It wasn’t the first plastic minnow-shaped plug to come on the salt water scene, but it was certainly the one that popularized them for millions of anglers, whether they fished from jetties, beaches or boats. At 7 1/2 inches long with a molded-plastic lip and thick-walled, hollow plastic body, it floats at rest. The original came with weak hooks and split rings that had to be replaced, but it was more than worth the trouble because they caught heavy-duty fish. Worked slowly, it rolls seductively just under the surface, leaving a V-wake. Pick up the speed and it dives a couple feet. In black it’s deadly at night. Sold today under the name Bomber Long A, it has the right hardware out of the box and it’s still the favorite swimmer of tens of thousands of fishermen.
Doodlebug, Smilin’ Bill, Lima Bean, Upperman, Hopkins Hammered, SPRO Prime, ProFish Fishskin Jigs – no matter the style, brand or nickname, a painted leadhead jig dressed with the hair from the tail of a whitetail deer was and still is one of the most fish-catching lures ever devised. Cast one out, let it sink and retrieve it by lifting and dropping the tip of the rod to give it an up-and-down motion and something is sure to eat it. For drift-fishing, drop it straight under the boat and yo-yo to get the same results. Add a strip of bait or Uncle Josh Pork Rind, maybe a stinger hook, too, and it is twice as effective. White is the number one color with yellow a close second. If you could only have one lure to fish with anywhere in the world, a white bucktail would be a wise choice.
These enormous trolling spoons were originally fashioned from the headlight reflectors of LaSalle automobiles, most probably by New Jersey angler Jessie Howland to imitate full-grown menhaden and catch really big striped bass. Early commercially available spoons were made by Wil-Arm, which is no longer in business, and Montauk Striper brand, which has been in production for 65 years under the watchful eye of veteran tackle-shop owner Joe Julian of Highlands, New Jersey. All bunker spoons are meant to be trolled using special, long rods and wire line to control depth, and they are still a favorite. An even larger, heavier version developed by Montauk skipper Jimmy George and marketed under the name Secret Spoons, has been responsible for huge striped bass in recent years, including fish to near 70 pounds. You either love or hate bunker spoons, but you simply can’t argue with their propensity to catch big bass.
This lead-and-cedar-wood creation could very well be the hottest tuna catching artificial lure of all time. The shape is simple and it’s rigged by simply running a leader down the center and crimping on the hook, which extends up inside the body. Don’t let the simplicity fool you – fished as singles or in daisy chains trolled at around seven knots, the plug comes alive with an erratic swimming action that drives tuna to distraction. They come in a variety of colors, but most would agree that plain, unpainted cedar will always be the best.
Creek Chub Pikie
In 1920, the Creek Chub Bait Company of Garrett, Indiana, introduced one of its most popular and enduring plugs, the Pikie. Initially made in fresh water sizes, this fat-bodied wood swimmer featured glass eyes and a metal lip that induced a rolling wobble. Larger sizes followed and found their way to the coast. Through the ’30s and ’40s, its popularity in salt water grew and led to salt-water-specific models and the creation of the Creek Chub Surfster in 1953. But its larger contribution was as the catalyst for the East Coast salt water plug-making revolution in the 1940s and ’50s.
Originally made and sold by Danny Pinchney in the early 1960s, this flat-face metal-lipped wood swimmer is a striper fisherman’s dream. While debate rages if Pinchney or plug-maker Donny Musso came up with the original shape, the Danny Plug is the name everyone knows it by regardless of who makes it. Worked slowly, it has a seductive side-to-side roll and stays right on the surface where big stripers find it irresistible. Today, Gibbs Lures makes them true to the original design in their Rhode Island facility and interpretations abound by custom plug makers too numerous to name.
In 1929, John Schumke, an avid Connecticut fisherman and employee of the Bridgeport Silverware Company, developed a four-sided, plated metal lure and called it the Bridgeport Diamond Jig. Made by the silverware company, its finish was dazzling and its fish-catching ability remarkable. In 1955, the diamond jig division was sold to Bead Tackle Company and Schumke went with his lure, which had gained worldwide distribution and popularity. Today, Bridgeport Diamond Jigs and Bead Tackle are manufactured in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and are still the highest quality available. The diamond jig is a beach fisherman’s go-to lure when sand eels are in the wash, and from a boat it catches pretty much everything. Stripers, bluefish, weakfish, cod, pollock, tuna, grouper, snapper – the list is endless. Cast and retrieved or fished vertically, it’s hard to beat.
Build a better mousetrap – that’s exactly what Mark Nichols did in 1989 in his garage in Palm City, Florida. He grew up on the Gulf Coast, spent years running a shrimp boat and all his spare time fishing. His experience helped him create a dead ringer for the prime shallow-water forage. His original three-inch shrimp became so popular that in 1993 he started D.O.A. Lures to manufacture and market them. In a few years they were being sold all over and catching fish wherever shrimp were found. Today anglers gobble up four sizes in a variety of colors.
