A pretty typical 30" fish taken off the beach on a 9" white Slug-Go at night. When I fish the big plastic, almost half my fish are legal size.
The Slug-Go Addiction
Everyone has their favorite ways to fish: Some use bait, some troll, and some cast and retrieve. I am a cast and retrieve guy, I want to feel every hit and I love pulling fish off structure. If you have fished with me, you have seen the 15 pound box of plastic in my kayak. I always bring too many, but I always have the one I need! I am a Slug-Go addict!
It happened a long time ago. I was looking through the pages of the Bass Pro Shops catalog for the perfect plastic to imitate the anchovies and sardines that were the primary bait in Southern California. Then I saw them—a plastic bait that was not a worm imitation. It was some time around 1990 and I had never heard of a Slug-Go before. I ordered a couple packs to see if they would work.
It didn’t take long before they were the number one lure in my tackle box; coupled with a 1.5 ounce jighead they caught everything that swam—sand bass, calico bass, bonito, halibut, tuna, barracuda, yellowtail, and rockfish among many others.
By 1993 I was a Slug-Go addict; even my friends were making fun of me for using them for everything. Early one April morning I was jigging a 4.5" white Slug-Go in 80 feet in Mexican waters—I felt a tap and set the hook on a solid fish. Two hours later a 100 pound black sea bass was rolling at the boat. That fish remains the largest I have caught on the Slug-Go. In those first few years of fishing Slug-Gos I also landed a 52 pound thresher shark and a 30 something pound halibut. Slug-Gos produced both variety and big fish.
When I moved to Boston and started fishing for stripers, everyone told me to use bait, so at first I did. On my first trip to Plum Island in 1994 I was in the line of anglers on the riverfront not catching anything. It looked like a good spot and it seemed like we should be catching fish especially with the current moving so fast. I pulled out one of my Slug-Gos on a 1.5 ounce jighead and took a few casts. Soon I was the only one on the beach pulling in fish. They were all small, but got my confidence up to fish Slug-Gos for stripers. Ten years later, the Slug-Go is still my number one striper lure; the only difference is that my go to lure is not the 6" size but the 9" size.
Rigged plastic, 10" Fin-S, 6" Salt Shaker, 7" Fin-S, and 9" Slug-Go.
I fish primarily Lunker City plastics, mostly because I think they make the best shapes for salt water fishing. There are other brands available, Bass Assassin is popular and all the new swim baits are catching on as well. I generally don’t fish swim baits because you can’t control the weight. Jighead weight is a critical factor in presenting your plastic.
The plastic arsenal consists of Slug-Gos, Fin-S fish, and Salt Shakers. The 9" Slug-Go, 10" Fin-s and 6" Salt Shaker are great lures for legal size bass; you catch many shorts on them, but the larger sizes hook fewer of the small fish and gives the bigger fish a chance to eat them. For smaller fish, I often use the 6" Slug-Go or smaller Fin-S Fish or Salt Shakers.
I always fish my plastic on jigheads ranging from ½ ounce to 5 ounces. Some anglers use the hook provided with the big Slug-Gos for fishing—I use them to clean the eyes of my jigheads! From the kayak, I will use a ½ head in less than 10 feet of water, ¾ ounce in 8’ to 15’ of water and 1 ounce in 15 or more feet of water. Current matters too, the stronger the current the more weight you can use. The key is to use a head that allows you to swim the jig deep in the water column without it burying into the bottom. If you keep snagging weeds, use less weight. Favorite jigheads are ½ ounce Larew’s High Tide jigheads for Slug-Gos and Fin-S fish, Kalin’s ultimate swim bait head for Fin-S and Salt Shakers, and Kalin’s ultimate jig head for Slug-Gos. There are a variety of large (2 ounce to 5 ounce) heads that are good for bouncing plastic in the strong currents of the Cape Cod Canal.
