I TURNED 50 back in January. That personal landmark makes a body begin to think about old habits and tendencies.
It made me realize a few realities. I’m old school. I may be progressive about issues such as education, but in my soul, I’m old school. So, let’s talk old school. Let’s talk returning to the roots of saltwater artificial fishing. Let’s talk broken backs.
The first artificial I ever used was the Beetle Spin spinnerbait in Catalpa Worm. The second one was a Cotton Cordell Jointed Red Fin. An old fisherman who saw me with the Beetle Spin tied to my spinning rod, heard the snide comments of the guides at the marina about “the dumb 13-year-old kid not knowing a bass lure when he saw one,” and handed me the slightly-used but functioning lure.
“Why don’t you put that in your tackle box and save it for another trip,” the old gentleman said. “I hope you shut those guys up someday.”
I would like to tell you that I went out the next morning, tied that Red Fin on my line and absolutely whacked the trout with it, but if anyone remembers an earlier column, “Spin Cycle,” you’d know that would be untrue. The fact is that I didn’t touch another lure for five years. I was 18 years old and treated myself to a trip over to Port Mansfield.
My mom had given me $20 for the trip (big money back in 1988), and in my excitement, I had left it on my dresser that morning. So, I had no money for bait. In despair, I opened my tackle box and looked for anything that might give me a fighting chance. There, in the center tray of my old Plano was that Red Fin. I grabbed it, my rod, and went fishing.
I caught one trout that day, along with a bunch of skipjack, and I was hooked. Jointed plugs have had a place in my tackle arsenal ever since.
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, the classic Texas Chicken. The redheaded, jointed Long A ran a close second, and the long-extinct Mirrolure Snake Dancer claimed its share of Galveston Bay yellow mouths. Broken back was the king of wall hanger lures.
Over time, first 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, not just trout. What wasn’t replaced was the former king’s effectiveness.
I have become a die-hard swim bait aficionado over the years (I’m also in the middle of a Kelly Wigglers renaissance, but that’s a column for another time), but I still throw the broken back more than a couple of times each season.
When snook 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 that 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 oilrigs. Some surf anglers fling them off the points of jetties and breakwaters form Bolivar to Brazos Santiago.
When redfish school in bays during 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. 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. However, 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 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 many others 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.
I still have that old Red Fin. It’s scratched up, and the hooks are misshapen from years of being straightened and re-bent. I doubt the split rings could handle a pinfish, much less a big trout. It stays in my tackle box, however.
Call it a joint resolution from the past.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]