My thanks once more to Keith White over in Jersey for being so kind and forthcoming with the huge amount of knowledge he has accumulated on fishing these needlefish for our bass. Obviously I can’t afford to pay Keith for these guest blog posts and it’s a big thanks from me to him for taking the time to hand over so much information here. All words and photos below are from Keith - they are as is, I have neither edited nor changed anything. I hope you can all take something away from this, because it’s got my head absolutely bouncing! Have a good weekend from out here in Kerry………..
“Here we are again and many thanks to Henry for giving this needlefish method more blog space and time. It seems that some guys have really taken the bull by the horns with the whole needlefish thing in these past months and wow, there some superb results coming back. In fact it’s getting silly, multiple doubles from Ireland, big fish in Wales, local guys in Jersey picking up the stick and starting to nail bass, the list is now becoming more expansive and yet, on the face of things, needlefish, the method, it’s related family and the so called ‘secret’ understanding is still being held in the hands of but a few. Surely it must deserve a more ‘mainstream’ acceptance.
These articles are all designed to help further debunk the mystery but, trust me, that will never be an easy task until you personally cross the ‘realisation threshold’. You need to reach that ‘wow’ moment when it all simply clicks into place and off you’ll go.
The point is, needlefish and needlefishing is simple, so simple no one believes it. Anyway look, we covered all that in the first article about the myths and belief needed for success and that, I’m afraid, no longer has anything to do with the lure, but all to do with the angler.
So, where are we right now at this juncture?
We have mentioned that the needlefish, the ‘cold water’ sandeel/spearing imitation from the NE shores of the USA was successfully transitioned to British waters almost 2 decades ago yet, we kept it secret for years and didn’t openly share until perhaps 8 years ago. We weren’t being funny but most people still hadn’t transitioned to lure fishing at night yet alone now being asked to fish with a stick. We know it works and, we also know, it’s mega difficult right now, as it’s always been, to get the lures in sizes suited to our bass and our tackle.
Recent weeks have seen people get out there and start hand carving, even buying lathes to make sure they will have access to a range of needlefish that simply don’t exist in the UK marketplace (yet).
Small start maybe but, from acorns …
I hope times could be changing and maybe that garage style industry I have so long wanted for British bass lure fishing may one day emerge.
So, super difficult to get the lures? Well, yes and no. Actual hard needlefish are, outside of ordering from the USA, almost impossible to get without asking a builder to make a few but, they are FEW and not many will have the knowledge to produce a needlefish for YOU. Some will but you’ll have to research this in your own time or, get your hands dirty and make some.
“Keith, I keep losing my needlefish to weed, to rocks, to ‘pot ropes’ …” lol (always one). This is a classic issue actually and it puts people off the continuous search and supply chain for the lures.
This, is a very big factor in rendering potential needlemen, null and void. A real shame.
So, right here, right now, lets debunk one myth. Yes, a needlefish is a stick, with hooks and weight in it. But, it’s the profile of the lure, NOT the material that it’s made from. In many ways, it is the method in which the lure is fished, that makes that lure, a needlefish.
Senko’s, Sluggo’s, Hogy’s, DoLive sticks, in fact, anything long and thin, has a bit of weight, is plastic (hard and soft), wood, nylon, acrylic, metal… is suitable and at times, can be fished, as a needlefish. I used to buy in batches 20 needlefish whenever available from the US, we’d lose them and be stuck. Lack of funds, lack of confidence, lack of ‘availability’ was killing us. We hadn’t yet developed the ‘soft needlefish’ style but it didn’t take much to put two and two together once we ran out of money and enthusiasm.
I’ll tell you now, as these articles unfold, you will see that minnow lures can be used, bucktails, darters, surface flies, the lot can actually be used in similar styles to needlefish and whilst they are not needlefish, it’s the passive way they are fished, and the way your developing watercraft allows you present lures better that will open the door to the ‘three general states of bass mood’ we discussed in the previous article.
I used to collect broken tide minnows and in fact, any longer lure that had a bib broken away from anglers hitting rocks with plugs, especially the sinking ones as these for a while, doubled as needlefish. The correlation too between say, a Japanese sinking pencil type lure and a needle fish is pretty close as lures go, but the way they are ‘fished’ is different.
