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Ask Frank Daignault Frank Daignault is recognized as an authority on surf fishing for striped bass. He is the author of six books and hundreds of magazine articles. Frank is a member of the Outdoor Writers of America and lectures throughout the Northeast.

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  #16  
Old 09-13-2014, 07:42 AM
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Default Re: Needlefish

I agree, Frank. The most consistent needlefish observations for my area has been with a slow sink model, that casts well, and is worked via a steady retrieve, straight, with no action.
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Old 09-13-2014, 09:27 AM
dz dz is offline
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Default Re: Needlefish

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Daignault View Post
If the use of needlefish is a worthy pursuit in the striper surf, how can comparisons or remarks on effectiveness be consistent if some models sink, others float, some fished on the bottom others splashed along and others crept slowly. Consequently, results from one type, say Boone, when compared to say Gibbs is going to be altogether different. When I step back and reexamine all this Needlefish talk, I wonder about the competence of many of the observations. Unless choices of one needlefish when compared to another are the same, observations are highly suspect.

A similar example might be comparing a floater Rebel with a sinker Rebel. They may look the same but they are very, very different. So if any plug is manufactured under an array of protocols -- ie floaters sinkers, creepers and splashers -- how can we here exchange observations on their effectiveness? Tell me I am missing something ...
Frank, Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote a number of years back that may shed some light on the topic.

Why Cast a Needlefish?
By Dennis Zambrotta

There are many, many different varieties of plugs that surfcasters use when chasing striped bass. Top water baits, minnow swimmers, metal lips, darters, etc. They all have their time and place when applied in the right location during the right conditions. Most plugs have a seductive ?wiggle? that catches bass almost as well as they catch fishermen. For many years on the beach if a plug didn?t ?swim well? it didn?t sell well. That theory applied to much of the striper coast until the emergence of the ?Needlefish Plug.?

Some background:
The needlefish type plug has been around since the late 1950s (Boone), but it wasn?t until the early 1980s that they started to become popular along the northeast coast from New Jersey to Cape Cod. It was during this time period that surfcasters began to use three different brands of needlefish plugs. These initial needlefish plugs produced by Boone, Classic and Linesider, can best be described as a straight painted piece of wood that came through the water like a ?pencil with hooks.? Because of this ?lack of a wiggle? they initially turned off many casters at the time (including me). But at the same time some surf casters ?in the know? were quietly racking up incredible scores of striped bass on them, especially when sand eels were the prevalent forage and conditions dictated using the needlefish plug.
These early needlefish, although very effective, also had some major problems. They were not built as strong by most of today?s plug building standards. They all used a screw-eye construction to attach treble hooks. These screw-eyes at times proved no match for the heavy bass that were prevalent on the beach at the time. Large bass, when hooked, pulled the screw-eyes right out of the wooden needlefish. Many anglers, including some of my friends, lost the bass of their dreams to these early models.
As word began to spread along the beach about needlefish plugs and their effectiveness other plug makers got involved in the game. One such person was master plug builder Donny Musso of Long Island, owner of Super Strike Lures. Donny got wind of the needlefish through a friend that fished the Nantucket surf. Donny?s friend implored him to make a ?beefier? needlefish that could stand up to the bass. Donny designed a unique wooden needlefish that was tapered on both ends. He built it using a ?wire-thru? construction. Some of the barrel swivels Donny used on the initial models failed on the big bass but Donny quickly modified the swivels using a larger and stronger size. These improved models were put to the ultimate test on the cow bass that swam in Cape Cod and Block (Needlefish) Island waters. They passed with flying colors and produced phenomenal numbers of bass without failing. Donny Musso deserves full credit as the builder who ?revolutionized? the Needlefish plug. His wood needlefish design was then converted to a plastic model in 1984 with no loss of effectiveness.
As needlefish popularity began to ?snowball? other plug makers jumped into its path. Al Gagliarduci introduced his wooden version called the Gags Needlefish in 1984. The Gags Needlefish came with a thru-wire construction which allowed the thru-wire to rotate within the plug thus giving anglers one more weapon to counteract the treble hook straightening leverage that big bass often used when hooked. After overcoming an initial ?peeling paint? problem the Gags Needlefish became one of the hottest plugs on Block Island.
By the fall of 1984 needlefish plugs were the hottest plug on the coast. They were a hot commodity and tackle store shelves were quickly emptied of any that were delivered.
In 1984 Gibbs came out with a screw-eye model needlefish which was well received but still had the problem screw-eyes. It only took Gibbs one season to come out with an improved thru-wire model which was in full production by 1986.
So by 1986 you had thru-wire needlefish plugs being turned out by Super Strike, Gags, Gibbs, and Spofford Lures of Martha?s Vineyard. All were quality products and many surf casters owe the fish of their dreams to these plugs.

