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April 01, 2013

Fishing with Lipped Lures

The fine art of trolling plugs can trump using live baits.

Color Me Caught?

I prefer plugs that mimic the size and color of the local forage. Fish commonly get selective and binge on a specific bait. To score, you’d better match up your lure to that species.

The standard white body/red head (like we used for wahoo off Venice, Louisiana, and a favorite inlet plug color for snook) can resemble a mullet, ladyfish, hard tail or other bait that’s injured and bleeding. Fish also sometimes strike out of instinct — not hunger. And that’s fine when you’re trying to feed them some treble hooks.

And on the subject of hooks, when pulling plugs on heavy tackle (50-pound class) for big fish like wahoo, loosen the drag some, or risk straightening the hooks. Or change out the trebles for a pair of strong J-hooks.

Tease ’Em!

Although our plugs swam through prime ambush zones, Hayden continually worked the rod. He whipped it forward a few feet, dropped the rod to create slack, and then let the forward motion of the boat pull it taut again. He raised the rod a bit when he did this, then lowered it and repeated that action. His philosophy: It makes the plug appear injured and panicked, which predators see as an easy meal. He explained that many trout ­ambush the plug during that brief, seconds-only pause when he drops the rod back. And was he ever right — we took a bunch during that pause.

We also converted those short strikes by dropping back and letting the plug suspend for a few extra seconds; if they weren’t eaten on the fall, we twitched, reeled and dropped the plug back a few times rapidly. That often sealed the deal.

Unlike natural trolling baits, or even live baits, swimming plugs require neither painstaking ­rigging nor time to derig. Nor do you have to find them, net them and keep them frisky. Yet, like both natural and live baits, swimming plugs catch the heck out of fish. Some days, these low-maintenance lures can’t be topped. Just ask Capt. Blake Hayden. 

Eight Swimming-Plug Trolling Tips

1 When fishing structure, aim the rod tip at the water to maximize the plug’s running depth. 

2 Even though some plugs have a ring to tie to, use a loop (­haywire twist with wire, and overhand loop knot with mono and ­fluorocarbon) when securing the leader; this gives the plug that much more latitude to swim freely.

3 Spool with braid, as the thin diameter cuts through the water, helping plugs achieve their depth potential.

4 Transom- or reel-seat release clips are ideal for pulling ­swimming plugs from flat lines when offshore fishing. This ­reduces the angle of entry of lines going into the water, and helps keep plugs down in the water column, running a little deeper.

5 Don’t be afraid to use single-strand wire leader when trolling inlets or areas with heavy current. The thin diameter of the wire helps cut through the water efficiently, and chances are the fish won’t notice it, especially in cloudy water.

6 Incorporate a swivel when trolling plugs — especially with spin tackle — to prevent line twist.

7 When trolling over structure near schooling fish, add action to the lures by jerking them back and pausing to let them suspend, regardless of how brief the lull. Make that plug look injured and panicked.

8 When using heavy tackle, consider replacing the stock treble hooks with extra-strength ones or single J-hooks. Or simply back off the drag a bit.