Mighty minnow plugs. Plastic, inexpensive, easy to get your hands on, and top-producing lures no matter where stripers swim.
A “minnow plug” is a slender plastic swimming plug that dives and swims with the help of a plastic lip. The first minnow plugs were designed by Lauri Rapala for salmon, but fishermen soon found their effectiveness for all predatory species. The minnow plug has been a favorite among striper fishermen since the 1960s, around the time spinning reels were becoming popular, and allowing fishermen to cast lighter-weight plugs in the surf.
For this list of essential minnow plugs, we’re splitting the baits into two groups: the classic “Old School Minnows” that have remained unchanged for nearly 50 years (because why fix what ain’t broken) and the “New Age Minnows,” baits that have incorporated modern luremaking technology, to great effect.
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New Age Minnow Plugs
Available in three sizes (5.1″, 5.9″, and 6.7″) the SP Minnow have been one of the most popular and most effective striper lures of the last 10-plus years. Thanks to an internal weight that slides to the back of the plug during the cast, the SP Minnow sails long distances, but it dives to only 3 feet, keeping it off the bottom in all but the shallowest waters.
The Daiwa SP Minnow fishes especially well in hard-running currents, where it can be fished on a tight line while the moving water gives the plug its swimming action. It’s been popular in the Cape Cod Canal, on open beaches, in boulderfields, and even in backwaters (especially the 5.1″ model). The SP Minnow also benefits from a faster retrieve or a retrieve against the current, as the lure takes on a frantic, almost spastic action.
In a unique clash of darter meets minnow, the JoeBaggs Swarter has become a popular shallow swimmer among surfcasters on sandy beaches and boulder fields. The Swarter has the kicking tail movement of the SP minnow with some of the meandering side-to-side movement of a darter being twitched and paused. It is effective on a slow and steady retrieve and with a twitch-twitch-pause retrieve like a freshwater jerkbait.
Available in two sizes, 6″, 1 ounce and 7″ 1.5 ounce.
Like many of the newer minnow plugs, the ColtSniper Jerkbait includes a moving internal weight aimed at improving casting distance, but instead of using a rolling ball as the weight, Shimano mounted a cylindrical weight on a spring to hold it in precisely the right place on both the cast and retrieve. The bait features a wider profile and a through-wire build able to handle bigger water and larger fish.
The ColtSniper Jerkbait is available in two sizes, 5.5 and 6.7 inches, and originally came in eight colors, including bunker, mackerel, sand eel, and transparent amber. In 2018, Shimano added more classic striper-catching patterns to the lineup, including bone and chicken scratch.
Shimano calls the ColtSniper Jerkbait “slow-floating,” which means it hangs a bit on the pause before slowly floating back to the surface. This makes it perfect for bumping off boulders and pausing while waiting for a savage strike from a striper lying in wait. The lip of the ColtSniper Jerkbait causes it to dive 3 to 5 feet deep. The bait has a tight wobble on a straight retrieve, and slides side to side on a more erratic retrieve.
The Long Cast has a compact, deeper-bodied profile that’s a closer match to peanut bunker and mullet than silversides and sand eels. It comes in two sizes (4¾ and 5½ inches) and nearly two dozen colors that range from the realistic Anchovy to the outrageous Hot Olive. The translucent body gives each color an extra level of realism. It comes fitted with 4X VMC inline single hooks, which aid in safe catch and release for both angler and fish.
Unlike most minnows, the X-Rap Long Cast sinks. Without the resistance of the plug’s buoyancy to provide swimming action, it requires a faster retrieve to get it wiggling. For striper anglers accustomed to slower retrieves, the lure is most effective when fishing across and against current. The benefit of the sinking design is its fluttering fall, so incorporate frequent pauses during the retrieve to exploit this feature. Twitch the rod tip, causing the small plastic lip to dig in and create an erratic slashing action.
The Long Shot takes the original Bomber Long A design and beefs it up with heavy duty hardware and an internal weight transfer system that allows the rattle to roll to the tail end of the bait on the cast, then roll back into position when the lure hits the water.
It swims with a wider side-to-side wobble and a slight rolling motion which, along with their big eyes and regionally specific color schemes, imitates larger baitfish— whether it’s an adult bunker on the beach or a stranded sea bass in a boulder field. It dives around 2 to 3 feet on a steady retrieve, but with a slow retrieve, the Long Shot acts almost like a wake bait, creating a noticeable V just below the surface as it swims against the tide.
Old School Minnow Plugs
The Red Fin runs shallow, less than a foot under the surface, making it a top pick for sandy beaches, boulderfields and backwaters. Retrieve the Red Fin slowly enough, and it will stay on the surface, creating a long V-wake as it kicks across the top. This will usually get a quick reaction, making it a great “search lure.” Anglers will tie on a Red Fin first, fishing it as they work a stretch of shoreline, to determine where the fish are holding. The slim profile of the bait makes it appetizing to all sizes of stripers, from the very small to the very large.
If there is a downside to this plug, it’s the plug’s light weight, which can make it tough to cast. This can be overcome by “loading” the lure with BBs or water to add weight and casting distance. Many surfcasters will keep both loaded and unloaded Red Fins on hand, as the extra weight changes the action and an unloaded Red Fin is easier to swim on the surface.
The Red Fin comes in two sizes, a 5″ 5/8-ounce model that’s perfect for backwaters and a 7″ 1-ounce version most popular in the surf.
Originally made by Rebel, the Windcheater has been re-launched by Bomber. (Both brands are owned by parent company Pradco.) The lure has a huskier profile than most minnow plugs, along with some extra weight to help it cheat the wind (hence the name) and cast for distance. The Rebel version of this lure was a classic, popular among previous generations of surfcasters because its extra weight allowed it to be cast on conventional tackle. It was also responsible for fooling Al McReynolds’ 78-pound striped bass caught from an Atlantic City Jetty in 1982.
The original Bomber Long A was invented in the 1940s for largemouth bass anglers to have a deeper swimming plug than the Creek Chub Crawdad—it eventually made its way into the plug bags of striper surfcasters, and has been a favorite plug for sandy beaches and boulderfields ever since.
Today, the black, “blurple”, “chicken-scratch,” and “school bus” Bombers are still surfcasting staples, even with many more modern minnow plugs to choose from. The large profile of the Magnum Long A makes it a big fish plug, which has accounted for many 40- and 50-pound striped bass over the years.
Gone But Not Forgotten
When cruising garage sales and fishing flea markets, keep an eye out for this classic striper minnow plug, the Gag’s Grabber Mambo Minnow. This lure in the 7″ model stayed close to the surface on a snail’s pace retrieve, making it a deadly lure for calm, shallow waters.