You’ll have to excuse me but I am not sure what publication this appeared in originally. It is included in the eBook , Surf Fishing, Collection of Article Volume I
I figured some of you might find it mildly interesting. My new book, with still undetermined title will hopefully be out for holidays…I hope. Its something diferent than what I have done before, so naturally I been hesitant for few years now to publish it ,but on prodding by my better half, I finally decided to publish it. Nothing like having your biggest fan in your house….:-)


Even though quite a few years have passed, I remember the scene like it was yesterday. A crisp fall day with an onshore breeze made for some fishy looking conditions on this stretch of beach at Jones Beach State Park. Alas, the fish obviously did not share my excitement about the nice looking white water rolling over the sandbars, as they were nowhere to be found. Suddenly there was a movement in the wave; a glimmer of hope for a surfcaster. A single, long and slender needlefish almost a foot long broke the surface. For what seemed like an eternity, it stood suspended above the rolling wave before gracefully disappearing in the foam. A few minutes later another one made a somersault followed by yet another. I frantically searched in my plug bag for a needlefish lure, knowing full well that I had packed none since this was a daytime excursion and I use needles mostly at dark. “Maybe, just maybe, there was one left from a previous night excursion,” I thought to myself. No such luck! And try as I might, I just could not raise a fish, that day. However, seeing needlefish jumping clear out of the water gave me an excuse to change my original plan of plugging the backside of the inlet. Instead I decided to return here in the dark and this time I would carry some needlefish lures.

A painful experience…

Making a trek to the West End Two pocket over the soft sand is a chore but doing it twice in one day? That is just pure torture! However, the vision of stripers chasing needlefish in the white water was too tempting to pass up so I plodded on through the mosquito infested path, at times running full speed while waiving my arm madly, trying to avoid bites from these little blood suckers. I finally reached the surf line totally soaked in sweat, not looking forward to doing the same dance on the way back, later.

Since I was out of breath, I decided to make a few casts right in front of the path instead of walking towards the pocket as I originally had planned. I attached my favorite needlefish, an old 7 inch Super Strike painted in mackerel pattern. This lure had been so productive for me over the years; I rarely, if ever left my truck without it. I made a long cast up tide and picked up line with my index finger contemplating whether I should just stay here until dawn instead of risking another trip back through the nightmarish, mosquito infested weeds. Lost in my thoughts, I was startled when a fish slammed the lure with authority.

The first run was powerful and straight toward the Caribbean but then suddenly the fish reversed direction and was running towards the shore. I could sense impending doom, as the fish was now racing up and jumping clear out of the water trying to dislodge the hook. “Bluefish”, I thought and panic now overtook my excitement. I did not want to lose this particular lure to the toothy critter but I knew I was in trouble. I reeled as fast as I could but could not keep up with the fish. I could sense that the big blue was ready to clear the water again in an attempt to shake off the hook. I let out a groan as the fish landed on the line. I could feel the line go slack and with it my favorite Super Strike mackerel needlefish. Grudgingly I retied a new leader and searched in my bag for a replacement. I settled on a green wood mackerel needle and after closing my snap I loaded the rod for a long cast.

Instead of a lure flying through the air I heard that sickening “pop” every surfcaster dreads. The braid was wrapped around the tip and my needlefish was now sailing toward Bermuda. Two casts and two lures gone! Now the paranoia had set in as I was down to my last needlefish, a yellow and white Super Strike. I tied a knot with extra care as I attached the leader and re-checked my line against the rod tip before making a cast. Fearful of another lost lure, my cast was considerably softer and reasonably shorter.

I picked up the slack, relieved to be back in business, when my needlefish got hit hard. The sheer aggressiveness of the hit surprised me and now my line was peeling off the reel. I quickly regained my composure and shortly after I was unhooking a twenty-pound class striper which was quickly released. Now I made a cast with a sense of urgency and reeled in the lure as slow as possible while keeping it off the bottom when it got whacked again! This went on for most of the night and remarkably all the fish were teen fish or better.

