Saltwater Trolling Lures
Starting with the smallest trolling lures. we find a category that is commonly referred to as ‘bait catching lures‘. These include the so-called Christmas Trees. as well as saltwater ?ies, feather jigs and squids.
These lures are mostly used for procuring bait?sh such as striped tuna, mackerel tuna, frigate mackerel and bonito. Of course, this is not to say that this is their only function they also appeal to pelagics which are good table sportfish, such as yellowtail kings, albacore, school yellowfin, mackerel, wahoo and dolphin fish.
One of the most satisfying aspects of lure fishing is fooling a fish into eating a lump of plastic, metal, rubber or tinsel that, in reality, bears little resemblance to anything living. There are as many different lures as there are anglers to use them, but for offshore lure trolling for big pelagics, there are half a dozen or so basic styles which account for the lion’s share of catches.
South of Tweed Heads. one can get away with rigging these lures on 30 to 60 kg mono but in the tropics, 0.22 gauge single strand wire is almost essential in order to prevent bite-offs from the ‘razor gang’; mackerel, wahoo, and barracuda.
Big marlin and yellowfin tuna take a fancy to these little lures at times, but unfortunately, they are usually being towed on gear totally unsuitable for the ensuing fight, much to the frustration of the angler concerned!
Any strong. long shanked straight hook will suffice in rigging lures of this size, but if you really want to make every hook-up a secure one, try ganging together two Mustad 7/O Model 9l 75 short shanked hooks and slipping these into the skirt, so long as the fish caught isn’t wanted as a live bait. The hooks will prove extremely difficult to shed, and the rig is still legal under GFAA and IGFA rules.
While on the subject of procuring bait, it should be mentioned that many boats looking for small tuna as dead baits for marlin, sharks or even bottom fish make use of a ‘crash line’ to speed up the bait catching process.
A crash line consists of about 40 metres of Venetian blind cord tied to a plumbers ‘O’ ring, which in turn is connected to at solid anchoring point in the boat.
At the other end of the cord is tied a large ball bearing swivel and to this is knotted a heavy mono trace with a Christmas Tree or pink squid tied to the other end.
The heavy cord enables the fish to be brought to the boat in double-quick time and the lure reset before the school sounds or spooks. This method can prove expensive on terminal tackle if there are any large tuna about. as while the ‘O’ ring will absorb the shock of the first strike, there usually isn’t enough cord to turn the fish a second time!
Moving onto bigger lures, the scoop-headed Konahead style of skirted artificial. invented on the Kona coast of Hawaii, has accounted for thousands of billfish and big tuna over the years.
However, Konas have been overshadowed lately by flat-faced or slightly angled ‘pusher’ style heads. The pusher doesn’t dart from side to side like the Konahead and, in theory. this should make it easier for the fish to catch. as it isn’t likely to duck to one side as that big bill comes crashing down over it. Pushers also throw up much more of a wake and leave a long, foaming bubble trail that readily stands out in the water.
When it comes to rigging big lures, and that includes anything over about 20 cm or so in length, two hooks are regarded as mandatory nowadays, particularly when chasing hard mouthed species such as billfish, who are hard to stick a hook into at the best of times.
Stainless Sea Demons and Southern and Tuna hooks are accepted as the best hooks for big lure trolling among experienced anglers, as they don’t rust and hold an excellent point unlike their cadmium plated brothers.
Stories circulate from time to time about stainless hooks being brittle and easy to break. but this rarely happens. One factor that does bear watching. however. is not to sharpen them into a long. finely tapered point. If such a point should strike bone or bill, there is a good chance that it will roll over, so keep the points sharp. but of a shorter. broader and triangulated taper.
Traces As far as traces go, heavy mono is widely taking the place of wire as it doesn’t kink or inhibit the action of the lure and presents fewer problems when tracing. ln far northern waters where there is an abundance of toothy critters, 49—strand aircraft cable of better than I80 kg breaking strain is suitable.
Heavy wire of around 200 kg-plus breaking strain can be used to link the two hooks. even if mono is used for the rest of the trace. This is the part of the rig that gets the most abuse from mouths and teeth, and being hidden in the skirt, its dimensions are unlikely to deter even finicky feeders.
For mono traces. something in the I20 to 250 kg breaking strain range is best used, with complete systems such as that marketed by linkai proving extremely effective and popular. linkai is designed for use with special crimps. as it is almost impossible to tie knots in conventional mono of this weight.