The top row is Larew’s High Tide jighead, second row is Kalin’s ultimate swim bait head, and the bottom row is Kalin’s ultimate jighead (left 2) and Kalin’s standard jighead (right 2).
The key to rigging plastics is to hang the bait straight off the jighead with no kinks or bends. Every article about fishing plastics on jigs mentions this! You can see the difference in how the lures swim when properly rigged. To keep them on the jighead, always use a couple drops of superglue when you slide the plastic on to the jig. Superglue will greatly increase how long each bait lasts and will keep it from sliding down the hook when you cast.
Fishing the Plastic
They call them swim baits for a reason; they are most effective when you swim them! Cast the bait, let it sink, feeling for hits on the sink and do a steady bouncing retrieve back. The speed of the retrieve will depend on water depth and the activity level of the fish. Bigger stripers are usually deeper in the water column, so if you want bigger fish, keep it closer to the bottom! Bottom bouncing can be very effective too. Move the jig in short hops, letting it fall to the bottom and then bouncing it up as soon as it hits. I have caught a few lobsters doing this too! Plastics are most effectively fished on braid so you can feel every little tap. Big fish don’t always hit hard.
Plastics are most effective around structure (duh!). Our kayaks give us the advantage that we can fish structure that most boats can’t. Paddle into very shallow water and work the jig right around rocks, these areas always hold fish, especially at night. When fishing fast current be very disciplined about staying on the structure. I use a GPS and my fishfinder to help identify the zone where the fish are and will keep paddling back into the zone and drifting. Anchoring up can also be effective. I spend most of my time fishing in 10’ or less, but sometimes will fish the deep edge of a dropoff.
Plastics are also effective on the troll too. They are most effective when slow trolled, but they can be trolled at a pretty fast pace, especially in shallow water. A 9" Slug-Go on a ½ ounce head will ride right under the surface and can be trolled into 2 feet of water. I don’t do very much trolling, but it is a great way to find fish. For those that carry bait, stick a sea worm on the hook as you troll, maybe one of those tube and worm larges will eat it!
Your choice of plastic should reflect your target size fish. In May and June, I fish the 10" Fin-S fish almost exclusively. Its larger profile looks more like a herring and the biggest fish are keyed in on these baits. Mid-summer I switch to the 9" Slug-Go because there are fewer fish, so I don’t mind catching the smaller fish. As the fall run begins and the macks show up, I switch back to the big Fin-S otherwise it is hard to get past the small fish to the bigger ones. Very early and very late in the season I use the 6" Slug-Go or the 4" Fin-S for the small schoolies. Also, the smaller plastics are good to keep around for those dog days when the fish are keyed in on tiny bait.
Plastics come in an endless variety of colors, so how do you choose one? I am not a color fanatic and keep my selection pretty basic. I don’t change my color selection for night and day either. My most used colors are black, white, Arkansas shiner, alewife, ice shad, and rainbow trout, but I have used just about every color that they sell. Pick a color that you have confidence in, and it will be effective.
When you fish big plastics, you need a rod with some hook setting power. No need to go Jimmy Houston on the hookset, but you need a rod that can bury the jig into a big fish. Occasionally the plastic will wrap itself around the hook and you have to set the hook through plastic. I use rods rated for 20 to 40 pound test and fish either 20 or 30 pound braid. Braid makes a big difference in deeper water or fast current where takes will be much more subtle.
Your rod selection will play a big role in your success with big plastics. A light rod will be a frustrating experience because so many fish will spit the hook before you can get a solid set.
If you are a cast and retrieve angler, plastics are about the most effective choice you can make. The best part is the hit. All winter long I think about the crunching hit of a big bass on the Slug-Go!
Focus on the basics: keep the bait swimming, keep it deep in the water column, and keep it around structure. Pretty basic principles, but on nights when the fish are tough to find it is easy to start fishing too fast or too far from structure.
Try the big plastic; find a nice rockpile or ridge and drift it over and over again. Swim the jig over every part of it. With a little practice you will quickly find success. Then comes the addiction!