I understand your concern, and you're right...it's due to the lack of demand on them that makes the price jack up like that. BUT...think like a musky fisherman. Their lures sometimes reach to 40 dollars, and they fork it out readily, despite most of them being ridiculously large [unnecessarily so] and do not have the same capabilities and precision of a Spoonplug. I will say this, if any modern crankbaits have the capabilities of the Spoonplugs, or come within the same ball league, its the musky baits that are available. They reach a desired depth, and stay there, without assistance, and are capable of handling alot of speeds. It's then the gargantuan size factor that can sometimes make them irrelevant in the pursuit of some species. The Spoonplug sizes were designed by applying the same formula Buck used in designing the 100 [yes there's a mathematical formula behind the design of the Spoonplug...he WAS a physics professor after all] just changing a few numbers around to accomodate the different depths. Here are a few reasons why Spoonplugs will pay for themselves well over slightly cheaper crankbaits, both in their ability to execute what you want, and in actual economical outlook.
#1. Spoonplugs are indestructible. You can bump across rip rap going 8+ mph [which is sometimes necessary, especially for pike and musky] zipping all the way, and the only thing that will wear is the paintjob [Buck always said though you only need the three basic colors to catch any fish you want: silver, gold, and copper]. They will perform years after plastic lips bust and break off. This is due in part to the actual design of the SPoonplug. I'm no physics major, but look at the lure. you can clearly see that the ENTIRE structure of the lure is what allows it to dive. Every aspect of the lures anatomy attributes to its ability to maintain depth and speed accurately. The bait actually USES the water that flows over it to help generate the action, instead of using direct resistance of an awkward bill slapped onto a sleek body that attempts to compensate for the resistance created by the bill on most crankbaits. In essence, the entire body of the spoonplug serves as the "lip" allow for the depth diving capabilities of Spoonplugs, despite their relatively smaller size.
#2. You may or may not have discovered or noticed yet, but when Spoonplugs gets weeds or muck on them, it directly disrupts the FLOW of that water over the body of the Spoonplug, and the lure is DESIGNED to come to the top when debris interferes with its diving ability, saving time wondering why your bait isn't hitting what it should, and more often than not saving you from snagging and losing baits due to complications concerning this.
#3. When the lure is actually snagged [usually meaning the lip is dug under a tree or rock, as the way the lure runs, it's designed to keep the hooks normally well out of harm's way], it is stated in Buck's book, that if you sense the tension building on the bait from a snag, IMMEDIATELY lift the rod high in the air, and SLAM it forward, "hopping" the bait over the snag. This also is an intentional trait designed into the lure and another testament to Perry's genius.
...now this is not to say that you shouldn't pack some floating cranks into your arsenal. In the instance of casting shoreline and checking shallow depths, I prefer casting the 250 or the 800 [the 800 for musky is great for checking deep shorelines, as no other crankbait has a deeper dive angle...they basically don't want to come into the boat!], so they pull double duty, although for executing the "Casting position" situations, anchoring on a structure in ten feet or less and sinking the crankbait to the bottom to "walk" up the structure...something no other crankbait ever designed to date can do NEARLY as well...you can use whatever size appropriate, usually at least a 100, and for doing this, all you need is a 6'6" 20 dollar bass pro graphite musky rod. It's the best bet for feeling that lure come all the way up the structure...you don't want a soft tip crankbait rod like what most are sold today. In fact, I have gotten to where, using an Abu Garcia reel, can cast the Spoonplugs and crank them up with the trolling rod, which can be really effective, though not necessarily recommended. Really, honestly, executing this knowledge drastically decreases your annual cost of baits and lures because you learn to consolidate your tackle into what allows you the best control. I have a few knick knacks for trout and small game, but basically by tackle box consists of Spoonplugs, silver buddy blade baits [which we have the molds for and make for 50 cents a piece...and are probably the best jump bait ever made; I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend doing this], some soft plastics, and a shallow water baits. This setup takes the complications out of things, doesn't limit your ability to control the knowledge, and saves you lots of money and questions. To answer your question though honestly...no there is not really a lure that fills the niche of the Spoonplug, and there will never be. This is not bias its fact. The design is flawless, and cannot virtually be improved upon. It was revolutionary in its time, and even today, the design is STILL space age compared to the lures around it. Forget aesthetics...fish don't really care, especially in deep water. Lures are tools...BUT, if there's ONE crankbait that comes close, and I highly recommend picking upa few of these for casting purposes, the DT-16 and DT-14, or really any of the DT-series crankbaits you wish are a good bet. They go nearly DIRECTLY to the prescribed depth and stay there nearly as good as a Spoonplug. The ability to sink the Spoonplug, in my opinion gives it the edge in most instances [btw, the only and ONLY flaw I've found in Spoonplugs is that upon sinking them, they sometimes tumble and foul themselves...but that's it!]. In some instances, a stop and go retrieve, or jerk pause is the correct speed control, and the sinking Spoonplug has a little trouble with this. That's where a floating or suspending DT crankbait will give you a little edge, but in most cases a little creativity can compensate for this. I hate to write so much, but I'm a "no-stone-unturned" kinda guy. I hope this helps, and hey...just to save people the pain of reading my rants, if youhave any more questions just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
. I'll be in NY this summer in the Adirondacks just playing music and fishing at a resort, so if you're in that area, come look me up. There's supposed to be a lake just af ew mmiles away [btw, I get to park my boat ON a 1500 lake with trophy smallmouth and 30" brown trout]. otherwise, I'm in TN. No pike, but we've got some real gems of musky fisheries [one is going to be world reknowned here real soon] and a few great rivers with them in it. In the spring, we were seeing at least 20 muskies up int he river every float, in water less then 5 feet the whole way through. Some of them were close to and up to 50" long. hey man, god bless, and peace out. I'm always happy to see a new person shown the light...and I'll do my best to hook you up with some guys MUCH better than me in your area.