This post was originally published on October 15th, 2020.
Personally the Darter might just be my favorite plug to fish in the surf.
Identified by their distinct slope-headed profile, and their unique action in the water, the darter should have a place in every New England surfcasters' bag.
Darters are an ideal plug to fish in the open surf, especially in areas with light to moderate sweep or current. Water movement, specifically current flow, is critical for a darter to swim correctly.
How To Retrieve A Darter
When retrieved in current, the darter should dart (or zig zag) from side to side. This extremely unique and life-like action is what gives the darter its name.
Unlike other common plugs in the surfcasters arsenal (such as the bottle plug or the metal lip) you usually won’t feel a darter “working” on the end of your line. This tends to throw off anglers at first as they struggle to tell if their plug is swimming correctly on the retrieve.
However, rest assured that when fished correctly on a straight and slow retrieve, the darter will work to fool striped bass of shapes and sizes.
The Back-Swim Technique
It’s worth noting that darters (like bottles and some metal lips) are a good candidate to backswim. To accomplish this technique, the angler stands at the end of an outflow or breachway and "feeds" the plug back into the outgoing flow.
Once it’s back 75 or 100 yards you dig your plug into the current with a couple fast cranks of your reel and then begin the painfully slow retrieve while allowing the plug to hang and “work” against the current.
When this technique is done right a single retrieve can take several minutes. This technique might not appeal to the impatient among us, but it often produces consistent and quality fish.
Once again I emphasize that painfully slow is often the name of the game when it comes to surf plugging.
Hands down one of the most productive darters in any surfcasters' bag is the SuperStrike darter or as it is commonly called the Zig Zag. Because they are made of plastic the SS darter is an excellent casting plug and is very consistent on the retrieve.
A saying among the Montauk regulars goes “if you don’t have a yellow Superstike, then go home” and in my opinion this is advice also holds true for many spots on Cape Cod.
Apart from Superstrike, the Northbar Darter is a nice plastic darter which tends to run slightly shallower than their SS counterparts.
A number of plug makers also produce high quality wooden darters including (but not limited to) Linesider69, Gibbs, Wally’s and L.I. Fish in Vermont.
Bottle plugs and bottle darters are another time-tested style of plugs that really shine in big surf and heavy current. The bottle plug is the more classic design of the two, with a large scooped “mouth” that is built to catch the water and dig in deep.
The bottle darter has a slightly more subtle lip design, but still retains that scooped mouth which functions extremely well in heavy current and big water.
If metal lips and needlefish are the precision tools of the plug world, then the bottle plug/darter are the sledgehammers. There’s nothing subtle about these plugs, from their deep-diving capabilities to the heavy pulsing action you’ll feel as they work on the end of your line.
I tend to favor the bottle plug when onshore winds, whitewater and big surf are at play, and I prefer the bottle darter in heavy currents. Both plugs have a place in my bag when I’m fishing a big storm, a heavy onshore wind, or a deep and fast outflow.
The Northbar bottle darter and SS little neck being put to work fishing an onshore NE blow
Recommended Bottle Plugs
Once again Superstrike makes one of the best Bottle plugs on the Market. The current lineup includes an inbuilt rattle, which just adds to the aggressive presentation of the plug.
For truly harsh conditions that call for heavy tackle and big plugs, almost nothing beats the monster 3 oz wooden Gibbs bottle plug. The largest Gibbs will dig into waves and slop like nothing else on the market.
As far as bottles go, the Northbar Bottle is another very nice plastic plug. It’s action is a little more subtle than the Gibbs or the SS, but it shines in heavy current-especially when larger baits are around.