Needlefish Today:
There is no longer a shortage of needlefish in today?s plug market. Just about every plug maker makes a version of the needlefish. They vary in shape and size, come in wood or plastic, and have various applications for just about every set of conditions a surf caster may encounter. Along with the original four improved needlefish (Super Strike, Gibbs, Spofford, and the recently re-introduced Gags), you have Habs, Afterhours, Stetzko, and a myriad of others. In fact there are so many different needlefish an angler would be hard pressed to find room for all of them in his surf bag.
So how would one decide which needlefish to purchase? Trial and error will cost you more than a few bucks, especially when you take various color patterns into consideration. I?ve been asked to try and help the novice caster make a decision.
First off ? I?ve been fishing needlefish plugs since the early 1980s when they became the rage of the coast so I have a great deal of experience. There are ALWAYS a few needlefish in my surf bag. I have fished almost every brand of needlefish plug since there inception in a multitude of conditions.
Most needlefish plugs are ?sinkers? for lack of a better word, they sink when they hit the water but glide toward the surface upon retrieve. On or close to the surface is how ?most? casters fish them. Some needles come to the surface by barely turning the reel handle (such as the Gibbs and Gag?s). Other needles (such as the Musso Super Strike and Hab?s) will work mid-level water depths or close to the bottom depending on whether the caster lets it sink and how fast it?s retrieved. So far I?ve only used one needlefish that was a true ?floater? and it is a homemade plug built by a friend of mine. I?m sure there are other floating needlefish because just about every basement plug maker builds needlefish nowadays. So a needlefish can basically be called a surface skimmer that can at times be effectively fished in deeper water.

What I?ve learned: Needlefish are very versatile plugs and it would be a mistake to set ?hard and fast? rules on how to fish them. Just as in any type of surf fishing there are so many variables involved that may affect your decision on which needlefish to use. They include location, water depth, water clarity, current, surf conditions, time of year, type of bait present, wind speed and direction, etc. How I use needlefish on the Cape doesn?t necessarily work when I?m casting on Block Island. What works when the wind is screaming onshore may not work in flat water (or maybe it will). So, I have my ?preferred? methods of using needlefish for every location I fish, depending on the conditions. But I always tell those who will listen to my general rules that bass don?t read - so be flexible in your methods.
For example ? I don?t know how many times I?ve heard casters say they won?t cast a needlefish because there are no sand eels around ? big mistake. Needlefish plugs can be extremely effective even when there isn?t a sand eel on the beach for miles. They can work when the forage is squid, bunker, silversides, whatever.
A big key when using needlefish plugs is confidence. Once you get over the fact that a needlefish plug doesn?t need to do a lot in the water (as in ?wiggle?) you will gain confidence. Fish it high or low, night or day, light or dark pattern, they all work when the time is right and it?s up to the caster to figure that out.
Another key is being versatile ? being versatile and adapting to changing environments on the beach while casting needlefish will allow you to uncover the mysteries of the plug. After all, isn?t learning the most satisfying part of surf casting? It is to me.

So, which needlefish do I use and when?