In a way this is not that surprising since these fish were feeding on adult needlefish. When it would slow down and I would go without a hit on a few consecutive casts, I tried to mix it up with different plugs. Darters, metal lips and bottle plugs were ignored to the point where I thought the fish had vacated the area. As soon as I switched back to the needlefish however, it would get annihilated. It almost seemed as if they needed to see a different plug to remind them that all they really wanted was a needlefish to begin with. According to my log this ended up being one of the most productive nights of that year.

Some love them, some don’t, but they should

Needlefish lures elicit a strange reaction from surfcasters, particularly those new to the sport. Those who been plying the beaches at night with regularity usually would not even consider leaving their truck without a few in their surf bag. It is their go-to plug that they have great confidence in. Then there are those who have not experienced the efficacy of these lures. They are puzzled about all the hype. They look at the needlefish plug’s simple design. Because they lack the defined characteristics of metal lips or darters, they pronounce them to be “niche” lures. The only way a surfcaster can get from one camp into the other is to put these lures in front of some fish; this will give him the confidence to start experimenting with different retrieves. This in turn should result in even better catches, making him a believer. Hey, I didn’t say it was easy, just that it was doable. The best part of gaining confidence in these lures is that now you will have a plug that you can use in just about any situation, under just about any condition. How many lures can you say that about?

Let’s go back in time

If you think these lures are modern day marvels you might want to brush up on surfcasting history. In the early 90’s Mr. John Haberek of Habs’ Custom Lures did a tremendous amount of marketing for his product.  Thanks to some notable catches on his lures, the needlefish craze was reborn. Notice I said “reborn.” It was our own Mr. Don Musso, maker of Super Strike lures, who fed a steady supply of needlefish lures to the hard fishing crews in Block Island and Montauk Point in the early 80’s.  To this day his signature double-tapered needlefish remains a steady producer all along the striper coast. In fact his plastic needlefish is still considered the “best of breed” in our area. Frankly, the needlefish really never went out of style. Those who know its efficacy never really stopped using it but they did stop talking about it.

You should be bored fishing a needle…

The most common phrase used to describe the shape of a needlefish is a “stick with hooks.” No metal lip to give the lure a tantalizing wobble.  No scooped out nose to spray water in front of itself like a popper and definitely no cut slope-head to make it zigzag through the current like a darter. Yet, when gamefish are feeding on slender baits like sand eels, needlefish will often out produce any other lure by a wide margin.

My research included talks with many anglers with more experience than I have years. Mr. Musso himself said one thing that is most often mentioned and that is the need to keep a slow retrieve. And straight! “Let me get this right”, you say, “a lure that has no built-in action, no lip and no slope should be retrieved slow AND straight?” You are forgetting two very important things when it comes to presentation of the lure under most conditions: current sweep and wave action. Either one will have a tremendous effect on how the lure appears under water and must be taken into consideration when working any lure. So yes, the slow and straight retrieve is probably the most productive retrieve when using these lures. However, they are also most effective in areas with ample current flow as the current aids in sweeping the lure and presenting it to the fish in a lifelike manner.

Casting slightly up-tide and then retrieving the slack as fast as possible and then keeping a retrieve just fast enough to keep in contact with the lure is usually just the ticket. Personally, I like to add a slight twitch with my wrist every few cranks of the reel but I do that mostly out of habit from heavy bucktail use during the season than out of necessity. I also like the little “jump” the lure makes when I flick the wrist but do I out-fish those around me who employ a straight retrieve? I sincerely doubt it. If you are still not convinced I’ll share some wisdom passed on to me from the late Mr. Haberek (“Habs”) who built his reputation on needlefish lures. His philosophy on how to fish the needlefish can be summed up like this “If you are not bored fishing with needlefish lure you’re not doing it right.” I couldn’t agree more.

Which, when and where …

If I had to pick two locations where I would not dream of fishing without a few needles in my bag, I would have to choose both sides of the Montauk Lighthouse and any sandy beach bordering the south shore inlets. The common theme that ties these two seemingly unrelated and vastly different structures together are strong currents at both locations. Needlefish lures have always been most productive in faster, current driven water. However, these lures will also work on open south shore beaches. They will produce at all times but I prefer a strong wind induced sweep like the ones created by impending storms. Strong wind creates an opportunity for gamefish to come into shallow water. There, they easily navigate the turbulent white water in search of an easy meal.  This turbulence and sweep create better conditions for a more natural presentation of needlefish lures. Another benefit of using these gems is their ability to punch through strong winds as needles offer very little wind resistance. In fact, sometimes, they are one of the few lures besides a bucktail and a tin that we can use and still make a good presentation under windy conditions.

