I've used these things for quite a few years, but they were never part of the more consistent group in my arsenal. I started to give them more attention these past few weeks to see if I can find a permanent place for them.
I'm talking about classic darters here. Not the Yozuri Mag Darter, which happens to be an extraordinary lure, but doesn’t quite fit into this genre of lures. I'm not talking about the bass-o-reno either, which is definitely a darter, a wild and crazy little guy at that, but it just isn't part of this group. Not even the grandfather of the modern darter which is similar to modern day bottle plugs (of which I wish I could get my hands on one). The "classic" darters I'm referring to are the slope faced, round bodied lures with a jagged lip of some form or another.
No two are alike and everyone’s opinion of them varies considerably. When I first heard of using them years ago they were promoted as a big water and heavy rip lure. To some extent I have found these claims to be true, but what no one ever told me that some are better for different situations than others and modifications are sometimes necessary for them to be useful at times.
There are many different shapes and sizes of these plugs. Some sink, some float and some just don't work when you'd expect them to. As most wooden plug builders will tell you, they are one of the most difficult plugs to build. The nose angle may be off only a few degrees, unnoticeable to the consumer and the plug will be destined to failure. The eye placement may be off just a fraction of an inch and the plug will never swim. And these are just a couple of the more noticeable issues.
Keep in mind, I haven't caught fish on a few of these plugs I'm going to discuss, so my opinion of them as being "good" may only be based on my experience with other lures that move in a manner fish are tempted to strike. My opinion of darters, and the conditions in which they are useful, has dramatically changed over the past few weeks.
The Gibbs. There are three different sizes of these. 1-5/8 oz to 3oz. The two smaller ones are narrow in comparison to the 3oz, and I have only used the 2oz and 3oz versions. The 2oz is actually the first on I've ever owned and was one of my favorites. I could never really "feel" what it was doing after it dug in but I managed to catch fish on it in the past. I've had the most success with it in slow water on a steady slow retrieve. This is contrary to what I thought it should be used for. I bought it for heavy rips, but it never seemed to hold as well as I thought it should. I lost it last year and haven't replaced it for my recent experiment. I think I will soon. It was a good lure.
The 3oz Gibbs is actually the plug that prompted this little experiment of mine. This darter is similar in length to the 2oz version but is much wider in girth. I've found this plug to perform well in quiet surf conditions or in very slow water. In heavier, faster water it just seems to want to surface with the slightest amount of back pressure. A sharp jerk to get the plug to bite in followed by a very slow retrieve with light twitches has actually resulted in quite a few strikes with no fish for me. May have something to do with the 5/0 hooks I am using on the plug which makes this plug very suitable candidate for taking large fish. If I can find any. :-)
The next plug I tried is actually a 3.5oz LIfishinVT. A relatively new lure company to RI. This plug is a very slow sinker. It is similar in size and shape to the 3oz Gibbs but performs a quite differently. This plug is very unstable. Almost useless at first inspection. A long light pull causes this plug just roll right to the surface. I was discouraged at first until I tried something a little different. If allowed to sink and not retrieved in a conventional manner it can work. Very well in fact. When using nothing more than intermittent sharp jerks of the rod tip this plug actually starts to look a little fishy. This method allows the plug to sink to the desired depth you want to fish and when given a hard short jerk, it will "dart" to one side several feet. At the end of this jerk pick up the slack in your line and it just suspends motionless at depth. Hit it again or let it sink and this plug just seems to move from place to place hovering in between shifting positions. Kind of finessy. Not at all a fast water lure, but it can work in heavy surf if allowed to sink and retrieved in the manner I described here. I have yet to find a fish with It, but this plug holds potential. I'd recommend it for the same type of conditions one might use a slow sink needle. Shallow or deep boulder fields or even a sandy beach where various depths or nooks and crannies are your targets of inspection. If reeled in quickly it just rolls to the surface making it easy to get out of hairy situations.
The next is the Tattoo's Tackle 2oz darter. He makes a bigger one too but this is the only one I own (subject to pricing). This darter, like the rest rolls to the surface in fast water, but it really shines in heavy surf. Once it bites and you keep the pressure of a slow retrieve on it, this lure really digs in. It actually put a bend in my rod and goes deeper than any other floating darter in my arsenal. This plug is destined for success in heavy surf, but could be useful in lighter water as well. It performs similar to the 3oz Gibbs if retrieved slowly and twitched erratically. Not as good for this as the Gibbs for this but it will work. This plug is a classic big water darter.
This list wouldn't be complete without the Super Strike darter. This one is very similar in shape and behavior to the 2oz Gibbs. This is the only plastic, classic darter on the market and for that reason is not subject to the inconsistencies of the wooden variety. If you buy two they will behave exactly the same. They are also not subject to lip splitting like the wooden darters when banged along rocky reefs. I initially had issues with these lures rolling up to the surface in heavier surf. I was very disappointed, but now I started to play with the hooks. Changing out the belly hook on this lure has dramatic effects on the way it behaves in heavy surf. It comes standard with 4/0's and doesn't seem to work very well in this stock configuration when the surf is up. I own two, so I recently replaced the belly on one with a 5/0 hook and put single undressed siwash hooks on the tails of both. The difference was night and day. I could feel the 4/0 lure come right up with the slightest back pressure, but the 5/0 dug in hard. Last night this lure was actually the only darter that produced any hits for me and I rotated them all. I was casting parallel to the surf so the longshore was pulling hard and steady away from me. The SS darter, in this configuration, performed like a champ. It was only rivaled by the Tattoo's which was digging a little too deep for that particular location.
So what do I think? I think I want more. More types, more colors, more sizes. Just more. The darter seems to be anything but the standard cast and retrieve lure I originally though it was. It requires thought and feel to fish it properly. I still haven't found one for a heavy rip, but many models do excel in heavy surf. Surprisingly, I've found some are ideal quiet water, probing type lures as well. Very handy for locating pockets of fish, even if they are only just curious, bumping and whacking it but not committed to eating the lure. It will tell you if they are there or not. Smokey Joe has been the most productive pattern the past few weeks, but I'm quite sure I want some more yellows, blurples, white/reds,............ I've also found some info on something called "Montauk Darter". This one appears to be a beast and I'm hoping I can locate a few sooner than later. Mr. Kelsey? ;-)
The testing continues.