Gibbs Needlefish: The Gibbs is the closest model to a floater and is by far the best needle for use in flat or calm surf. Retrieve the Gibbs very slowly and allow it to stay right on the waters surface creating a ?V? wake that bass seem to home in on. Many are of the opinion that this ?V? wake created by needlefish plugs is one of the secrets to their effectiveness and I tend to agree. You literally cannot retrieve a Gibbs too slow as it always stays near the surface unless you stop your retrieve. Gibbs Needlefish are particularly effective in the shallow water boulder fields on the east and west sides of Block Island. Color Patterns ? Solid black, Fluorescent Lime Green.
Musso Super Strike ?N? Fish (Needlefish): The Musso Super Strike needlefish can be effective in all conditions and because of its plastic construction (which is less buoyant) it often shines in very rough water. When fishing during a big sea or severe sweep delay the start of your retrieve to allow the Super Strike Needle to settle beneath the waters surface, then slowly retrieve it with short twitches of the rod tip and occasional pauses to allow it to sink again. During calmer conditions use a slow to moderately fast retrieve until you find the speed the bass prefer. We also use a ?skipping? technique with the Super Strike Needlefish. ?Skipping? a Musso Needle requires a fast retrieve with occasional strong jerks of your rod to make the Needle skip across the water creating a surface commotion. We use this technique both day and night with great effectiveness. I'm convinced the Super Strike needlefish creates a unique sound when skipped and because of this it often takes bass when other needles won't. We?ve tried skipping other brands of needlefish with very limited success. Super Strike Needlefish can also be very effective in rips and is our needlefish of choice when casting Block Island?s North Bar.
Another versatile aspect of the Super Strike Needlefish is the fact that its action can be altered by ?loading? it. By design the Super Strike Needlefish has hollow chambers within it. These chambers can easily be loaded with water, BBs or lead split shot. Depending on how much weight is added you will increase casting distance, change the action, and allow the plug to be fished deeper in the water column. I also use the Super Strike needle in conditions when most would use a popper. Preferred Color Patterns ? Neon Pink, Neon Green, Solid Black, and Black/Purple.
Hab?s Needlefish: In very limited supply since the untimely death of creator John Haberick. One of the best casting needlefish, it will reach that offshore bar that other needles won?t. It works great in rough or calm conditions. A most versatile plug and all sizes and patterns can be effective. Colors ? Chartreuse, Fluorescent Light Green, Pink, and Black.

24/7 (formerly Gag?s) Needlefish ? Re-introduced in 2005. Good all around needlefish. I?m still experimenting with the new models. So far I?m just as impressed with them as the older models from the 1980s. The large 9 inch model in Copper has been my most consistent producer.
I fish many other needlefish brands and they all catch at certain times. I personally witnessed the effectiveness of the large size Stetzko Pink Needle in the hands of its creator Tony Stetzko. I went through my bag of needles trying to duplicate his success ? the closest I came was with the Gag?s 9? Copper Needle ? but Tony still smoked me that particular night with his own creation. Was it the type of needlefish or the fisherman using it? Nothing wrong with being humbled by Tony Stetzko, I?m just one of many in that club.
I?ve also used Afterhours, Beachmaster, and Salty Bugger needles with much success. They all have specific applications for me and have a place in my surf bag from time to time.
Just remember, success is relative and everyone has their own opinions based on their experiences. Others may tell you different and it would behoove any surf caster to pay attention to other opinions. You now have some of my general rules for using various needlefish plugs and all that I mentioned have a great track record for taking trophy stripers from the beach. But as I stated before: striped bass don?t read my general rules. So always be flexible when casting the beach.
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  #18  
Old 09-13-2014, 12:45 PM
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Frank Daignault Frank Daignault is offline
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Default Re: Needlefish

The thing that degrades the Needlefish for me is that they are too easy for knock off in production in home garage shops. You can have ten surfmen in a line all using them and not one behaves the same. At least when you fish a particular model Atom, for instance, they are all the same. I have always felt that immatation of a wood plug which a child can do, was bad for the industry and impossible to duplicate with any consistency. Sure, Joe Blow has a hot one but if he loses it can he acquire another?
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  #19  
Old 09-20-2014, 09:14 AM
SALMONMEISTER SALMONMEISTER is offline
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Default Re: Needlefish

DZ thanx for the synopsis...it's like a Reader's Digest condensed version of your book. I like the fact that you (I've heard others mention it as well) say it works well even without sandeels around. I also like that you mentioned using a 9" copper colored model...from what I've seen, that's MUCH bigger and a different color than the average sandeel. In your book you mention that there's evidence to support the fact that stripers feed on needlefish...and I still think the average needlefish plug looks and acts a lot more like the average needlefish than any sandeel.
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  #20  
Old 09-20-2014, 03:25 PM
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Default Re: Needlefish

I regret not having shown more interest in the Needlefish plug. Part of my frustration was their lack of uniformity. Some of the non-interest stemmed from never seeing anybody around me using them. And, as said earlier, we had so many things we believed to have an almost demonic ability to take stripers -- stuff like Rebels, rigged eels, Atoms. Not saying we were right but we were victims of a combination of local custom and exposure.