Choices galore

Unlike in the past, store shelves these days are brimming with needlefish lures in all lengths and weights. Picking a “right” one can be downright intimidating for newcomers to the sport. I tried different sizes over the years and found that my personal comfort zone lies somewhere between 1.5 to about 2.5 ounces and 7 to 8 inches in length. The truly large ones over 3 ounces are usually reserved for storm conditions or when in search of a truly large specimen while the ones under 1.5 ounces don’t cast that great and seem to attract mostly smaller fish.

If in doubt, buy a needlefish made by Super Strike Lures. It is still my favorite brand when used in fast waters. It is also the most versatile one as it can be loaded with water for better casting distance during stormy conditions or for digging deep in an inlet’s channels. Not only that but they recently introduced a “Heavy” Needlefish line, same great lures but heavier. Super Strike needlefish are made out of plastic and they tend to sink a bit faster than those made out of wood and this is the primary reason why they need moving water to get the most out of them.

At slack water, they will sink fast and you’ll have a hard time keeping them off the bottom on a slow retrieve but when the current is running you can just cast them up-tide and sweep them through the rip. For a little slower sinking rate, you have many choices from several well-known builders. You can’t go wrong with needlefish lures made by plug builders like  Gibbs, Choopy or Lemire’s. These are all quality builders who have invested a lot of time and thought into designing their own version of the needlefish. If you are feeling adventurous, there are many garage builders who will build a needle exactly to your specifications. For example, if you wanted a stubby needle that weighs 4 ounce and you intend to drag the lure over the ocean floor imitating a sand eel it can be done with a simple phone call. So the possibilities are endless but the success is limited unless you take it out of the bag and actually use it. I bet you won’t be disappointed that you did.

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13 comments on “Needlefish

  1. James Carter

    I have the SS Bottle neck, and the Bullet. I plan on getting a few needles, thanks to this article. It pretty much answered the questions I had. I have tons of lures, and I’m fairly new to the surf. Just started doing it this season, and I’m really liking the Super Strike line of lures. They ARE versatile, and sometimes simplicity is key. Especially when simplicity comes from massive field testing, color research, and THEN breaking down lure design to necessity – JUST WHAT IS NEEDED.
    Thank you Zeno.

  2. Allen W

    Great timing Zeno! I haven’t been out but planning on it in September and I’ve been able to get fish a number of lures and home made teasers but never on the needle. Your article will get me to more than carry one. Thanks again, these kinds of articles get me excited over the trepidation of trying something so simple.

  3. CaptFrank

    Excellent read! Needlefish have always been one of my favorites. I never leave on a trip without one. They also work well in the back bays along the sod banks. I’ve had some explosive strikes using them at night working them slowly along a current break or confluence. Great lures, and versatile.

  4. chuckg

    Great article, needles are great, as said, in moving water, slow retrieve on super srikes imparts that slow and narrow side to side movement and the fish really slam them…

  5. mikec67s

    i think doc muller…or one of those beach rats…i was doing a ton of reading on neeedles and cames across a bunch of awesome reads on the how an whys of these lures…i hear they are a great fish catching lure…but for me…….crap

  6. John P

    I think the needle cam into its own during the epic runs on Block Island. Granted, it took a while for me to use them though. I just didn’t understand what they were supposed to represent. I literally caught a bass on a needle the very first (or second) cast, so then my attitude was “who cares”

  7. Rick olson

    Good article zeno,there is a new needlefish out and taking montauk by storm! It’s called tricksters plugs.They are available at Paulie’s,the weight is 2 5\8oz,and come with no hooks! A very well put together plug and has a 500lb krok barrel swivel,it sinks slower than a bm,and tail down,but comes right up.I not only did very well in mtk but fished it on the sand and also outfished everyone around me! Just an outstanding plug!


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