Trolling with Plugs


Trolling is a popular method for catching pelagic saltwater fish, but 90 percent of the time, at the end of the line there’s a spoon or some kind or a flashy, colorful lure with a skirt that’s trailed by some kind of long, thin baitfish.

 Typically, some of them are fished at the surface, while some of them are fished down in the water column on a downrigger or a planer.

 The happy minority of fishermen, however, is using long, minnow-shaped diving plugs, tying directly to the line that’s spooled onto the reel, and fishing them several feet below the surface on tackle that’s fairly light for the chore.

 And they’re happily bringing to the dock loads of fish: king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and wahoo among them.

 You can really kill kings with plugs and you don’t need any extra equipment to do it. Kings, dolphin and wahoo will all eat them up!

 Plugs are especially good in the fall, when kings and Spanish are making a good showing just off the beach all around the Grand Strand, and when wahoo make their annual fall appearance in the bluewater off our coast.


Using light-tackle rigs, fishermen on charters have a lot more fun when they’re fighting a 2- or 3-pound Spanish mackerel on a spinning rod than on a heavier trolling rod and planer board that overpowers the fish.

 In the spring and the fall, light tackle is a great way to fish. You don’t have to use a planer; you can use a spinning rod. And in the spring, kings, Spanish and bonito love plugs; in the fall, kings really love them too.

 Mann’s Stretch 25, a Yo-Zuri deep-diving crystal minnow and Rapalas are very effective plugs when it comes to saltwater trolling. Offshore, you can add the Cairns swimmer or Marauder to the list.

 A lot of people are trolling for Spanish with a 3-5/8- or 4-3/4-inch Yo-Zuri; they’ll go to bigger plugs when they troll for kings and Spanish. Normally, you can troll them at 3, 3-1/2 or 4 knots, and the plugs will run eight to 10 feet deep. But there are so many variables – how fast you troll, how big the plug is among them.


 Fishermen commonly remove the treble hooks that come on the plugs and replace them with single hooks, either stainless steel or cadmium. And they know that lures with shiny metal diving lips are often more effective than their plastic-lipped brethren.

 Kings will go for the plug’s eye or the lip – because it’s shiny. You should consider using at least 12 inches and up to 18 inches of stranded wire leader, usually 90- to 170-pound. Kings like to smack the lip of the bait, and if you don’t have a wire leader, they’ll cut it off in a heartbeat.

 Some guides use even lighter terminal tackle, fishing trolling plugs – mainly a 3-5/8-inch long Yo-Zuri crystal minnow – on a 6-1/2- or 7-foot medium action spinning rod rigged with an Okuma V40 reel that’s spooled with 14-pound Berkley Fireline, a popular braided line. Instead of wire, some use a 4-foot section of 30-pound Vanish fluorocarbon line, then ties it to the plug.


 Some fishermen get cut-offs and find that, for some reason, fish won’t strike a lure that’s tied directly to braided line, hence, the short section of fluorocarbon.

 Using mono with fluorocarbon will get more strikes than using wire, and can reduce cut-offs.

 Try trolling 3, 3.2 knots, and they’ll run 8 to 10 feet deep. An outfit like that will really make a 2- or 3-pound Spanish mackerel fun.


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