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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
Consider the bass fishing scene. The vast majority of bass available in most waters average from 1 to 2 pounds. These fish spend most of their time feeding on baitfish and crawfish in the 1 to 3 inch range. As a result lures in this size range are very effective for catching average size bass.
Big bass, say those that weigh more than 4 pounds occur in far smaller numbers than the smaller average size bass and they also prefer larger forage items. This is why small lures only occasionally draw strikes from big bass.
In recent years trophy hunters have discovered that big trout imitating swimbait from 8 to 13 inches long will consistently draw strikes from big bass because this is the size forage they prefer. The action is seldom fast due to the fact that there simply are not that many big bass in a given body of water, yet when a swimbait is put in front of a large fish that is in the mood to feed a hard strike is very often the result.
The same scenario holds true for trout fishing. Most trout anglers rely on trout lures closely mimicing the small baitfish average size trout in the 8 to 14 inch range most often eat. That’s why lures, from 1 to 21/2 inches in length are so popular among trout anglers.
Will lures in this size range catch big trout? Sure, but not very often because the biggest trout in most waters target larger prey, this is why minnow plugs in the 4 to 10 inch range are king when it comes to tempting trout of trophy proportions.
Hardcore minnow plug enthusiasts like myself have tackle boxes well stocked with different baits from a variety of manufactures such as Rapala, Rebel, Bomber and Yo-Zuri. For the beginner, a couple of lures in a couple sizes and finishes will cover most situations. For big browns, holdover rainbows, and mackinaw I favor plugs in the 3 to 7 inch range.
In terms of minnow plugs for trout fishing the Rapala floating minnow represents the industry standard. If I were restricted to just one plug the Rapala floating minnow with its slender profile and seductive swimming action would likely be my top choice. Another fine lure manufactured by Rapala is the Husky Jerk. This plug looks like a standard Rapala but its body is made of hollow plastic rather than balsa wood, features an internal rattle, and suspends in the water column when the retrieve is stopped.
Recently I’ve become a big fan of the minnow plugs produced by Yo-Zuri. They offer both floater/diver models and suspending models that feature very life like actions and colors.
Speaking of colors, I’m a big believer in natural colored baits. Rainbow trout and silver/black are two of my favorites. Yo-Zuri offers a finish called “ghost” that is olive green on the top fading to a translucent pearl color on the plug’s flank. For the past two years this color has been red hot for me and I’ve used it to catch dozens of rainbows and browns. The only time I’ll deviate from using natural colored plugs is at times when the water is stained. When dealing with colored water fire tiger and perch finishes produce well.
Presentation and patience are key factors in successfully fishing minnow plugs. Once in a while I’ll have someone tell me, “I’ve tried using big Rapalas, but I’ve never caught a trout on one.” When I hear this I know they either aren’t fishing the bait correctly or they haven’t put in enough fishing time.
For the best results minnow plugs must be trolled quickly. Most experts like their lures moving between 3 and 5 miles per hour. Your goal is to trigger a reaction strike from a large predatory trout that believes it’s stumbled on a panicked prey item. If the trout gets to inspect the bait it often won’t strike. I’ve got to admit that when I first started fast trolling I felt pretty silly and was skeptical that a trout would hit a lure moving so quickly. Well, it didn’t take me long to learn that if a trout wants your bait they can catch it with ease even at 5 mph.
While trolling quickly is crucial, it’s only part of the presentation. Trolling minnow plugs isn’t a relaxed approach like trolling other lures. The most effective minnow plug trollers constantly pump their rods making their baits appear injured and panicky. It can also be effective to abruptly slow the boat and then throttle up cause the lure to move off with a burst of speed.
The final piece of the presentation strategy focuses on which areas of a given lake are most likely to hold large trout. In the fall, winter and spring the trout will be near the surface due to low water temperatures. In my experience areas of near shore structure and cover are the most consistent producers of big trout. I believe predatory fish often hunt near shoreline structure because it makes cornering their prey an easier task.
Submerged trees, rocky rubble, stumps, points, and shelves adjacent to deep water are examples of the areas I target. Such locations provide predatory trout with opportunities to ambush prey, while nearby deep water gives the trout a sense of security.
Minnow plugs are expensive, so anglers often avoid snaggy shallow water areas fearing lost lures, yet these are the areas that hold fish. Don’t let the possibility of losing a lure intimidate you into fishing water that doesn’t hold trout.
Since you’ll be working in shallow water spooking fish is a concern. As a result lures should be trolled from 200 to 300 feet behind the boat. Having the lures that far back allows you to swim the plugs through prime areas without driving the boat across them first.
For example if you’re approaching a submerged tree swing the boat offshore to avoid cruising over it. Then once you’ve passed the tree swing back toward the shore. In this way you can maneuver your lure into prime areas without crossing them with the boat first.
Some anglers use side planers to steer their plugs toward shoreline structure. Personally I don’t like to use side planners since they don’t allow me to work the plug with the rod and I believe that costs me fish.
It has often been said that if you catch a big fish in one location, that same spot will often produce another trophy at a later date. If you establish a certain area or a type of cover or structural feature that produces big trout at a given lake, plugging is an option that provides maximum stealth and versatility.
Using an electric motor, it is possible to move within casting distance of prime areas silently. When plugging you still want your plugs moving quickly much of the time, but you also have the option of stopping and ripping them. When using suspending plugs, it often pays to burn them down quickly, stop the retrieve, and dead stick them for several seconds before giving the plug a couple hard rips and continuing with the fast retrieve. The only negative feature of plugging is that it doesn’t allow you to cover much ground, so you’ve got to be confident that the areas you are fishing have a strong probability of holding trout.
I’m a big believer in adding Pro Cure Super Gel scents to my plugs. These scents cover up human odor, emit strike inducing enzymes, and provide a scent trial that can induce a following fish to nip at the plug. Scents won’t make an inactive trout feed, but they can tilt the scales in your favor when you encounter trout in a neutral mood. Since minnow plugs are imitating baitfish I like to go with baitfish scents such as tui chub and herring. Other proven scents to try include rainbow trout, sardine, anchovy, predator and anise.
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