LAND - BASED SURFACE PLUG FISHING - Part of the Artificial Revolution – Part III -Casting surface lures from the side at feeding fish has to be one of the most exciting methods of fishing ever. Each species has its own characteristics, but almost all of them cause a huge commotion on the surface, heart-stopping stuff. Traditionally, most of these lures were fashioned from wood, the old broomstick handle and so on. These wooden lures did the job, but had a tendency to start becoming waterlogged. This obviously changed their action and the other problem was that fish with big teeth tended to hang on to them, giving your arms a bit of a stretch and then letting go. Kingfish in particular have a tendency to try to steal the plug from another one’s mouth and the good grip that was ensured by a wooden plug meant broken split rings, wires and straightened hooks. The power that is generated when two big Kingfish get their heads together and pull against one another is unbelievable. Nylon plugs changed all of this and certainly made for good hook sets and much longer lasting lures.
As with most types of fishing, casting accuracy is important, but even more important is the ability to cast a long way. To be able to do this with surface lures is relatively easy, if the plug that you are using is well designed with a cast in mind. Generally, nylon plugs that are weighted at the back with some lead give a very true flight when they are cast and do not catch the wind as much as the very light or hollow surface poppers that are designed to float. The floating plugs are very difficult to cast long distances and generally your floating type of surface popper is also designed for a much slower retrieve - definitely a lot more popular on boats. The best casting plug is definitely the GT Ice Cream needle-nose. As with sinkers, there is a tendency for the shorter, flatter plugs to tumble in the cast and plugs with long flat surfaces tend to catch the wind. Rounded leading edges and a square cross-section profile, cast a lot better, but the best way to check is to try it out. The hook arrangement is also critical and one will find that a stinger type hook arrangement (like those used on vertical jigs) allows for a more streamlined profile, rather than a big treble not quite lying flat against the side of the plug, or even if it does manage to lie against the side of the plug, it tends to cause an imbalance. There is also no doubt that fish don’t come off anywhere near as easy with singles as opposed to trebles and releasing the fish is much easier. There is a great amount of speculation with regard to the effectiveness of various colours on poppers. With spoons there is no doubt that it is a critical factor, but having fished in the dead of night with various different colour plugs as an experiment and then done the same thing during the day, I cannot certainly say that colour is an issue. Translucent whites are definitely a favourite and more often than not, when an individual is having a lot of success it is either the shape, the size or the distance that is the critical factor rather than the colour. Speed of the retrieve is very important and one needs to make sure that you go through a strict routine of varying retrieves whilst fishing.
The size and the shape of a popper are critical with regard to the target species. GT’s really like something big and will almost always choose the biggest plug if they have to make a choice. A green spot on the other hand, which looks pretty much like a small GT, definitely has a preference for small plugs and generally quieter presentations. Faster fish like Snoek and Couta normally favour a very fast slider or pencil popper type retrieve. Garrick on the other hand seems to like a fairly slow fluttering type of action. The longer and thinner the body of the popper is, the quieter its action seems to be. As a rule, one would normally use the chunky big headed or flat-sided type plugs in a choppy condition. Slimmer and smaller is a lot more suited to the calm glassy condition that one often encounters. A bold splashy presentation in these types of conditions often almost scares the fish off rather than attracts them. The wider the chisel shape in the front of the plug, the more of a fluttery effect it has. Your round ice-cream cone and flat-sided nylon plugs generally have more noise and flutter than any of those with narrow chisels or needle-noses. Cup-faced poppers are almost always found in the floating form and are generally not well suited to casting from the shore. They are designed to push a lot of water and create some forward spray when they are ripped through the water. They do not do well on a constant fleeing baitfish type retrieve. Depending on where one is fishing there are certain characteristics that you should be looking for in the plug. For example, when fishing from a high vantage point, one should try to use a plug that is weighted more in the front than at the back. This is not great for casting but certainly helps to give the tail a bit of action in the water. People sometimes comment and say “In the Cape they use their spoons the wrong way around”. Invariably those people who are doing so have very good reason and it is normally because they are fishing from high up off the water. Another consideration is when you are making long casts from the shore. If your line is particularly heavy or you are using a thick braid which when wet tends to pull down, you can end up with your plug spending a fair amount of time sub-surface rather than where it should be. In these sorts of situations, it is often best to hold the rod higher rather than low down. Whilst trying to keep it as simple as possible, one should always ensure that you have a mix of long casting plugs, noisy plugs and quiet plugs. Obviously the size selection would be dependent on the specie.
When fishing with surface poppers, force yourself to never strike. As soon as you see movement behind the lure, it is best to start lowering the rod and just continue with the normal retrieve. Once the fish has the lure in its mouth and turns, when you feel everything go tight, you can set the hook if you feel it is necessary. More often than not, inexperience leads to the lure being pulled away from the fish before it has even got it in its mouth. These days anglers are putting an enormous amount of pressure on fish to land them as quickly as possible and in most cases release them. Anglers are often cut-off by other fish that form part of a shoal. This is especially true when fishing with braid as there is no stretch and the shock of the contact breaks it a little easier than monofilament. If you suspect this may be the case, it is best to let the fish settle into the fight a little straight after the hook-up. This is provided you don’t have to contend with rocks or coral. Garrick and GT’s are prime candidates for this with the whole shoal getting very excited and rushing around when one takes the plug.