THE DARTER: KNIGHT OF THE NIGHT
I have been doing seminars and fishing shows for many years. Inevitably, someone will ask “THE” question- the one to which everyone wants to get the magic answer- What’s the best lure for consistently catching big fish at night?
Maybe I have disappointed a lot of fellow anglers, but I tell it to them straight- there is no definitive answer. Many factors determine how a particular night of fishing will go and what lures will be consistent in their fish catching ability. Weather conditions, the tides, the phase of the moon, the structure you are fishing- or the lack of it, what bait fish are present in the water and so on. But when they really press me, I am consistent in my answer, the Darter is the lure I rely on when darkness falls to catch fish consistently and when you are catching consistently, you have the best opportunity to catch a big fish. Darters are a popular lure choice for inshore and surf fisherman. Their diving
and darting motion make them an enticing meal choice. Darters are known for their sloped head, and short lip. A twitch or sharp pull of the line will pull the lure deeper. Let’s break down what makes the darter so effective.
To begin, the profile of the darter matches a large variety of different baits in the water. It also provides the action and movement to look authentic to predatory Striped Bass. There have been many nights when the fish were extremely picky and the darter was the only bait that got any reaction. The natural characteristics of the darter produces “instinctive strikes” from fish when they may be otherwise not be feeding. Predators just can’t resist it. I compare strikes like this to a guest lingering around the kitchen at a party. They claim not to be hungry, but as soon as the appetizers appear... BAM…. they grab a scallop wrapped in bacon and they are “caught”
not being able to resist.
Now the question is, how do you work the lure properly so the predator can’t resist it? No doubt, it is more art than science, and there is a learning curve to fishing the darter. I try to introduce the darter to my novice anglers when I am guiding them at night. You can get the “feel” of it rather quickly by letting the lure do the work. If you fish this lure in the proper conditions- swift moving current, and conditions where the lure is able to “dig”, you will have success sooner than later. It is effective and the learning curve can be shortened with minimal common “fish” sense. When explaining how to use the lure properly, I always tell my clients the worst thing they can do with a darter is to overwork it. Overworking it will cause it not to look authentic to the fish. Remember we are trying to convince a living, breathing, striped bass to attack a piece of wood or plastic that is not living.
In order to get the desired reaction, you must make the darter look like a meal. The best technique to work the darter is to cast it, and as soon as it hits the water, “get in touch” with it. It is very important that you do this immediately following the cast. Once you feel the weight of the lure, you are “in touch”, so give it two hard pumps of the rod. This allows the plug to “dig in” and get below the surface. Sometimes, if there are fish feeding on the surface, you will get a strike right off the bat. This is caused by the lure disrupting the water’s surface thereby drawing the fish’s attention. If there is no immediate strike, I like to work the darter really slow. When I get to the third turn of the reel I give it two twitches of the rod, not hard pumps, just twitches. I then continue that process throughout the retrieve.
Should a bit of time go by without a strike, don’t get impatient. Stay with the darter, but you may want to change color or vary the cadence of the retrieve. For example, make two turns of the reel then twitch instead of three, Also consider changing the speed of the retrieve, faster or slower. However, do not reel this lure too fast as it will not swim properly and not look “authentic” to the fish. Reeling too fast will result in a bad night of fishing. Don’t be afraid to let it sit or slow it down. Wounded bait acts erratic. Trust your instincts, no matter what level fisherman you are. This type of trial and error is how learning is done. The more you learn,
the more you know. The more you know, the better your results.
In closing, the darter is and always will be one of the main lures in my night time arsenal. As with other presentations, you have to put your time in understanding how it works, why it works and under what condition it works. This will enable you to make the Darter your own, and put the night fishing odds in your favor to consistently catch bigger fish. Live the Passion! Tightlines!
Guide with over 30 years of experience fishing the legendary waters of Long Island. He is well known for his informative seminars at saltwater shows in the Northeast. Bernie offers trips along the outer beaches and inlets of Long Island, as well as Cape Cod Canal, Cuttyhunk, and other Northeast Striper locations. He is a pro-team member for S&S Bucktails, ODM RODS, and KastKing, as well as a member of the Long Island Beach Buggy Association and the Montauk Surfcasters Association. You can contact Bernie on Facebook through Bernie Bass Surfcasting Services, on Instagram @Bernie_bass, and through his website at https://www.berniebass.com/