Jets and High Speeds
When travelling at high speed from one fishing spot to another, or on days when choppy sea conditions and strong crosswinds make ordinary lures difficult to tow without tumbling. jet head lures are a workable solution. A straight runner with a head looking somewhat like a shower nozzle, jets are usually turned out of chromed brass or stainless steel. with the standard shredded vinyl, skirt hung off the business end.
Their weight and general water resistance enable them to hang in the water at speeds of up to 20 knots without ‘blowing out’, provided they are run back at least 80 metres and ideally more than 100. Wahoo and dolphin fish love them, as do big yellowfin tuna and the odd marlin.
New from Japan
For many years, the Japanese have been extremely skilful lure fishermen and a good deal of our current lure fishing technology comes from their vast commercial fleets that fish the world’s oceans. One lure that the Japanese pioneered is the rubber-tailed flying fish.
The ?ying fish is made of relatively heavy duty rubber with two realistic looking ‘wings’ that enable it to skip and dance across the surface in a remarkably realistic imitation of a real ?ying fish.
The tail is shaped like that on the Vibrotail jig used on the likes of barra and flathead. A true surface lure. the flying fish handles moderate to high boat speeds quite well. its only failing is that the plastic body is totally unsuited to sharp-toothed pelagics. and may even tear around the hook hole after a few non-toothed fish have been caught on it.
Another Japanese invention is the ‘bird’ teaser. While not exactly a lure in the truest sense of the word, a bird is often towed among a lure spread as an added attraction to draw the fish to the back of the boat. There it may be persuaded to have a go at one of the hook-laden offerings being trolled nearby. Lures being towed off the back of the bird also work quite well but check current GFAA and IGFA rules for the legality of this method.
Squids and Skirts
Imitation squid lures have been with us for many years and have fallen into two fairly distinct categories those which are designed as realistic imitations of a cephalopod. and ordinary vinyl skirts which are usually rigged on trolling heads or over large bean sinkers. The rubber imitations are considered to be a little ‘old hat’ in certain circles compared to fancier recent offerings. but they caught a lot of very big ?sh in their time and no Port Phillip Bay kingfish specialist worth his salt would be caught dead without one in his tackle box. particularly the big brown and milky white models.
When rigged with a Cyalume light stick pushed up inside them, they look like a million dollars and most gamefish find them hard to ignore.
Shredded vinyl skirts can be rigged behind a conventional lure head. As mentioned, they can also be used as an end in themselves by pushing a large barrel sinker up into the head if a sub-surface lure is required, or a piece of cork if a surface lure fits the bill. Many of them have large. bright eyes painted on them. which is supposed to serve as a handy point of reference for an attacking pelagic? An extra feature like this can’t hurt.
Patterns and Spreads
Lure patterns play a big part in offshore lure trolling success. lt is certainly possible to toss a few lumps of shredded vinyl over the side and go for a drive in the hope of catching fish. but for consistent results. there is a little more to it than that.
The idea behind trolling multiple lures is to imitate a school of baitfish, and for this reason. there needs to be some semblance of order in the pattern.
Generally, the largest lures swim off the outriggers. and are run back the greatest distance. with the spread working its way back to the prop wash to where the smallest lures are usually located. There are a million variations on this. however. and a big lure will often work well swimming deep inside the turbulent prop wash. while a Christmas Tree might produce more striped tuna if it is run a long way bad; so keep an open mind and be prepared to experiment
A “V/” pattern. with the two outriggers forming the tips of the V. raises a lot of fish and doesn’t tangle quite as easily if a sharp turn is made with the boat. However, some people prefer a “W” pattern with the centre troll he piled off a ?atline (from the tip). lt comes down to personal preference in a lot of cases.
No discussions of offshore lures would be complete without examining the importance of lure colours. Despite the fact that fish are supposedly colour blind. one has only to walk into any tackle shop and gaze at the mindboggling array of lures on display to realise that lots of fishermen don’t agree with the scientists!
Again. it often comes down to personal preference, but it can be useful to troll a range of colour combinations and keep rough notes on which lures work best under what conditions: cloudy or overcast skies, choppy or calm seas. blue or green water.
Many anglers place faith in the dull lure for a dull day theory. but enough ?sh are taken on brightly coloured lures under such conditions to totally disprove the theory. so it pays not to be too dogmatic about what colour will work and when.
Perhaps it is all these intangible variables that make offshore lure trolling such an adventure!