Now, cutting a very long story, very short indeed, imagine we’d lost maybe 50, 60, more needlefish, we were struggling, limiting ourselves to fishing over plain sands and surf as the few places we could throw a needlefish and not lose them. Every time we wanted to throw over reef, near reef, swing over horrid ground, we lost needlefish to the open hooks. Open hooks that don’t generally bother the striper men of the NE USA as some hotspots over there simply don’t have the reef, the weed that the British angler deals with. Of course they have rough ground too and some specialist anglers fish it with great success but, try throwing a 3oz needle 100 yards over shallow weedy reef. Yep, you’d go through a few bonfires worth of wood pretty quickly. You can tail weight the needle to help keep it UP in a retrieve, but…
Davy Jones is always wanting to add to his lure collection.
Then it clicked when we were slowly developing HRF and LRF initially somewhere around 2008.
We revisited the sluggo, used as a long trailer on bucktail style hair jigs by us since the late 90’s..
For years, we’d also fished the sluggo in a way developed by US angler Steve McKenna. It utilises tandem open hooks and is weighted. Again, whilst this worked, these things were easy to lose coming through shallow weeded reef and, to be honest, I was never convinced with it’s pro active thrashing (American eel imitation side to side action). It worked, but it wasn’t great, at least for us.
Why couldn’t a lure like a sluggo simply be cast, and retrieved or swung as a stick?
Of course, it could but no one was doing it, not even state side! A needlefish was ‘hard’, end of.
**WHY** (Tackle at the time, or prior to the HRF / LRF push was very, very limiting and simply would have never allowed casting a weightless senko, or sluggo in any suitable way. Transitioning to sub 20g jig heads and such was hard enough for most as their gear allowed NO FEEL at such weights. The rods were heavier, longer, no way as responsive. In fact, most anglers were indeed new to braided lines full stop and go try throwing a 7g senko on 20lb wire like fireline or mono. The former is like not going to happen and with mono, you feel jack all. Yep, as easy as it is now, it wasn’t always like now. Newbies need to remember this. Of course in the US, guys were never going to throw even 7.5” sluggo’s weightless on 10ft heavy rods into big surf on 60lb braided lines. The ability to utilise weightless plastics in the sea, is quite a recent development especially where any distance is needed.)
We played with the senko, the sluggo and started throwing 6”, 7.5” and 9” variations, weightless on ‘J’ hooks, pegged with a cocktail sticks. We were still some time away from discovering swim-bait hooks, hitch hikers and offset shanked hooks big enough and long enough. Remember, this was a time, way before most shops even stocked hard lures yet alone soft and even today, I’m told it’s not that easy to walk in any tackle shop and stock up with senko’s and sluggo’s yet alone all the hardware that goes with the lures. However… that said, they are easier to get than hard needlefish and, hard and soft needlefish, are the SAME! (Essentially).
Yes, the same basics, just used in different places at different time but I would fish with a 6” senko and perhaps a 7.5” sluggo all year round and not feel disadvantaged.
Yes, you heard it here. No difference in the way you treat the lures but, each has it’s own nuances and options. In fact, the soft needlefish options are greater and more versatile in nature. This is what we shall discuss here and now. Remember and get into your head that any methods and presentation options are applicable to BOTH hard and soft needlefish. Just that you can throw soft needlefish ANYWHERE, albeit with limited range and narrow set of conditions.
As you can see, these articles aren’t easy to write because something seemingly so simple, actually has considerable thought behind it.
Remember what I said about weed and reef…
Soft needlefish rule. However, all soft lures are different and senko’s, sluggo’s and hogy’s to name a few, will all offer slight presentation options in flow, out of flow, whilst retrieving etc. Hard to cast? You bet so, you’ll need a lighter braid and a rod that has some feel and maybe some length. 8ft through 9.5 would be ideal, a bit tippy maybe, parabolic actioned. A nice thin 8 strand braid (not a requirement btw), a longer leader that actually sits on the spool as you cast, no clips, just your rod, reel, line and hook. That is it, generally.
