There’s no doubt certain lures produce better than others under different circumstances. However, there is one lure that has established itself for versatility and consistency in catching fish under a wide variety of conditions- the needle fish. For the reasons of versatility and fish catching consistency, the needlefish should be in your surf bag every night. To be very frank, if you don’t have at least one in your bag, you are doing yourself a significant disservice.
Obviously, I have strong opinions about this lure, so what makes it so versatile and productive across the many different conditions faced by surf fishermen? It all starts with its simple, slim design that matches many of the slimmer profile baits favored by striped bass throughout the
year. The slim profile is a great “match” when spearing and sand eels are present. Secondly, it’s a lure that casts well in adverse conditions, such as when the wind is blowing 25-30 knots into your face, or when you need to reach that strike zone other lures can’t reach. Third, the needlefish will produce in a variety of locations commonly fished- from the skinny waters of the back bays, to the swift current of the inlets, and the tidal structures created by the surf along the ocean beaches. These areas represent a wide variety of currents, structure, and depth but in each the needlefish can do its magic. Oddly enough, although each of these areas differs widely from the others, the preferred approach for working this lure is similar from one situation to the next. These lures travel easily through the water, and it doesn’t require extra energy to work needlefish in these situations.
Since working needlefish is common in many situations, what retrieves are the most productive? As is usually the case, the conditions will dictate the retrieve, and, as conditions change, you will likely have to make changes in your retrieve. Recognizing when to make those changes comes with experience. My experience is that a simple retrieve will produce the most consistently. The most important thing is to be in contact with your lure as soon as you can after the cast, because you want that “feel” of the lure as quickly as possible. You’ll need to clear the slack in your line to be ready to work your lure and be ready to set the hook on a strike as soon as the lure hits the water. Once in contact with the lure, you want to reel it slow for two or three cranks
of the reel. Then give the rod a slow lift. Continue this throughout the whole retrieve.
If after repeated attempts you do not initiate a strike, vary the cadence of both the turning of the reel and the lifting of the rod. Fish often want a different “look”. Giving them what they want will often lead to a different result. Another proven method used at night is working the needlefish like a pencil popper. When using this method, cast and get in touch with the lure right away and proceed to work the lure in the same fashion you would a pencil popper. This creates back and forth thrashing of the needlefish lure on the surface that will get a fish interested in initiating a strike.
The needlefish, like any other lure, is only as good as the person using it. I always emphasize the need to put in the time to learn to use the lure properly, trying it under different conditions, and various retrieves to determine what works best for you. The list of
anglers taking big Striped Bass with a needlefish over the years is impressive, and you can increase the probability of adding your name to the list by having one in your arsenal, and learning to make it one of the most effective weapons in your surf bag. You won’t be disappointed. Tight Lines and Live the Passion!
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/