L.B. Huntingdon Drone Spoon
Patented in 1919 after nine years of development by Levon B. Huntington, a.k.a. Fishhawk, and still in production in Norfolk, Virginia, today by his grandson, Lev Huntington III, the Drone spoon catches pretty much anything that swims and eats other fish. Originally designed to mimic the flash and movement of Chesapeake Bay alewives when trolled behind Fishhawk’s rowboat, it was eventually available in many sizes and color patterns. Its unique shape and action is deadly.
So simple and effective, the original Green Machine was introduced more than 20 years ago by Sevenstrand Tackle Company, and while it never gained popularity on its West Coast home turf, it became synonymous with tuna trolling 2,000 miles to the east. It is an unassuming lure with its clear, bullet-shaped acrylic head molded around a stack of interlocking, multi-faceted green beads, finished with a single green skirt for a total length of 12 inches. Rigged with a 10/0 tuna hook using red beads under the skirt for proper placement, it is a tuna-catching machine. You¿d be hard-pressed to find a single boat fishing the Mid-Atlantic canyons that doesn’t have one or two in the pattern. The original is still available, but dozens of companies make a version of this canyon standard.
High-Speed Spreader Bars
Okay, so it’s not a lure per se, but about 20 years ago some enterprising tuna trollers figured out that if one daisy chain was good, three on the same line was even better and the high-speed spreader bar was born. The original commercially available bars were crafted by New Jersey tackle-shop owners Grant Toman and Dave Arbeitman of the Reel Seat, and featured a thin titanium wire bar with three chains of hollow soft-plastic squid. Only the last squid down the middle is armed. The combination of the near weightless squid and flexible bar brings it to life in the water, expanding and contracting as it skips across the surface raising tuna to attack the “school” of baitfish. After a hookup, its light weight does not hinder the fight.
In 1949, Robert Hopkins filed for a patent on a fishing lure he called the NO=EQL. Forged from stainless steel with a unique, slab-sided shape and hammered finish, little did he know he had created one of the most enduring metal lures of all time. His initial objective was to develop a lure that could be cast for distance, had good fish-attracting action and could hold up in salt water. After a lot of trial-and-error, he hit on the NO=EQL No. 3. Beach fishermen could cast it a mile and its tantalizing action proved effective jigging and even trolling for a wide variety of gamefish. Today, Hopkins Tackle is still making them in Norfolk, Virginia, in various sizes and models including the popular Shorty, all true to the original Hopkins design.
Ask any offshore captain south of Cape Hatteras about his go-to lure and there is no hesitation – a blue-and-white Ilander. Most frequently fished over a rigged ballyhoo, the chromed, bullet-shaped head with its big gold and black eyes and slightly offset hole for the leader is complemented by long strands of soft nylon – blue on the back and white on the belly. The combination catches all types of pelagics, but sailfish and marlin find it particularly tough to pass up. Trolled fast or slow, one thing remains unquestionable; they produce. There probably isn’t a charter boat that runs offshore south of the Mason-Dixon Line that doesn’t have a stash of Ilanders on board.
Johnson Silver Minnow
If there’s another lure that’s caught more redfish and specks, please let us know, because after 90 years of continuous production without a single change, the Johnson Silver Minnow still slays ’em. It has a unique, elongated teardrop shape and the metal is slightly thicker in the middle than on its edges, which is the key to keeping the hook up and imparting its side-to-side wobble on the retrieve. Add a plastic grub, twister-tail or pork rind trailer and it’s even more effective. It’s as close to snag-proof as a lure gets and runs slightly nose up just under the surface leaving a noticeable wake that pulls in shallow-feeding fish like a magnet. Gold-plated in 1/4-ounce and 1/2-ounce weights are the most popular models.
Back in 1950, salt water fly fishing was in its infancy, but Lefty Kreh and pal Tom Cofield, a writer for the Baltimore Sun, were fly-fishing regularly for stripers in Chesapeake Bay. Kreh was already a noted long-wand specialist and creative fly-tier and it was during his days here that he came up with what is arguably the most effective salt water baitfish fly pattern of all times, Lefty’s Deceiver. Consisting of white saddle-hackles placed facing inward like praying hands to help mimic the deep-bodied appearance of an alewife and dressed with white bucktail for the belly and colored bucktail on top, it can also have some Mylar or tinsel for flash and eyes for added realism. The pattern can be fished at any depth, and the bigger the tie, the bigger the baitfish it represents. The Deceiver has probably caught more species of salt water gamefish around the world than all other flies combined. Take a well deserved bow, Mr. Kreh.
Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man,” but when Mann’s Bait Company introduced their Stretch 25+ and its variants anglers found it far more productive to go deep. These long, minnow-shaped plastic plugs use diving lips and careful weighting to achieve consistently accurate trolling depths. Use them on outfits loaded with Spectra braid and you’ve got a deadly controlled-depth presentation without having to resort to wire-line or downriggers. From striped bass in the Northeast to grouper in the Gulf to wahoo and tuna offshore, they are versatile and capable of swimming at a wide range of trolling speeds.
