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Plug Wrapping, The Next Big Thing

Plug wrapping is in wide use along the Pacific
Northwest, but not a lot of anglers in the Great
Lakes have discovered this fishing tactic.
One of the things I like most about fishing is the game is constantly evolving. Just about the time an old dog like me thinks he has seen it all, something new comes down the pipe changing the playing field.

Because fishing is constantly evolving game and staying on top of these changes is my full time job, I take the sharing of fishing information very seriously. Nine years ago when my family made the decision to jump into the outdoor television arena, we knew going in that our TV program would be different from other shows and would put education first and foremost.

My oldest son Zackery came up with the Fishing 411 name and it was perfect for a show that is all about sharing “fishing information”. Fishing 411 shares not only information on fundamental fishing tactics and gear, but spotlights great fishing destination and focuses on critical conservation issues. Perhaps the part of Fishing 411 I am most proud of is the opportunity our show provides to share new fishing trends with the open minded anglers who crave these insights.

This close up of a Mag Lip 4.5 shows how a strip of anchovy has been
wrapped onto the belly of the lure. Many guides remove the belly hook
and some replace it with a single hook. Properly wrapped a strip of
anchovy will catch several fish before needing to be replaced. This one
has obviously caught a few pinks and is in need of replacement. 
Recently on a trip to Salmon Catcher Lodge in Alaska I had the opportunity to experience a crankbait fishing tactic known as “plug wrapping” which is wildly popular in the Pacific Northwest for targeting kings, coho, pink and red salmon. Plug wrapping is the art of adding a strip of anchovy or herring meat to the belly of wobbling crankbaits like the popular Yakima Mag Lip series.

For those who haven’t fished the Mag Lip, it could be described as a Flatfish on steroids because this bait features that distinctive wide wobbling action made famous by the Flatfish. What’s different about the Mag Lip is this bait has a built in strike triggering element Yakima calls the “skip beat action”.

Very few crankbaits on the market have this feature which effectively enables a wobbling bait to dart out to the side momentarily and then return to it’s normal wobbling action. This darting action is unpredictable and can cause the bait to dart right or left of center depending on how current or the direction the boat is moving impacts on the lure. 

The “skip beat” action of the Mag Lip triggers aggressive strikes from kings, coho, pinks, red salmon, steelhead, browns, lake trout and even walleye. Available in several sizes including the 3.0. 3.5, 4.5 and 5.0 models, the smaller sizes are popular with brown trout and steelhead anglers, while the larger sizes are favored by salmon fishermen.

Plug wrapping is the art of adding scent and meat to a wobbling crankbait. The most popular option is to remove the belly treble hook and to cut a small strip of anchovy or herring, leaving the skin on the strip. A piece about 1.5 inches long is trimmed and a slit cut down the center creating a strip of meat that looks like a little pair of pants. The slit is positioned over the wire loop that attaches the belly hook to the lure and stretchy thread is used to securely tie the strip of meat to the underside of the bait.
Silvers like this are one of the most popular species being caught on
“wrapped plugs”. This trick works well on kings and even steelhead
and lake trout.

The Mag Lip features groves molded into the torso of the bait designed to hold the thread wrappings and keep these strips of meat securely attached to the belly of the lure. Properly wrapped, a strip of anchovy or herring will hold up to several hooked and landed fish. The best guides and captains replace these strips of meat about every 30 minutes to insure their lures are producing the most oil rich scent stream in the water.

To save time on the water, some guides wrap up a variety of plug colors and sizes with anchovy strips ahead of time and store them in a plastic food container. This container can be popped in the refrigerator or freezer to keep the baits fresh and ready to fish.

The Pro-Cure site shows a really good illustration of how to cut anchovy for plug wrapping. Check out this link for more information.

At the end of the day it’s a good idea to strip away the anchovy wrap from plugs and give these lures a little soapy bath to keep these from smelling like a fish cleaning station on an August afternoon!

The beauty of Alaska is something that every fisherman should
experience first hand at least once in their life.
Not unlike the cut bait rigs that are so popular among salmon trollers in the Great Lakes, wrapping a plug takes these lures to a whole new dimension. While the Mag Lip works great without the addition of these strips of meat, seeing first hand how well a wrapped plug works compared to a clean plug was an eye opening experience for this angler.

The most seasoned guides swear that anchovy is the most oily baitfish and the best option. Anchovy can be purchased on-line from bait dealers who package, flash freeze and ship anywhere. Other bait options include herring, alewife and smelt.

As a means of convenience, some guides cut up a bunch of anchovy strips and then treat them with the same commercial products used to preserve salmon eggs. Treated in this fashion the strips are a little tougher and they can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple weeks without losing their effectiveness.

The “egg treatments” add color to the anchovy strips and these are best handled with rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands.

In addition to using anchovy strips, many guides are also dousing their baits with various liquids, gels, oils and other products designed to create a scent trail in the water. Pro Cure,  probably has the widest selection of anchovy oil and other fish attractants to choose from.
Adding scent to clean plugs is a good way to increase the scent stream and these products can also be used to “freshen up” a plug that has been wrapped with a slice of anchovy or other bait.

Plug wrapping isn’t exactly a new fishing tactic, but here in the Great Lakes very few anglers have heard of or tied this concept. Literally all the guides on the west coast live and die by the process of wrapping their favorite plugs and in time, more fishermen here in the Great Lakes will come to appreciate this trick.

Mari Romanack with a nice hen silver she caught plugging on the Kenai
River in Alaska recently using a Mag Lip plug wrapped with a strip of
anchovy for scent.
Most of the anglers who wrap plugs are targeting salmon that are running rivers to spawn. Back bouncing hard baits in rivers is how the plug wrapping thing got started, but this trick can also be applied to trolling for open water salmon, lake trout, browns and steelhead.

For plugging in rivers I recommend 8’-6” to 10’-6” medium action baitcasting rods. My favorites are the Okuma T-40X and SST series rods. Match these rods up with either a round frame baitcasting reel like the Akena 400 or Isis 400 or the new Coldwater Low Profile Line Counter reels.

Plugging is a game for heavy duty monofilament line and I recommend 20# test Maxima Ultra Green. At the terminal end a 20# test leader of Maxima Fluorocarbon line can be added in extremely clear water conditions.

For trolling plugs in open water, I recommend the Okuma Classic Pro Precision Trolling rod which is a 8’-6” medium action telescopic blank that makes the rod easy to store in rod lockers. Match this rod to a Convector 20 or 30 size reel again loaded with 20# test Maxima monofilament line.