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Fishing the Tony Stetzko Needlefish

Ryan Collins

I have just recently discovered the effectiveness of the needlefish when surfcasting Cape Cod at night for striped bass.

Of course I knew all along how effective needlefish can be. For example my friend Danya Mahota even blogged about needlefish last year here on MFCC.

Yet this season I have been casting needlefish with more regularity, and in particular, needlefish designed by the late Cape Cod surfcasting legend Tony Stetzko.

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I am very careful when fishing needlefish designed by Tony Stetzko, because they are so hard to come by. If bluefish are in the area, I immediately put these needles away.

This past Friday night was one of those nights where it was all striped bass, and no bluefish. During the outgoing tide several schools of stripers had "stacked up" along a shallow bar with a swift current.

​The fly fishing earlier in the day had been stellar, with stripers on nearly every cast. Now that it was dark I figured I might be able to cull out a "keeper" from amongst the schoolies by switching over to a needlefish.

With so many fish holding on the bar, I was not the least bit surprised when I got a hit on my very first cast with the needle.

You bet it can pay to experiment, and I am sure several people reading this have their own unique technique for retrieving needles (let us know yours by commenting below).

However the following video depicts the super simple needlefish retrieve which worked pretty well for me this past Friday night.

One more detail worth mentioning is to crush the barbs on your hooks when you are catching schoolie after schoolie. 

I feel there is really no need to keep the barbs on your hooks (especially on treble hooks) unless you are targeting trophy stripers.

For those reading this who are not sure what I mean by "crushing your barbs", please watch the video below for a quick demonstration.


In Conclusion

Today there are many different types of needlefish lures on the market. Yet I feel the ones designed by Tony have some "special mojo" which makes them more effective.

Of course the only proof I have is the confidence I feel when I snap on one of his needles. At the moment my favorite Stetzko needle is the bone white "Nantucket Needlefish" which I found at fishermansline.com.​

Currenly I am not sure if anyone has Tony's needles left in stock. If you get lucky you might be able to pick a few up on Ebay, or from a Cape Cod yard sale. ​

Just make sure to put them away when the bluefish move in...

Tight lines and take care,

Ryan​

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Google Earth image of the area on Cape Cod fished
during this needlefish trip.

  1. Nice read Ryan
    Have been a needle fan for years. I am also a machinist and have been making them for years also. Tony’s dad always made some neat, and some crazy, stuff and has sort of influenced some of my designs over the years. I really enjoy the almost simplicity of fishing them in the dark. I enjoy skin needles too especially on full moons. If I get some time I will post some pics of some of the needles I have made and you will see his dad’s influence in some of them. I will put them in the lure forum.

    Reply
    1. Sounds great! I would love to see some photos of your needles.

      I have also been meaning to toss some eel skin plugs.

      Maybe I will try an eel skin needle when I chase the stripers south later this fall.

      Reply
  2. Nice Ryan! This fall I finally got some confidence with needle fish. I was fishing a sand bar with a few sets of big breaking waves. The only lure in my bag that would get just past the breakers and also stay under them was a beach master mini needle fish. Using a slow retrieve with a twitch here and there I was able to land a 41″ 24lb bass and a 38″ 20lb bass. Needless to say I’m now a full believer in the needle lol. Would love to know more about the different brands out there if you, Danya or anyone else prefer different needles for different conditions?

    Reply
    1. Very nice Brian!

      I am guessing you caught those fish up in Maine? If so even cooler.

      All my Needlefish success so far has been on the Stetzko needles. I hope I can find some more soon, because they are getting very difficult to find.

      Reply
  3. I haven’t been lucky enough to find a Tony Stetzko needle and so I use the Super Strike needles. I had a vague understanding that they come in different weights but I had no idea of how to tell one from the other. All that changed this weekend when I had a conversation with Andrew Burke. Andrew explained to me that the eyes were the key. The lighter ones have yellow eyes, the heavier ones have red eyes, and those in between have black eyes. The same holds true for some other Super Strike lures. Thanks Andrew! I have been weighing the lures and writing the weight on them with a Sharpie! Now I know better.

    Reply
    1. Awesome tip!

      Reply
  4. I learned a lot from watching your video Ryan. I have always only used needles in high surf situations and my retrieve has always been extremely slow. I will try them more often now with varied retrieves.
    I also going to crimp many of my trebles. I have been have meaning to for a while but couldn’t quite make the leap. While fishing the Vineyard this weekend a small fish half swallowed my plug. I ended up killing the fish as I was frantically trying to remove the hooks. That saddened me and ended my fishing for the night. Barbless trebles and swapping the trebles for single hooks might have made a difference.

    Reply
    1. Don’t beat yourself up too much about that fish Dex. Certainly that happens to all of us from time to time.

      Regarding the retrieve, I have also had success during the early morning with needles by skipping them across the surface.

      In particular I remember one boat trip with my dad in which we found “sleepy” stripers just lazily cruising on the surface in a semi-awake state.

      The fish would not hit poppers or swimmers, but they did for whatever reason, crush needles that were skipped along the surface.

      Reply
      1. Thanks, Ryan!

        Reply
  5. Thanks Ryan. Great write up and to those lucky enough to learn the confidence of the needle, it is all the plug they will ever need! Thanks TONY!!!

    Reply
    1. Well said Danya!

      Reply

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