectly retrieved plug moving swimmingly toward the beach being followed by a very wary, albeit interested, 40-pound bass. The stalking proceeds to the shorebreak. The big-ass bass still has her doubts but she’s still in the hunt. Then, at the last retrieval moment, the already somewhat suspicious target suddenly goes utterly psychotic, transitioning from slow and appealing to insane. In a flash, the once semi-convinced cow gets the crap scared out of her and hightails out of Dodge.

What just happened?

You plugged wonderfully – and had a looker in tow – but in the final phase of the retrieve you abandoned your subtle swim strategy and sloppily commenced with an all-too-common power rip of the plug in its final stage, causing it to go into psychotic spins and gyrations as it’s pulled out of the water. The stalking striper sees this and fully freaks, bolting off – forever.

I have seen this firsthand, often, in the form of a massive swirl where the stalker had been before I, make that you, ripped it ashore too fast. That moment of maniacal reeling eliminated a high hookup potential on the next cast.

A prime plugger I know always brings a plug gently through the shorebreak and onto the beach. Then, without fail, he follows that up with an underhand flip cast – hitting maybe 30 feet out. I’ve often seen him nail stalker stripers with this method.

Note: A plug being retrieved slowly, naturally, often goes kinda crazy when reaching the outgoing water in the shorebreak. This can work toward an angler’s advantage. In fact, that harried swimming motion is just what a forage fish does when fighting the current. Any plugger worth his weight in Red Fins has had countless hits during that final run, as the plug vigorously heads into the swash foam. The trick is to avoid over-enhancing the already heightened swim by maintaining a retrieve. It’s time to let the plug play out on its own, in place. Don’t reel it in. Then, when the outgoing flow eases up, resume retrieving it onto the beach. Not only did you lengthen your chance of a last-second, inches-deep take but you kept around any nearby stalkers.

SPEED KILLS: Which leads nicely into the number one plugging mistake in the history of surf plugging: speed.

Speed kills plugging success.

The retrieval speed employed by the average plugger defies fish logic – and foils the designs so carefully applied to plugs to maximize their life-likeness.

The great majority of plugs come alive at a very subdued, seemingly slow speed. A slow to very slow retrieve maximizes the sashay and sway of both F-class (floating) and S-class (sinking) plugs.

All a plugger has to do is eyeball the swim of a plug to see the optimal speed of retrieval. It’s a shocker how quickly it assumes a highly unnatural, side-to-side roll when brought in too quickly. Big bass will have no part of that nonsense.

Anything more than a full, 360-degree handle turn per “one thousand and one” is accelerating many/most plugs into unnatural land, meaning they begin to lose the attack-enticing look assigned by their creators. This includes custom plugs. In fact, it is even more so with custom wooden plugs, which get unnaturally wobbly and downright weird looking to predators if speedily reeled in.

By the by, that one full turn per (saying) “one thousand and one” is my discovery. I have no doubt I’ll get a ferocious letter from the International Association for the Proper Plug Retrieval Speed people assuring I have all but ruined the sport of fishing by cruelly coming up with my own unauthorized retrieval speed designation. And in the past they’ve always sent me such nice Christmas cards.

REPLENISHMENT BLITZING???: I have yet to monitor the mullet run along recently replenished beaches, where there are no sandbars.

The first Surf City and Harvey Cedars replenishments were done in winter so there was some semblance of sandbars by the time the following fall run of forage fish came around. This year’s summer-long replenishments have deep water flush to the beaches in Brant Beach, SC and HC.

It’s hard to say how that will play out during the baitfish run, especially the October bunkie run.

I can see a high potential for some wild and woolly blitzing, as baitfish have nowhere to run, except right under our casting feet.

Harvey Cedars, Ship Bottom, Beach Haven and the front beaches of Long Beach Township will be open on Oct. 1. I’ll get a much better read right about then.

RUNDOWN: Fluking is done for 2013 and there are many of us surfcasters – and also boat people – very thankful for that extension of the season. Of course, there is an equal number of us who have no doubt the fluke stocks are fully recovered and there doesn’t need to be any closures. In fact, the number of 18-inch-plus fish this year clearly indicates that conservation is leading to larger, on average, flatties.

The large-ifying of a fishery can actually lead to something called negative intraspecific competition. Cool, huh?

That’s an uppity way of saying the same species over competes for the same foodstuffs. In the case of summer flounder, they’ll eat the bay out of house and home – then turn on each other. Just let any young-of-year species try to survive a ravenous fluke onslaught. Doomed are struggling populations of sea bass, tog, winter flounder, assorted flatfish (windowpanes and such), and weakfish. Too many fluke is fearful news to the marine ecology.

Yes, I’m again railing against the over-babying of a chosen specie, even a beloved culinary specie like fluke, at the expense of other species, all of them essential to a healthy ecosystem.

Some upbeat striper news came to me from Josh at Viking Outfitters bait and tackle, located in Historic Viking Village in Barnegat Light. He said that bunker and mullet schools are in the wash from BL to Loveladies and that bass in the 28-inch to 34-inch range are munching on them. He is also hearing of nice, one-a-day tog. The cocktail blues are all over the inlet, even more populous than they had been all summer.

Fishing in Holgate has lit up, subtly. While fluking has been damn decent, the likes of bass and blues had been a tad lacking. However, with the re-activating of the mullet run – it had inexplicably and totally turned off for a few days – bass and blues are now gathering along the front beach. Highly edible (and super smoke-able) cocktail/tailor blues are showing like crazy – a tad too much so for those seeking stripers exclusively. However, as I left the beach Monday, I took a 28-inch bass on a bizarre-colored vintage plug. Then, farther down the beach, I saw another 28-inch-ish bass being reeled in while a bit farther along I saw a 28-incher laying in the sand next to a parked buggy. Those are sweet eating, with very low bad-stuff content.

Of note are a couple/few nice red drum being caught in the surf. Those are the more elongated drum fish with the solid spot toward the tail. These puppies have been going for chunk baits or GULP!

I’ve been asking around to find out the largest striper anyone has caught on just GULP! Contact me as jmann99@hotmail.com.

Speaking of contacting me, my website jaymanntoday.ning.com is my prime site for all fall “daily” reports, my highly unprofessional but hopefully fun on-scene videos, and loads of angling news from far and wide. Give it a look-see and make sure to check out the archives for past reports and also previous weekly SandPaper blogs.

To really mix it up with me and my type, befriend me in Facebook. I go with the clever codename Jay Mann. Just type my name in the blank at the very top of the Facebook page, titled “Search for people, places and things.” I’m pretty sure I’m one of those.

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