Manufactured by Harold LeMaster’s and Phil Shriner’s L & S Bait Company around 1950 as their first foray into the salt water plug market, the MirrOlure 52M, also dubbed the “Troutmaster,” came in shallow-, medium- and deep-running models. With a strong following in fresh water dating back to their first headquarters in Bradley, Illinois, in the 1930s, the company opened a second facility in Clearwater, Florida, and this plastic, lipless lure with the tight wiggle generated a legion of fans in the Southeastern and Gulf states. Cast and retrieved, it caught everything from reds to tarpon and remains popular today.
Mold Craft Wide Range
A chance meeting between Captain Peter Wright and inventor Frank Johnson on a fishing trip in Cozumel, Mexico, in 1977 sparked the creation of one of the most popular and productive offshore trolling lures of all time and the beginning of the soft head revolution. The Mold Craft Wide Range, so named because it tracks well in a wide range of sea conditions, has set numerous marlin records, including catching the current 80-pound line-class Atlantic blue marlin record of 1,189 pounds and subduing a monster blue of 1,742 pounds. The popular Wide Range has spawned many Mold Craft imitators.
After World War II, an explosion of interest in salt water fishing, particularly for striped bass, became the driving force behind some of the most enduring lures of all time, and master angler and lure maker, Stan Gibbs, was one of the craft’s true innovators. His company opened its doors in 1946 and rapidly gained a loyal following with such creations as the Casting Swimmer, Polaris Popper, Needlefish and Darter, all still in production today by Gibbs Lures and copied by a host of imitators. His original Pencil Popper quickly became known as truly great fish-catchers. The wild side-to-side action imparted by well-timed up-and-down action is deadly. If you’ve never fished one, pencil in a tackle-shop visit and stock up.
In the 1930s, a humble Finnish fisherman with an uncanny ability for observing fish behavior realized that gamefish homed in on baitfish that swam with a slightly off-center wiggle that distinguished them from the rest of the school. After years of whittling, he hit on a minnow-shaped lure that captured that defect and the world of fishing hasn’t been the same since. Lauri Rapala’s original balsa minnow became so popular that a through-wired salt water version made from hardwood was developed and became as popular as the fresh water original. It also spawned a host of plastic imitations, some that worked and many that didn’t. No list of the best of all time would be complete without a Rapala.
Slinging iron is West Coast jargon for fishing metal jigs using a variety of methods to catch yellowtail, sea bass, albacore, tuna, barracuda, wahoo, marlin and a host of other species. And the iron that started the craze was the Salas jig. Designed and produced by the Salas family since the early 1950s, they are anything but iron, cast from metal of varying densities to make lighter and heavier models and painted in a wide variety of colors. The Light 7X model is actually a surface swimmer with a seductive action on retrieve, while the Heavy 6X and 7X are more effectively fished deep or yo-yoed in a vertical manner. With color designations like scrambled eggs, senorita, nacho and mint sardine, these are California lures that catch fish locally and in Mexican waters. Fishermen in other areas of the country should be giving them a shot, too. Results will be surprising.
Soft-plastic lures have become the preferred light-tackle baits for millions of anglers since they started tearing up the inshore scene in the early 1980s, and one company lays claim to the two most popular of the genre – Herb Reed’s Lunker City Lures. The Fin-S Fish is a fish-shaped soft bait that can be threaded on a leadhead and fished like a jig or impaled on a plastic-worm hook and fished as a weedless jerkbait. It comes in sizes from 2- to ten inches and catches everything from weakfish and snapper blues in estuaries to horse-size striped bass and bull redfish shallow or deep. The Slug-Go (shown), Reed’s unique soft stickbait, has a slender, flexible body with a tapered tail and is usually fished without added weight.
Storm Wildeye Shad
There’s another revolution in soft-lure design underway popularized by the internally weighted, realistically shaped Storm Wildeye Shad that has been available for about eight years. Originally thought to be too pretty to be effective and too fragile to stand the test of time, it has wormed its way into the hearts of fishermen with the pulsing action of its swimming tail and the way fish gobble it down on contact. It is a dead ringer for a menhaden, the most prodigious forage species on the East and Gulf Coasts, casts like a bullet, sinks on a tight line and swims like a live baitfish on the end of your line. Even though a toothy critter can snip off the tail in a single bite, fishermen still cough up dough to buy more.
Every fisherman has heard the term “walk-the-dog.” Well, this is the lure that the phrase was coined to describe. Its unusual left-right flopping action imparted by flipping the rod tip up and down with a bit of slack in the line is killer. The original James T. Heddon design introduced in the 1920s and made from wood was called a Zaragossa 6500. In the late 1930s, it was reintroduced as the Zara Spook with a plastic body carefully weighted to create the same action. Salt water anglers have been using it for redfish, seatrout, snook, striped bass and other species in shallow water ever since with some very remarkable results.