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How to Rig Swimming Plugs for Trolling

DATE POSTED:April 27, 2020
High-speed trolling for wahoo demands special rigging procedures and wire leaders to prevent cutoffs.
High-speed trolling for wahoo demands special rigging procedures and wire leaders to prevent cutoffs. (George Poveromo/)

Swimming plugs catch a wide variety of inshore and offshore game. When trolled, these lures excel at covering ground, which in turn expedites finding fish, penetrating active water-column sections while exuding enticing swimming actions and vibrations, and solidly hooking predators that buy the illusion.

As simple as towing a swimming plug behind a boat might sound, specific rigging tactics and materials maximize their action, longevity and strike potential. Depending upon boat speed and target species, I use everything from monofilament to cable.

Determine the best size and style of plug for your intended target, rig it accordingly, and watch your success rate soar.

Soft Sell

For inshore game such as striped bass, snook, tarpon and bull redfish, mono and fluorocarbon leaders offer low visibility, better swimming actions and, most importantly, a greater number of strikes. They’re also used to coax more strikes from offshore game, including toothy predators such as bluefish, king mackerel and wahoo when metal leaders don’t produce.

A prime example occurred a couple of seasons ago off Venice, Louisiana. Billy Wells and I came across a buoy floating offshore. Knowing wahoo would likely be swimming below, we trolled skipping ballyhoo past the buoy and caught some dolphin.

After the dolphin bite chilled, we retrieved the surface baits, and dropped back a single Rapala Magnum 30 on a 130-pound fluorocarbon leader. With just that one outfit, we made several passes and scored five wahoo.

We would’ve had six, but that final strike claimed the plug. Had we been using a metal leader, we might have scored just one or two wahoo. In this case, trading five wahoo for a swimming plug was a pretty good deal.

A sturdy, lipped diving plug pulled fast on wire leader does the job on wahoo holding deep.
A sturdy, lipped diving plug pulled fast on wire leader does the job on wahoo holding deep. (George Poveromo/)

“No doubt, you’ll get more strikes using a mono or fluorocarbon leader instead of wire for wahoo and other offshore fish,” says Harry Vernon III of Miami’s Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply. “A lot of times, wahoo race up behind a plug, engulf it and miss the leader. Yet sometimes they’ll strike the head, and there goes your plug. It comes down to how badly you want to gamble to get strikes. I own a tackle shop, so I can afford to gamble with lures—a lot.”

Vernon prefers 200-pound mono for serious offshore plug trolling, which he claims also works on Bahamas yellowfins. However, for smaller offshore and inshore game such as dolphin, blackfin tuna, bonito, cobia, striped bass and snook, 100-pound is ideal. In clear water, dropping to 80-pound and using knots in lieu of metal sleeves on connections elicits even more strikes.

“One crucial bit of advice: When attaching mono or fluorocarbon directly to a plug, use a thimble or, at the very least, a chafe guard, such as a small piece of clear plastic tubing, to slip over that portion of the leader,” Vernon says. “The intensity of the plug wobbling creates friction around the leader connection. Eventually, a straight mono leader wears out, and bye-bye plug.

“Also, when crimping mono or fluorocarbon leaders, copper, zinc or aluminum sleeves are fine for the job. Sleeve material here isn’t as important as with cable leaders.”

While single-strand wire remains less visible than cable, it’s likely to kink and deform under the pressure of high-speed trolling. A doubled-wire leader solves this problem. No. 7 single-strand fits the bill. With two lengths of wire held together, tie a haywire twist in one end, bottom. Twist the two lengths of wire together to form a single strand, middle. Attach the lure with a haywire twist formed from the doubled wire, top.
While single-strand wire remains less visible than cable, it’s likely to kink and deform under the pressure of high-speed trolling. A doubled-wire leader solves this problem. No. 7 single-strand fits the bill. With two lengths of wire held together, tie a haywire twist in one end, bottom. Twist the two lengths of wire together to form a single strand, middle. Attach the lure with a haywire twist formed from the doubled wire, top. (Steve Sanford/)

Wired Up

For catching toothy predators on plugs at slow to moderate trolling speeds, single-strand wire remains popular. A basic, time-tested leader for schooling king mackerel and bluefish, it also works well for snook, tarpon, bull redfish and striped bass in tannic and roiled conditions, where it blends in with the darker water. Thin-diameter wire slices through even strong currents, helping a plug run deep.

With trophy-class fish that engulf their prey rather than sever it, single-strand wire often beats mono or fluorocarbon leaders for hookup ratio.

Single-strand slides easily through a fish’s closed jaws, pulling the lure and hooks against its mouth. With heavy mono or fluorocarbon, clamped jaws -often pin the leader in place, preventing a hook-set.

To make an effective single-strand-to-plug connection, form a loop with a haywire twist. However, a single loop easily deforms and creases from the pressure of the plug, which restricts the action. The wire can also kink and break from the excess vibration and turbulence.

For a more stable connection, use a spoon loop. After running the leader through the eye of the plug, wrap its tag end several times around the loop you just formed, passing through the eye of the plug a second time as you wrap. Then complete the connection with a haywire twist, when the tag end meets the running line.

For most applications, No. 10 single-strand wire (around 110-pound) creates a good compromise between leader integrity and eliciting strikes.

Using a spoon wrap on trolling lures prevents the loop from closing under pressure.
Using a spoon wrap on trolling lures prevents the loop from closing under pressure. (Steve Sanford/)

While the spoon wrap stiffens the connecting loop and keeps it open, allowing the lure to swing freely, the single strand of the leader remains vulnerable to kinking. A doubled single-strand wire leader offers maximum rigidity and longevity. This is simply two equal-length sections of No. 7 single strand laid side by side, twisted together with wide wraps, then haywire-twisted, one end to the lure and the other for a connecting loop.

Strongest Bond

The most durable leader over a wide range of trolling speeds, 270-pound cable resists kinking and bite-offs, and excels at quicker wahoo-speed trolling.

Use a thimble to join the leader to a plug, and crimp with 3/64-inch zinc or copper sleeves to avoid galvanic corrosion. Then shield the connections against saltwater intrusion with shrink-wrap.

“We’ll use cable on our swimming plugs mostly in the Bahamas,” says Vernon. “The fish there aren’t as pressured, and a leader that stands out more doesn’t really matter. Yet for most of our South Florida fish, I still prefer mono.”

Quick Connect

Quick-release snaps are becoming popular when joining plugs to leaders. These include Sea Striker’s Quick Snaps, made of stainless construction with nickel-black plating, in 50- and 70-pound versions, and Tactical Anglers’ Power Clips, made of single, thick, stainless-steel wire, in 50-, 75-, 125- and 175-pound versions.

The clips offer latitude for the plug to swim, with little risk of it slipping free. And whether swapping sizes or replacing a damaged bait, changing a plug takes seconds. However, I still suggest using a chafe guard for joining a mono leader to the clip.