You can cast an un-weighted 6” senko some way, a 7.5” sluggo maybe further and certainly far enough. Basically, try stuff. All senko’s are NOT the same either, some are heavier but be careful as the original Gary Yamamoto senko, as great as they are, break quite easily with repeated casts and the options to ‘weight them’, are reduced.
**Salted Senko’s** ( Heavily salted senko’s or soft plastics are great but, will split more readily trying to insert weights. Something to remember and a quick search online will show you a myriad of senko style lures and sluggo’s. You want a more resilient plastic to start sticking bits of lead in it here and there.)
Regardless of all that, keep it SIMPLE, senko’s are awesome because from the top, side, the underneath, the perspective carries the SAME profile.
‘Trust the profile’. This is what the fish are looking for, not the fish doing the acrobat show.
Lay a big wave bamboo senko style lure against a 6” superstrike 1oz lure and just look. You should see straight away, shape is similar, the ‘profile’ is almost the same. However, a super strike is top centre weighted on an internal banana type rigid wire frame. Your wave bamboo, your senko, your sluggo is a naked canvas waiting to be painted.
I have mentioned tail weighting, centre bias, slow sinking, fast sinking, swinging, retrieving, the works and all this is achievable with both hard and soft needlefish styles. Just that to cover the hard options, it’ll cost you a fortune and what you carry is what you have. However, with a packet or three of senko’s sluggo’s hogy’s etc and a range of weights and hook options, you can control all these things on the fly, or, as I do, pre rig some so they are ready to throw.
You’ll also note, no colours are mentioned. Just get one you like and throw that. I work around light, medium and dark contrasts and it’s never stopped me catching a bunch of bass but if colours are your thing, feel free. I highly recommend not getting bogged down and choosing say, a watermelon senko, maybe a black and white. Add to that some alewife sluggo’s or similar natural coloured ones and if you go with hogy’s too, follow a similar selection procedure. If you had to push me, hard, for one colour that works everywhere, in any moon, I’d choose watermelon style green in a soft lure if I could choose but one. I’d also use a ‘swimbait hook’ that is long enough to reach somewhere between ¼ and 1/3 the length of the lure (Just a rough guideline and you’ll just know what is right). You will need some soft, maybe scented lube for where the hook penetrates the plastic body and some insert weights.
Lunker City amongst others do a few sizes of inserts but, in the past I’ve used nails, lengths of solder wire, the works. Bass don’t care, just use what works and what you can hide, utilise and is available without killing the lures ‘STRAIGHT’ profile. You MUST MOUNT THESE STRAIGHT LURES, … STRAIGHT! Or as damn near as possible.
Remember … rig STRAIGHT!
It’s ultra vital to mount these lures straight. Sorry for over emphasising this but you will catch far more and the lures, on any pauses etc need to be straight, and, most importantly (NOT HELD ON A TIGHT LINE) to fall as desired or ride truly in any current. Up current and down current wind also has a massive affect on where a lure should be run. The surface speed in wind of any current can increase by some amount.
** Light contact is all that is required at any time. **
**Reels** (Size is your choice, but remember, you and your friends reels ratio’s might be different, using different lines etc and so matching each other turn for turn matters not. I would suggest, yo use ONE reel for needlefishing in total until you start catching fish. After that, you can adjust easily but retrieve speed memory is an important factor in mastering needlefish hard or soft. With soft needles especially, MANUALLY close the bail if your reel has one (some of mine don’t) and then pull the braid against the drag quickly to bed any loose line down before you retrieve. Your braid will NOT go on the reel tight using many soft needles unless you start loading 9” sluggo’s to the ounce for example. If possible, every now and then, swap the soft needle for a weight or, make a cast and retrieve through a thumb and finger to regain lost tension on the spool.)
So, lets look at a simple, yet common scenario.
Flat bay, little current, shallow, weedy, reef, dark, weed sticking up in places, a little wind from behind.
Mount your lure, senko, whatever and, you want a little distance, a nice slow to steady retrieve and, your lure is actually making occasional contact with weed sprouting from the water and shallow parts of the reef or boulders.
