I’m just old enough that wooden and plastic hard baits that wobble will forever be called “plugs” in my play book.
The modern name of “crankbait” has become the mainstream lingo used among hardcore fishermen.
No matter what an angler calls these lures—plugs or crankbaits—this class of fishing lure has become legendary for the ability to catch literally everything that swims.
Pike, musky, bass, walleye, trout, salmon and even panfish slurp up these body baits with reckless abandon.
Right out of the package plugs are “fishy” lures and for the most part don’t need a lot of special attention.
The thing with fishermen however is they are never satisfied with perfection. Most of the skilled plug fishermen I’ve shared a boat with over the years take great pride in their ability to make a good plug even better!
No discussion of plugs or crankbaits would be complete without at least touching on the topic of lure tuning. These wooden and plastic hard baits are designed to come out of the package wobbling enticingly, but also swimming straight in the water. The “pull point” on these lures is the place where the line is attached. To swim straight in the water this pull point must be precisely in the middle of the diving lip.
Because these lures are mass produced and few are tank tested before being packaged and shipped, it’s common for a plug to run left or right of center. Commonly referred to as being “out of tune” these lures can be corrected easily with nothing more than a pair of needle nose pliers and a little patience.
Lures that are running right will need to have the pull point bent slightly to the left. The reverse is true of baits running to the left of center. The word “slightly” is the key here because a little goes a long ways when it comes to adjusting the pull point on a crankbait.
By making small adjustments to the pull point and then testing the bait again and again, an angler can dial in a crankbait to the point it runs perfectly straight in the water. What might amount to “hyper tuning” a crankbait may seem like a waste of time to the novice, but tuning crankbaits gives them more action and the desired profile in the water. Just as importantly tuning body baits allows them to dive to their natural depth and insures these lures are the fish catching machines they were designed to be.
AFTER MARKET HOOKS
Plugs are typically equipped with treble hooks from the factory and often the OEM standard hooks used rate about a C- on the grade curve. To keep the price down on these lures most manufacturers are equipping their baits with run-of-the-mill hooks.
Replacing those factory hooks with premium after market hooks is an easy way to make crankbaits that much more effective. After market hooks come in various levels of sharpness, price points and of course design improvements.
For the angler looking to upgrade his or her lures without spending a lot of money, the Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp series of hooks are affordable and exceptionally sharp right out of the package. Available in traditional round bend style and also wide bend or Kahle style, these hooks are affordable enough to justify as replacements for the OEM standard hooks that come on most plugs.
At the extreme end of the scale, TroKar hooks are widely considered to be the sharpest and arguably the most expensive hooks ever made. Produced using Surgically Sharpened Technology, these hooks feature knife edge designs that allow the hook to penetrate better than literally any other design on the market.
Available in both round bend and Kahle styles, TroKar trebles are expensive enough that most anglers are content to use them primarily on the tail hook of their baits.
When replacing treble hooks on plugs, size matters and should be a constant concern. When replacing hooks on plugs the safest course of action is to go with replacement hooks that are the same size and shank length as the OEM hooks that came standard on the lures.
Hook size and weight can and does impact on lure action, so anglers who opt to use larger size hooks should tread lightly. Bumping up the hooks on a crankbait one size is acceptable in most instances. Going above this threshold is risky business as hooks that are too large can impact negatively on lure action and also increase the likelihood of snags.
WIDE BEND HOOKS
A few years ago the trend towards wide bend hooks made big news in the fishing industry. Wide bend trebles like the popular Eagle Claw Kahle, Mustad Triple Grip, Gamakatsu EWG and VMC Barbarian are just a few of the hooks out there designed to not only hook fish, but to keep them hooked.
The slight inward angle of the hook point on wide bend style treble hooks works to keep pressure on the hook point where it needs to be. Those anglers who have used this hook design extensively feel conclusively that fish have a much harder time shaking lures equipped with them.
Most crankbait anglers attach their lures to the fishing line using a round nose snap that attaches to a split ring mounted on the pull point of the lure. A few lure manufacturers equip their baits with a round snap on the pull point instead of a split ring.
The problem with split rings is they are not all created equal and many tend to open under extreme pressure and at the worst possible moment. A powerful steelhead or salmon rolling and thrashing at boat side has the leverage to stress split rings literally to the failing point.
A lot of anglers and some crankbait manufacturers feel that a round snap is a more dependable means of terminating these lures. Lure designer and legendary trout and salmon angler Buzz Ramsey recommends using round snaps and he often doubles up. “When fishing high action baits like the Mag Lip I tie a round snap to the end of my line and attach that snap to the round snap that comes factory supplied on the bait,” explains Ramsey. “Attaching a snap to a snap may seem unnecessary, but it gives aggressive wobbling lures more freedom of movement and enhances their “hunting” or “skip beat” action.”
Split rings may not be the best option for attaching to the pull point on a crankbait, but they are essential for attaching treble hooks to these lures. A trick many anglers use to keep powerful fish from escaping is to use two split rings on the tail treble. Adding the extra split ring gives the hook more freedom to rotate and removes the leverage a powerful fish often uses to literally tear free and escape.
Another excellent hooking option is to go with single Siwash hooks on plugs.
Remove the treble hook from the lure belly and add a small barrel swivel onto the split ring. Next open the hook eye on the Siwash hook with a pair of pliers enough to slip the hook over the swivel. Bend the hook eye shut and repeat the same process with the tail hook. Rigged in this manner plugs are more snag resistant and fish that are hooked find it very difficult to shake free.
These days fishing plugs come in some pretty impressive color options. Never satisfied, a host of anglers opt to customize their lures by adding color in key areas of the bait using colorful permanent markers.
“A permanent marker is a great tool for adding a little red or black to the bill of a bait, highlighting the belly of a lure or giving accent colors to the flanks of plugs,” says Josh Crabtree an avid plug fisherman based in western Michigan.
Other anglers take lure color to a whole new level and literally repaint their baits in a host of “custom colors” designed to catch the eye of not only fish, but color crazy fishermen. “Custom painting crankbaits is something I started doing as a hobby to enhance my own fishing and also to share with a few of my fishing buddies,” says Darrell Wood of Sandusky, Ohio. “The demand for my custom creations grew so rapidly I decided to make it official and Hi Tech Custom Painted Baits, LLC was born.”
Wood is now a hired gun who paints baits for a price, producing a host of color designs for individual customers and also stock baits for a growing number of fishing tackle shops along the shores of Lake Erie. The interesting thing about the “custom color” craze is that every fisherman has plugs in his box that have for one reason or another never produced that well.
Repainting those baits can often breath new life into a lure that just didn’t have the right bling to get bit!
WRAP IT UP
Last, but certainly not least, a growing number of Great Lakes anglers are taking a page from the play book of west coast salmon and trout fishermen. Plug wrapping using a thin strip of herring or other baitfish is a great way to add a natural scent trail in the water. Stretchy thread is used to secure the strip of meat to the belly of the bait.
After fishing a wrapped plug for awhile the natural oils in the baitfish are going to leech out. Squirting these lures down with a healthy shot of Pro Cure Herring Oil is an easy way to recharge these baits and get that scent stream working again.
For those who have never wrapped a plug, the internet is loaded with short videos explaining the process in detail. Plugs are awesome fishing baits, but there are lots of ways to make these lures even more productive. This season try some new tricks aimed at making these classic baits even better fish traps.
- written by Mark Romanack (Fishing 411 TV)