Rigging Trolling Lures - Swimming Plugs

December 06, 2020
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Trolling lures for saltwater fishing can be categorized into skirted lures, swimming plugs, and stick baits. These lures are designed to mimic the appearance of specific fish, with a bib or lip on the front that forces it down into the water column. The vibration created by the lure attracts fish to strike. The rigging technique for swimming plugs is based on the fish's size and power.

You can troll for many different species and you can troll with a wide assortment of lures. How you rig them is open to debate. For simplicity, let's discuss rigging trolling lures for saltwater fishing by delineating lures into a couple of main groups, skirted lures, swimming plugs and stick baits. Skirted lures, swimming plugs and stick baits occupy wide ranging categories of artificial baits, so I this will be the first of three articles on the subject of rigging trolling lures, with thought given to the lipped swimming plug group here. The approach to rigging swimming plugs focuses more on modifying the lure for specific application than it does assembling components like a skirted lure.

Rigging For the Species

Rigging techniques for plugs is typically based on the size and power of the fish you are after and whether or not they have a mouth full of teeth. Fish like grouper, snook and striped bass will not be as demanding as mackerel, wahoo, dogtooth tuna or barracuda. While some lures are ready to run right out of the box, others need to be fine tuned to achieve the performance you are looking for. Before you drop your plugs in the water, give consideration to what you are fishing for and where in the water column those fish are holding. If you aren't running your swimming plugs where the fish are, you will not get bites.

What are Swimming Plugs

So, what exactly is a trolling lure and more specifically, what is a trolling plug? A trolling lure is one you drag behind your boat. To be a little more specific, a trolling plug is a low-maintenance hard bodied fishing lure made to mimic the appearance of a given bait fish. Most swimming plugs have some sort of bib or lip on the front of the lure that forces it down into the water column as it is pulled thru the water. Some will pull straight, some will wobble and other will meander side to side. The vibration created as the lure moves in the water is what attracts fish to strike. Brand names like Rapala, Halco and Yo-Zuri, to name a few, are synonymous with swimming plugs.

William Toney presents two of his favorite casting lures for grouper

Better Hooks and Split Rings

When you get down to rigging trolling lures like swimming plugs, you are relegated to perhaps changing out the bib or lip to vary the diving depth and beefing up the hooks and split rings for ballsier species like dogtooth tuna, wahoo and larger tuna. Leaders will range from wire, monofilament or fluorocarbon. Even though rigging options for swimming plugs are far more simple than the skirted variety, you can still do some cool stuff to improve performance or make repairs.

One of the first things I always do with my swimming plugs is to swap out the factory split rings for better quality versions. BKK makes excellent split rings that I like, but there are several other good options. Split ring pliers will come in super handy with this modification and a great tool to have in your rigging kit. Good lures can be made better with this simple improvement.

The hooks on your lures are the next thing to look at and may very well be the weakest link. For smaller fish, this is not a concern, but if you are going after bigger more powerful fish, you will want to change the hooks to something a little hardier. I have seen many a hook get straightened by the heat of heavy battles. Good quality hooks from BKK, Owner or Gamakatsu are definite pluses. Rigging your plugs with better split rings and hooks is always a good idea.

Purpose Built Lures

Most of your better quality lures will be purpose built to handle lots of action. But, there will come a time when the lip breaks or you want a specific lure to perform differently. Brands like Halco make it easy to change out a damaged bib or to make a lure run at different depths. A Halco swimming plug can be made to run at 6 feet or it can be made to run a 30 feet. All you have to do is swap out the bib. With Halco lures, there is a small key that holds the bib in place. Once you remove this key, by tapping it out with a small allen tool, you can remove the bib. Insert the new bib and insert the key to hold it in place. You can see exactly how to do this in our Trolling Swimming Plugs video. This is a great feature to have in a lure. If the bib or lip on your lure is aluminum, you can just bend it back in place. I really like these plugs that allow this easy change out. There is just no reason to have to trash a good lure because the lip cracks or breaks.

Your Leader Matters

When you have your lure fine tuned with the proper lip/bib, better split rings and hooks, it's time to consider your leader. The water clarity and conditions have a lot to do with what you can get away with on your leaders. Calm, clear water will require fluorocarbon, as it is far less visible. Murkier water or choppy water will allow you to use monofilament, which gives you more strength. You can use heavy mono for toothy fish, but the risk of cutoffs almost necessitates the use of wire. More than anything, go as heavy as the water and fishing allows. When you are fishing for fish with keen eyesight, start heavier and then scale down, if you are not getting bites. Here are some very general guidelines. Fish like snook call for 50-80 fluorocarbon. Grouper calls for 80-100 lb fluorocarbon. For bigger striped bass in turbid water, you can use 100 pound leaders. As you move further offshore, 100 pound fluorocarbon is a good starting leader size. Wire is always a good call when dealing with fish that have a mouth full of teeth. The size of the fish you likely to catch plays big in determining the actual size of your wire leaders. mackerel or other toothy fish, start with wire. Titanium leader, nylon coated sevenstrand and single strand wire are all good options. If you are targeting wahoo 100-300 lb monofilament works, but so does No. 7 single strand. For king mackerel 30-60 lb sevenstrand works well. For most swimming plugs you can tie your line right to the lure with a loop knot, for good swimming action. With the wire, using a haywire twist is a good method. With the leader attached to the plug, add a swivel to the other end. You can see how to do all of this in our videos.

When rigging trolling lures, the size of the fish you are targeting and the type of structure you are trolling around are major determinants in what you do with your swimming plugs. The bigger the leader you can get away with, the better off you will be. Start big and back off as needed. You want your lure to swim without being hindered by your leader, so trial and error is part of the game. Experiment with what works and then go with what suits the fish your particular fishing conditions the best.

To learn more with our demonstration videos, check out our Saltwater Fishing Lures Videos. You will see how to swap out bibs, change split rings, add better hooks, scrape the lure to take off blemishes and add leaders.

Learn More About Trolling Plugs

Seth Horne In The Spread,
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