You choose a 6 or 7” senko, maybe a 7.5” sluggo and, you insert a weight, length ways into the tail. Suddenly, you have the soft equivalent of a tail weighted needlefish. With a smooth cast, it’ll fly a little better if a senko and, upon hitting the water, sink tail first BUT, upon you starting a retrieve, the lure will now be offering YOU and the length of resistance (rod tip to lure), a greater planing angle. This means, upon a retrieve, it will rise up, FASTER. However, upon any pause, you will have killed the ‘leaf like’ fall of the senko. Using a clip on the nose of a senko, kills this leaf like fall too and trust me, nothing falls like a senko un-weighted. It’s DEADLY. But, you gotta get it out there and, the point is, in shallow water, a falling senko isn’t that much of a requirement so we can compromise it’s ‘action’ to present it’s ‘profile’. I hope that makes sense. Also, we’d want to ‘skin’ the hook thus maximising it’s weedless properties. Again, you’ve seen me make reference to a lure clip but if you simply want to cast ad retrieve, sure, a clip is fine. It only becomes a hindrance on swings, leaf like falls and tipping…
**Tipping** ( You can lift the nose of a senko up at a slight angle and then, release all the tension. The lure will slide backwards, away from you for a short period and then resume a leaf like fall. A sluggo won’t do this. On a ‘slow’ swing where line tension isn’t too great, you LIFT the nose just as you approach a rock say and, then let go. Tail weighted symmetrical hard needles ‘might do this too in faster water, check your lures but just passing a rock, do this and the lure will still swing, but will actually approach the cover. Easy target for awaiting bass, BOOM, fish on. This can be done on dead retrieved lures too by retrieving, lifting the rod periodically and letting the rod top drop, thus allowing slack. The senko will slide backwards and leaf fall mid retrieve.)
The point is, like with hard needlefish, you can simply cast, and retrieve. Do nothing else bar the occasional ‘finger flick’.
**Finger Flick** (On a retrieve, just put you index finger, once or maybe twice in front of your rotating reel’s bail arm. That is it, do this at close range and watch the lure twitch and flick. However, do not overdo this.)
So, but using these weights in the soft needles, we can replicate, in miniature, all the weighting attributes of a hard needle, on the fly, or, with pre rigged options. Any weights you use with have a profound affect and I often load a sluggo, or a senko with both tail weights AND cross centre weights.
Cast into shallow swing water and tail weighted soft needle will rise faster against the line bow that will form. An un-weighted or neutral yet, ‘weighted’ senko will simply cast further, but ride level and hold down a bit on a swing rather that coming up and skating or waking. Your options are endless.
If your reel ha a back wind and many have, you can extend swings, trot lures backwards through runs and sweeps. In surf, you wait, time your cast and throw the senko into the water table and feel your lure get pulled back, out and under the oncoming wave and yes, it will still swing because most all surf beaches generate what is called ‘longshore current’.
So, the needlefish lure family, ‘from my point of view’ is the use of a lure that matches the ‘profile’ of a sandeel, maybe a smelt and, the goal is to match the hatch and imitate the ‘natural actions’ of said bait fish yet, acting in such a way that any movement imparted by yourselves, is seen as ‘could only be alive’ in such a scenario. Over animating said lures is a sure fire way to failure.
In future instalments, we will cover methods, where, and how. ALL of which which will apply to BOTH hard and soft needlefish unless I say otherwise or you ‘know’ your marks will behave in a counter way to the way I’m describing. If you are already senko/sluggo fishing in the ways described without jig heads, or, you are throwing actual needlefish, you are ‘needlefishing’. The reference to senko fishing in saltwater for bass is a bit of a misnomer as senko fishing, in US freshwater bass circles has many arrows to it’s bow. Also true in British saltwater but, used in a swing, or steady retrieve, is simply a ‘soft needlefish’. With a little split shot however… off we go again and we open up a whole new world. A discussion for another time.
That was probably a really long winded way of telling you that a stick with hooks doesn’t have to made from a bit of tree and, you should learn to trust the profile and imitate the natural actions but, simple as it sounds, ask anyone who has crossed the needlefish threshold and they, and I will tell you, going from the feel of a minnow lure kicking against the rod top, to simply feeling something, or almost nothing getting a bit lighter or heavier is a giant leap.
But, excuse the pun…
Stick with it.