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Trolling lures and baits, Part I

By Staff | May 31, 2018

Lures: Trolling lures used for game fish range from tiny heads to massive plastic moldings that appear at first glance to be misplaced boat fenders. Hook size and number are generally dictated by lure size (diameter) and skirt length. Lure skirts should at least partially hide the hook; in larger lures, hook size is generally decided by matching the hook’s gap (distance between the shank and the point) to the diameter of the lure.

The debate ranges widely over the relative merits of single vs. twin-hook rigs. In larger big game lures, those who advocate either style seem to agree about having a hook as far back in the skirts as possible. Twin-hook advocates then argue about the angle between the front and aft hook, the majority suggesting that 180 degrees of separation is best, though some swear by a 90-degree angle.

Australian lure maker Peter Pakula has had immense success with his unique 60-degree angle of separation between front and back hooks in his trolling lures. In this configuration, both hooks travel with their points up in a vee formation, acting as stabilizing rudders. Pakula suggests that the trailing hook be set all the way back in the lure skirt, enough so that at least the hook point is behind the back end of the skirt.

Advocates for stiff rigs then battle with those who prefer free-swinging rigs, and the argument goes further into the realm of hook type and whether hook types can or should be mixed in any rig.

Live Baits: The best way to deploy a live bait depends upon the species and how it’s rigged. Little baits require finesse if they’re to survive, and different rigging points produce different swimming actions. Larger species are relatively hardy and are generally rigged in the head.

Bridle-rigged skipjack and bonito can be slow-trolled straight off the rod tip or from an outrigger, generally with one engine in gear at idle speed. Pre-rigged live skipjack and other small tunas can be held in vertical saltwater circulating tuna tubes to be deployed at any time, especially when the lures or baits behind the boat have raised a billfish that is timid to the array, or when teasers are used to raise the fish to a live bait.

Bridling Live Tuna: Most skippers consider skipjack tuna to be the live bait of choice for marlin. Use a bridle loop of heavy Dacron half-hitched to the hook bend, threaded through the sinus passage at the one o’clock position in the tuna’s eye sockets, and then dropped over the point of the hook. Twist this tight against the bait’s head and secure it by passing the point of the hook back through the gap between the twisted bridle and bait’s head. Secured tightly to the baitfish in this way, the hook rarely gets forced back into the bait when swallowed by a marlin or tuna and so remains armed.

Where you hook a bait determines where it goes. If you pin it through the eye sockets, the bait typically swims near the surface. Pin it through the back, two-thirds of the way to the tail, and it will usually swim away from the boat. Hooked above the anal fin, the bait tends to dive for the deep.

Dead Bait: Dead-bait rigging is a diverse art having almost as many rigging styles as practitioners, ranging from traditional belly-rigged swimming mullet to the bizarre reversed-hook breakaway rig once favored by New Zealand’s marlin fishermen.

Hook placement on dead baits ranges from nose-rigs bridled to the head of the bait – so it pulls the bait from forward of the tip of the stitched-closed jaws – to rigs that place the hook eye in the head cavity with the point just below the gill slits. For those seeking to snag toothy critters and short-striking quarry, at least one hook should be placed well aft in the bait.

Anglers generally favor dead-bait nose rigs to pull skip baits from a central point forward of the bait, the presumption being that the quarry will engulf the bait and turn to swallow it head-first.

The hooks will then be set when the drag is increased, pulling the line, leader and hook sharply outward to catch somewhere in the gamefish.