I HAVE BEEN A HUGE DEVOTEE of jointed plugs (or broken-back, if you prefer) since I was a teenager, over grumble-grumble-grumble years ago.
If you look in one of my myriad tackleboxes, you will find broken backs of all stripes. Jointed Redfins, Rapalas, Jointed Corkies, Mirrolure Snakedancers (I almost never use those; not because they don’t work for me, but because they have been extinct for over a decade), Bomber Long A’s, and a few models that I don’t even remember their names.
I’ve caught countless fish of several different species on these jointed wonders. Trout, redfish, bass, snook, mangrove snapper, skipjack.
I have a broken back Long A in Rainbow Trout that I’ve taken out of service because I caught my first and only tarpon, a 40 pounder, on it while making casts around the Brazos Santiago Jetties. I have it in its own box, right next to the box that holds the Snake Dancer that produced a flounder along South Beach’s mangroves. I love broken back plugs. Love, love, LOVE them.
Call them what you will: jointed plugs, broken back minnows, segmented lures—Herman The Wonder Plug. There is no disputing the effectiveness of jointed lures such as the Jointed Red Fin, the Bomber Jointed Long A, or the Sebile Magic Swimmer.
Segmented lures have been real fish catchers for decades. Through the 1980s, the ultimate big-trout killer up and down the coast, especially in Baffin Bay was the Red Fin in Pink back, silver sides, yellow belly, and the classic Texas Chicken.
The redheaded jointed Long A ran a close second, and some anglers swore by the venerable Rapala (although until recently, you had to replace the wire hooks with stouter stuff). Broken backs were the king of wall hanger lures.
Over time, the Spook-style top waters, and then the Corky, took over the spot that belonged to the jointed plug, and rightfully so. Both catch plenty of big fish, and not just trout. What wasn’t replaced was the former king’s effectiveness.
I have become a die-hard swim bait fan over the years, especially the newest swimbaits from Live Target, which are just remarkable. However, I still throw the broken back more than a couple of times each season.
When snooks are chasing mullet along the mangroves in South Bay, I break out the Long A and let fly. The combination of heft (most are ¾ ounce) and thin profile allow me to make long casts, and linesiders can’t abide the erratic wiggle of a well-retrieved plug. They absolutely crush it.
A Red Fin is my go-to bait near docks and channel points in the Ship Channel, and I’ve often let one trail behind my boat during long drifts. They rarely fail to produce. On the occasions they DO fail, so has everything else I’ve used.
The different applications speak to jointed lures’ versatility. The industrial-sized Long A is still a popular trolling bait for kingfish and dolphins along weed lines and oil rigs. Some surf anglers fling them off the point of jetties and breakwaters form Bolivar to Brazos Santiago.
When redfish are schooling in bays in late summer and early fall to feed just before migrating, sling a Texas Chicken in their midst and hang on.
It may seem mysterious why the jointed plug has fallen from grace after so long a run on top. The easiest explanation is the growth in popularity of saltwater lure fishing over the past 20 years. More effective artificial baits are on the market than a single angler could ever use in a lifetime of fishing. There are new designs and colors, each being the next ultimate fish catcher.
Ironically, the jointed plug is still among the easiest lures to use. Much like the spoon—another lure that has fallen in popularity over the years (even though I know of at least two Captains, the Neu brothers in Port Mansfield, who swear by them as redfish killers).
You can literally fish one out of the box without having to learn a new retrieve. You can literally cast and wind all day, and the inherent action of the lure’s design gives you a good chance of success.
From there, you can begin experimenting with retrieve styles, whether it’s a pull-pause, or a slow-and-steady, or a frenetic fleeing-baitfish retrieve. The only thing that limits you is your imagination.
A perk of the growth in the saltwater lure industry is that jointed lures have also benefitted from the explosion. Alongside Cotton Cordell, Bomber, and Sebile, companies such as Reaction Strike, Strike King, Rapala, Smithwick and Brown Lures have their versions of segmented lures.
Some are designed with multiple sections, which have a slithering action that fish love. Try the pull-pause retrieve with a Magic Swimmer and see what happens.
Z-Man, Sebile, and other companies have soft plastic baits that mimic the action of jointed plugs—with the added perk of suppleness and a softer action. When predators want a more subtle presentation, these lures are murder.
Every so often, I take a look at that old Long A that got me that tarpon. It’s scratched up, the hooks are misshapen from years of being straightened and re-bent, and I doubt the split rings could handle a pinfish, much less another tarpon. It stays in my tackle box, however.
Call it a joint resolution from the past.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]