If I may digress, because any thread on Needlefish leaves me wanting for suitable copy, I caught a lot of big bass on Giant Pikies and nobody used them other than me. So that door swings both ways.
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  #21  
Old 02-25-2018, 08:40 PM
JoeG@Breezy JoeG@Breezy is offline
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Default Re: Needlefish

There are so many choices of needles now it's staggering. Like Salmonmeister I don't wait for sand eels. I always have at least one and usually two in my bag. A Superstrike and a true floater like Gibbs or Choopy. I'm not throwing them in current because I feel that there are better options but I do love them in small to moderate chop with plenty of white water. I do OK with them, not great, but I do trust their ability.
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  #22  
Old 02-28-2018, 03:39 PM
Francis Daignault Francis Daignault is online now
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Default Re: Needlefish

Part of my reluctance for using a needlefish is that I knew a guy who made and marketed them and he was a shyster. I know the plugs were popular and that some of them catch a lot of bass. I loved so many plugs, still do, that there is no room in my heart for a needlefish. If I were fishing with one I would be thinking of riggies the whole time. For Mister Smarty a needle would be like tongue kissing your aunt.
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  #23  
Old 04-11-2018, 09:05 PM
JoeG@Breezy JoeG@Breezy is offline
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Default Re: Needlefish

A floating needle is a perfect plug to run right over the tops of the rocks, cuts and bubble weed in a boulder field.
A friend who has been making limited plugs ( as in not too many ) for 25 years just handed me a new needlefish design. It is specifically built to work top water, somewhere between a pencil and a spook. Can't wait to put it into some productive water.
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  #24  
Old 04-12-2018, 10:20 AM
Francis Daignault Francis Daignault is online now
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Default Re: Needlefish

These home made plugs are part of the fun and frolic of striper fishing. What would surfcasting be if we didn't have these false gods? I talk to my flies. They don't answer but they do roll their eyes .
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  #25  
Old 04-12-2018, 10:49 AM
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Default Re: Needlefish

Buying custom plugs is a frenzy in the surf world. Funny when you go to seminars it's always the next "big plug"... which, by the way, can be found at the table across the hall...
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  #26  
Old 04-12-2018, 02:18 PM
Francis Daignault Francis Daignault is online now
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Default Re: Needlefish

Wood is the easiest material to work with. Try making a titanium filter for the Concord Aircraft some time like I did back before I became a teacher.
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  #27  
Old 04-13-2018, 08:36 PM
JoeG@Breezy JoeG@Breezy is offline
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Default Re: Needlefish

Hope they're not still making them.
The funny thing about the next great plug is that it somehow gets off to a hot start due most likely to conditions when the first 20 or so hit the water, then word spreads ( cells and internet ), then everyone has two and throws nothing but and suddenly half the fish are caught on them. No wonder it's the most productive plug. It's the only one anyone is using. A good case would be the Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow. which became the east coast darling a few years go. It's a great plug, but it's not the only one.
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Old 04-14-2018, 11:17 AM
Francis Daignault Francis Daignault is online now
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Default Re: Needlefish

The dynamics of great lures is more social than angling. As you point out, "the plug works so well because that is all they are using." It always surprised me how the Rebel never really got top billing for very long. I think the poor casting qualities of Rebels hurt their acceptance. Surfcasters seem to think more of distance than anything else. We have had 40 pounders take a plug right under the rod tip.
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  #29  
Old 04-14-2018, 10:57 PM
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Default Re: Needlefish

I get the impression that needlefish were a big deal in places like Block island where distance may have been more important than on the Cape. On the SW corner of the island I think they were casting into the wind in relatively shallow rocky waters. Distance isn't really important unless it is, I guess.
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Old 04-15-2018, 06:55 PM
Francis Daignault Francis Daignault is online now
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Default Re: Needlefish

I love the conversation but it is awkward to mix suitability of location with lure choice. I guess that is what makes surfcasting such a challenging thing to engage. Obviously, you have to adapt to the situation with which your confronted. I mean, if guys nearby who are catching fish are reaching fish with ICBMs, your little 30 ft casts with Rebels are not in your best interest. Now if the fish are out there picking grubs off the edge of the Continental shelf, let Mr. smarty choose the lure and Ron Arra to throw it.
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