A Little Bit of Needlefish History
knows how long ago the first needlefish was made, and who really
cares? They may have been made for a long, long
time, but they were unknown on the striper coast until a few were
innocently taken to Block Island from Cape Cod in the late
seventies. Then all hell broke loose and the needlefish was
reborn into modernity. Would you like to hear how it happened?
My bassin' crew summered over on the Cape as
usual, and the locals up there kept telling us
this one summer about these stupid-looking Boone's needlefish
that the guys fishing Buzzards Bay (across from the coast guard
station) were starting to use on big bass. We had never seen a
needlefish before, and they looked totally ridiculous when we
first saw them. Looked just like pencils with hooks. But we
bought a few anyway, before we go to travel back down the coast
with the autumn line storms. They were Boone's with brown backs
(looked like a stick of sh*t) amd olive green/light blue back
combo (which looked nice). You can never have enough lures you
know, and you really don't want to ever get caught in a blitz
without having at least a few of every plug ever known to
mankind. Helps you function better, you know.
By the time we got to Block Island,
we were doing well with plastic lip plugs and eels. I don't know
why, but I decided to try a needlefish. Well, we started to ton
out with them. It was ridiculous though. You see, the Boone's
were soft white pine and they had SCREW EYE HOOK HOLDERS. It was
unreal, like a nightmare. You would beach a mid-40, screw
everything back together. Cast it out and beach another one.
Screw it back, beach it, screw it in...well you get the idea. You
were afraid to look at the needlefish once the sun came up out of
horror of how flimsy a plug you were actually using to tong big
bass. Well, it was quite unacceptable to us, so we called Donny
Musso of Super Strike fame and told him what we needed. He made
the first Super Strike needlefish for us out of maple. He
express-mailed them to us.
Charlie Dodge was the island's resident sharpie,
and his mom worked in the post office. So Charlie alerted his mom
about suspicious-looking packages being addressed to us, and Mrs.
Dodge would call her son whenever a package of new needlefish
came over in the post box on the afternoon ferry. Of course,
Dodge would always take his cut.
When we used the very first batch that night,
the paint was still tacky. The first ones, Donny made the swivels
and hooks too light. We bigged up the hooks, but the cows were
still pulling apart the swivels like they were cotton candy. So
the next morning we had to pull the through-wires out and re-rig
with bigger swivels and hooks. Once we did that, we cowed out
like there was no future. We let Donny know of whatever
modifications were required, such as to replace the original two
belly hooks with only one central belly hook. Donny fed us a
lifeline of needlefish as we worked the coast that fall. The next
year, Donny contracted for the injection mold for the plastic
needlefish. Some of the first ones curled up on the ends like
ripe bananas. After a while, he got them straightened out, and
the rest is, as they say, history.
The Super Strikes are the
"original" modern day needlefish plugs and still work
the best for moderate to heavy surf and sweeping tides. The Super
Strikes do not work as well in calmer, slower water. For
progressively heavier surf, stronger sweeps, and harder blows, we
drilled and loaded the Super Strikes with light, medium and heavy
loads. When you hefted the heavy load in your hand, it almost
felt like solid lead. You could cast this into the worst seas
that King Neptune could throw at you, and still slew out on big
bass with it!
The Gibbs needlefish came out with
the first models of their wooden needlefish about a year or two
later. Gibbs stunk when they first came out. They had the Gibbs
heavy screw eyes, and they didn't fish right. The next year,
Gibbs came out with a better shape and a through-wired model that
was and still does work very well in shallower, calmer, slower
water than the Super Strike. There were no Gag's Hab's or any
other models out there, just these two modern models, plus the
older, flimsy Boones.
The best needlefish color by far
was fluorescent green back with white belly. Also, all black.
Fluorescent pink backs were also okay on BI, but fluorescent pink
backs were far more deadly in the Cape. A shocking fluorescent
chartreuse always seemed to drive bass insane during those
sleep-deprived, incoherent moments right at first light. MACKERAL
was hot, hot, hot. The fact that mackeral was so hot often makes
me very suspicious whenever people say that needlefish were
designed to imitate sand eels and therefore only work when sand
eels are present. I am not too sure I absolutely agree with that
theory. Yes, they do work exceptionally well in the presence of
sand eels, but I have caught enough big bass on them throughout
the years whenever conditions seem right for them - which usually
means a HEAVY SWEEP. By the way, although they do catch small
bass or blues, I believe that it is the larger bass that exhibit
a special fondness for needles.
We even had Donny make us a 12" long neeedlefish we
called the "Johnny Wad". It would put any male porno
star to shame. The best color for that was completely solid
fluorescent green, and again MACKERAL. It weighed about 5 ounces.
We had an even heavier one that we called the
"Hurricane". Guess what nights that was for?
Neither Donny nor Gibbs made the best colors for
the first few years - the glaring day glow green,
pink or chartreuse colors. Although we asked him to do the
complex mackeral patterns for us in blue, green and fluorescent
green mackeral, I guess we just never got around to telling Donny
just how good the shocking day glow colors were...so we would
spray them up ourselves in the backyard when no one was looking
our way. Always sand lightly and spray a thin white base coat
before you spray the top coat on plug backs, then clear coat. It
only takes a few minutes plus in-between coat drying time, but
it's worth the trouble, boys.
As far as the stubby little needlefish,
they came on the scene a few years later, and they never really
became too popular. However, the stubbies established credibility
when a few guys caught a few good bass under the Southeast Light
at BI on a stubby little needle made by Danny Pichney, another
legendary plug maker from Long Island who has passed on, God
bless him. The stubbly little "Pocket Rocket", as Danny
called it, was about 4" long, no belly hooks, just a large
single O'Shaughnessy tail hook with long saddle hackles on it.
And it was drilled out and pumped full of lead.
Shortly thereafter, Donny came out with his uniquely-designed
little football-shaped needlefish called the "Bullet".
It casts well, and holds well in a moderate surf. Although the
Bullet is a fair producer, I would never recommend that you
remove the hooks, slide an eelskin over it, and use rodwrapping
thread to tie it down in the recessed eye sockets. Never tie a
double length of heavy mono to the back hookholder before you
slide the skin on. The mono will never prevent the eelskin tail
from fouling the belly treble too much. Never replace only the
belly hook (no tail hook) with a larger size treble. It just
won't work - and if you somehow get it to work, never tell
anybody. It is our little secret, okay?
As far as getting the proper action
out of any and all varieties of needlefish, bending the wire eye
up or down will allow you to tune your lure for the correct
action. As you experiment by twisting the eye up or down, you are
looking for an eye postion at which the lure almost - but never
quite - becomes unstable and unbalanced for the surf and sweep
conditions you are fishing. Take ten minutes out of your fishing
for proper tuning. It will bring out your needle's best
That's it for now. I hope you have enjoyed reading a little
bit about needlefish history.