What follows is a real testimonial from a very experienced
I asked Larry to write an article because I have always admired his writing
skills and he agreed on two terms,
that he purchased his own lures and that he could write up what he did with them
at the end of the season.
While many of these type articles are written as fluff/sales pieces, this
article was written as a true account of his experiences
and was edited back from it's full length by OTW editors to fit space
Salty’s Sandeel Needle
By Larry Backman
Bullock was a fisherman on a mission. One too many saltwater plugs had
let him down one too many times, so he decided to start making his own
plugs. Now five years later, he has a thriving plug business that is
spread through word of mouth by Northeast fishermen who have found
success using Salty’s Custom Plugs.
Originally designed for striped bass and bluefish, Scott’s
needlefish-style plug, the Salty’s Sandeel Needle, has gained a
tremendous following of bluefin tuna fishermen. Salty’s Sandeel Needles
are made from birch or maple (depending on size and weight) rather than
the more typical pine, and are sealed with a special finish before
being hand painted. The tight-grained wood does not split or swell like
lesser wooden lures. I have a couple of plugs that have seen their
share of rocks along the Elizabeth Islands, and although they are
banged and bruised, they still cast and fish perfectly.
Scott is a craftsman, and as he worked to perfect the
individual lures, he realized that consistency is a key element of
perfection. Accordingly, he has set up his shop with computer numerical
control (CNC) machinery to cut the wood to a repeatable size and shape,
producing a perfectly consistent lure body every time. Each lure goes
through more than 26 individual steps in his machine shop before being
packaged. A custom sealant protects the lure from water intrusion, and
a multi-layer, multicolor paint job produces a finish and a color
scheme second to none. Scott has even created a number of innovative
lure finishes, such as a glow-in-the-dark set of eyes and a blue,
purple and black color scheme that makes his “predator” needle ideal
for those pitch-black, moonless nights on the beach.
All of Salty’s Custom Plugs are through-wired, so you will
never lose a fish to a hook eye pulling out. They are well balanced,
constructed with either a pair of VMC treble hooks or a belly treble
and a larger VMC Siwash hook at the tail. The hooks are the only
imported component in Scott’s plugs; he takes great pride in the fact
that all other components are manufactured in the United States.
Salty’s Sandeel Needle comes in three sizes: a 1-ounce
“stubby” needle, a 2.5-ounce full-size needle, and a 3.5-ounce needle.
The 1-ounce stubby needlefish is neutrally buoyant and will suspend or
just sink very slowly if allowed to drift. The full-size needlefish
plugs are slow sinkers that descend tail first, so you can work the
bottom if you let them sink. To achieve a perfect a sand eel imitation,
Scott recommends twitching your rod tip after letting them sink to a
sandy bottom. They can also be fished with a slow retrieve, keeping the
rod tip up while maintaining contact with the lure, and throwing in an
occasional twitch of the rod tip to impart an injured-baitfish action
to the lure. Scott recommends either trying them with a teaser about 2
feet in front of the lure or working them in a manner similar to a
pencil popper, twitching your rod tip while reeling to keep them right
on top. But in general, explains Scott, retrieve them slowly for
stripers, and rip them FAST for albies, bonito and tuna.
I started reading about Salty’s Sandeel Needle three years
ago on a number of Internet fishing bulletin boards. According to the
reports, these lures worked like magic when tossed to a striped bass.
If you believed what you read, the lures were a cut above the
older-style wooden lures I was still fishing with. I paid the reports
Then bluefin tuna invaded Cape Cod Bay, and Captain Terry Nugent
of Riptide Charters started writing report after report featuring the
Salty’s Sandeel Needle, a perfect imitation of the 6-inch sand eels
that the tuna were feeding on in the bay. His reports went on and on
about bluefin coming out of nowhere to crash the plug. I still paid
little attention, even when other guides and fishermen started chiming
in with Ortiz-type statistics: “Went 3 for 4 on Salty’s Needles,” or “2
for 5 yesterday.” Nicknames like “Tuna Crack” were even starting to get
thrown around in reference to the olive or yellow-colored Salty’s
I did, however, pay heed to the continued praise regarding
absolutely no lure failures when hooked up. That caught my attention,
and this year I asked Scott to recommend the best selection for
offshore fishing. I ended up with an assortment that included three
stubby needles and two full-size needles.
Last July, I finally got the chance to see what all the
fuss was about. I was trolling 16 miles east of Chatham Light in calm
conditions. We already had a bluefin tuna in the boat, the sun was
high, the seas were calm and the tuna were still visible everywhere,
but the bite had completely died. My trolling spread wasn’t working, my
mate’s brand-name popper wasn’t working off the bow, and we were going
crazy. On went a Salty’s Needle, and it raised three strikes in ten
I was convinced!
A short while later, I got another chance to see these
plugs work their magic at the offshore canyons. We were fishing the
line of high flyers that rim the 100-fathom line. These
radar-reflective floats are connected to a series of lobster pots 600
feet down and provide the only structure for baitfish within 100 miles.
Salty’s Needles were automatic for mahi. Toss one within 10 yards of a
flyer and all hell would break loose, mahi by the dozens chasing after
the lure and fighting each other to be the first to attack it. We even
had a 5-foot wahoo streak out and over a green-colored Needle,
rocketing completely out of the water as it missed the lure!
The best field test, however, came on September 1. We had
made a miserable trip to the 100-fathom line, had not seen or found
tuna, and had only a couple mahi to show for the 100-mile trip. It was
a flat-calm day and I was running the boat from the tower to add some
interest on the long ride home. Coming through The Dump, I spotted
breaking fish and threw the boat hard over. We had found the mother
lode! Acres of rolling bluefin tuna, stacked as deep as you could see
in the water, swam in front of the boat, next to the boat, and behind
the boat – but they would not touch a thing in the spread! Christian
Valle, an ex-commercial tuna fisherman, called them “breezing” fish and
declared them uncatchable without a harpoon.
On went an olive Salty’s Needle, and up went a crewmember
to the bow. It wasn’t hard to cast to fish – they were everywhere. Two
casts, and he was on. Who needs a harpoon, I said, when you have a