The Perfect Hoax

No matter how jaded you are, there are few visions that provide as much of an adrenaline rush as an aggressive game fish rising to the challenge and viciously striking a vibrant trolling lure. In order to be consistently successful, competitive big game crews are meticulous in regards to the preparation and deployment of these incredible fish enticements, and you should follow suit. It’s important to remember that most ingredients involved in successful trolling endeavors implementing natural baits also apply with artificial lures, including but not limited to a basic understanding of knowing which particular species to target, where the fish should be and when they will be most active. There are countless skirted trolling lures available and they all share the common goal of triggering aggressive feeding responses. What you need to understand is that simply fishing with proven lures isn’t the answer to your fish-catching prayers. There is so much more.


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Photo: Steve Dougherty

It is no surprise lure manufacturers have reaped the benefits of advancements in polyurethane and molding technologies to further the design and performance of their artificial offerings. While increasing technology has benefited lure makers in regards to consistency and time benefits, the variables that contribute to a lure’s effectiveness and placement in your spread include size, shape, color, action, rigging, and of course, presenting the lures in an area likely to produce results. As with every aspect of sport fishing, a firm understanding of your equipment and basic rigging techniques will be a huge benefit. Only when you have a solid grasp of what is going on around you will you be able to fine-tune your lure selection and placement to adapt to the available species and prevailing conditions.

Experienced billfish crews can easily tell where a lure’s sweet spot is by simply watching its mannerisms in relation to trolling speed and sea state. If you find that game fish are striking in a distinct pattern, then you, too, must be able to readily indentify the enticing factors and oceanic conditions so you can replicate them time and time again. Although many factors are involved in a lure’s overall appeal, if you fish in an area where there are no fish, you certainly won’t stand a chance of catching any. Just as important as lure selection and precise placement, it’s critical to understand that your ultimate success, or failure, will be the direct result of a team effort. While the following recommendations will help point you in the right direction, it’s important to keep in mind that every captain has his/her perfect spread and favorite fakes. If you have a system that works for you, use it, but don’t for one moment think there’s only one way to skin a cat.

One of the most exciting things about blue water sport fishing is that somewhere around the great state of Florida one season is ending, while another is just heating up. While you may have a good idea of what’s going on offshore, you really never know what you may encounter, so you must be prepared to capitalize on any and every species that comes in for a closer look.

Take a stroll through your local tackle shop or browse your favorite online tackle retailer. The shear amount of skirted trolling lures available is downright ridiculous, with many of these bizarre offerings clearly designed to hook fishermen, not fish. When it comes to lure selection most uneducated anglers probably pick their favorites in a similar fashion as they select female companions. Pick the one with the sweetest eyes and the prettiest skirt. Logically, it’s not the most appealing lures that are always the most effective, however, scientific studies have proven that eyes trigger an uncontrollable instinct in predatory strikes.

Over the years skirted lures with certain head shapes and trolling characteristics have been grouped into particular categories. Unfortunately, if you ask 20 lure manufacturers to describe what makes up the perfect billfish plunger you will get as many different answers, with varying degrees of head shape, slant, taper and diameter. While lure selection is important, no matter what you choose to drag your trolling spread must effectively imitate a fleeing school of forage, with your vessel acting as the ultimate teaser. Experienced captains are well aware of this fact and over the years have learned how to use the boat’s prop wash and acoustics to their advantage.

Lure Heads
While there are a confusing variety of lure head designs, the prevalent sea state will play the ultimate role in selection, as a lure head’s dimensions and style dictate its swimming characteristics. Bullets are aptly named due to their inherent shape and are effective in a wide variety of sea conditions. A hands down favorite for wahoo fishermen, the slender profile and streamlined shape of bullets enable them to be pulled at high speeds.

Chuggers are easily identified by their reverse taper and cupped face. With this proven design, the uniformly cupped face traps air as the lure breathes and creates a thick bubble trail as the lure tracks. The design also makes the lure swim with a side-to-side wiggle, which can vary from a tight formation to a more exaggerated pattern depending on the design. Tim Woodstock of Canyon Gear Lures tells us that if you had to choose one trolling lure to appeal to a wide variety of species under varying conditions it would be wise to select a 10-inch chugger. Pretty much idiot proof, chuggers are easy to rig, easy to run and create a lot of action in a variety of sea states.

Jets are aptly named as they are adorned with large holes that force a mixture of air and water through the skirted pocket. They create an extremely thick bubble trail that adds appeal to the lure. Jets typically feature a bullet shape, but many lure head designs now incorporate flow-through jets to increase action and attractiveness. Jets typically track straight at high speeds and can be pulled in any and all sea conditions. Captain Bart Miller of Black Bart Lures recommends trolling a jet off the center rigger. This lure should be the smallest in the spread with a very smooth and straight trolling pattern.

It’s highly arguable that plungers have caught more marlin than any other style of trolling lure. One of the largest head styles, plungers typically feature a slanted face and double tapered body, but you must realize that not all slant faced lures are classified as plungers. Slant head lures take a bit of experience to fine-tune and as a general rule, rough seas will prohibit this lure’s overall effectiveness.

Tube lures feature a uniform cylindrical shape, and are often adorned with a slanted head. Tube lures run in a wide range of sea conditions and are easy for beginners since they don’t have to be rigged perfectly to provide aggressive action. It is a tube’s small diameter head that provides consistent tracking.

In regards to lure size you should take note of the area’s prevalent forage and your target game fish. It’s best to match your offerings to the size of the forage species in the area. It’s not essential to match the size of your offering to the size of the fish you are targeting. There have been true giants caught on small lures, and vice versa. When game fish are in feeding mode they will devour anything big or small.

With a basic understanding of lure head variation you’re halfway there. Next you’ll have to be able to fine-tune their placement for optimal presentation. In regards to outriggers and flat lines, remember that the higher the angle to the water the more aggressive the lure’s action will be. Height can be adjusted in a number of ways including the use of rocket launchers, various rod holder positions and, of course, outriggers. If you find that the lure’s face is constantly pulling out of the water, then the angle of entry is too high. On the other end of the spectrum you know that the angle of entry is too low when the leader drags in the water. While every captain has his/her own school of thought, it is generally accepted that you want to fish your lures as close to the boat without them skipping out of the water. The closer your lures are to the transom, the more aggressive the lure’s action should be. A lure fished close to the transom should offer action that rivals that of the prop wash. The lures farthest from the boat should be smaller and less aggressive.

When you hear of captains talking about lure placement, they often refer to a lure’s position in regards to its wave. While dependent on the captain’s tactics and prevalent conditions, all lures should run on the face of its predetermined wave, just below the crest. This gives the lure the best action as it surfs into the trough without skipping out of the water. It’s important you watch your lures and take note of their action in the spread. Study their movement in the water and see how slight adjustments in boat speed, running height and placement can alter their attitude and fish catching effectiveness. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment. With a bit of practice you’ll surely find drag-screaming success.