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Modify those Plugs

By Mark Romanack

Josh Crabtree, one of the author’s steelhead fishing buddies often modifies
 his favorite plugs. The Mag Lip 3.0 pictured here has had the belly hook
removed, the rear treble hook is a Mustad Triple Grip he added and he
also added a touch of color to the nose and tail of the bait using a
bright red Sharpie pen.
Not many anglers are as enamored with crankbaits or what many anglers simply call “plugs” as I am. For more than 20 years I’ve spent a significant amount of my “on the water” time both fishing with and testing the diving depths of these hard baits for our Precision Trolling Data apps.

The reason I have so much faith in crankbait fishing is I’ve witnessed time and time again how effective these lures are in catching all sorts of fish. Also, I’ve also come to the conclusion that when I can catch fish on plugs, chances are they are going to be bigger fish than I might have otherwise caught on live baits or rigs.

Out of the package a lot of crankbaits are fish catching machines. That’s cool, but in many cases crankbaits or plugs can be improved upon by tweaking them in various ways. Adding a personal touch to your fishing lures with the intent to modify/improve the performance isn’t exactly new. Cave fisherman probably did the same thing to his fishing lures to impress cave woman with his fishing skills.

No matter what color or finish a lures has, there is a pretty good chance that an angler out there is going to dissatisfied. One of the easiest and most effective ways to alter the finish of plugs is by using various color Sharpie pens to customize the look. Recently while steelhead fishing with my buddy Josh Crabtree, I was amazed to see he had “touched up” literally all of his Mag Lip plugs. Mostly Josh adds key colors at key locations like creating red bills and tails or uses black to create ladder back designs, eyes, etc.

Josh’s finished baits aren’t exactly works of artistic design, but they catch fish and often they catch fish better than the factory versions. A Sharpie adds color that resists washing off amazingly well, making them not only functional, but pretty darn cost effective as well.

In many cases it makes sense to remove one or more of the hooks on a crankbait. In some places hook restrictions mandate that fishing lures only have one hook. Normally a treble hook is considered one hook, so plugs that have two or more treble hooks can be modified to make them “legal” fishing lures by simply removing one of the hooks.

Sometimes little things make a big difference. Pictured here the Mag Lip
comes with a factory supplied cross lock style snap. The author added a
second cross lock snap to the end of his line. When the two snaps are
hooked together the lure has more freedom of movement and action is
increased. This brown trout is proof this simple step works and works well.
In this case, removing the belly hook is the logical choice. Not only does removing the belly hook not usually harm the lure’s action, it can actually make the bait a better mouse trap in terms of hooking and holding fish.

With only one hook on  a bait, a struggling fish can’t leverage the lure out of its mouth as easily. Problems with the baits snagging are also reduced when only one tail treble hook is used.

Lots of anglers like to replace the factory hooks on their plugs with larger hooks. Generally speaking a larger hook will stick fish and hold them better in most fishing situations. However, it’s important to tread lightly when replacing treble hooks on plugs. It’s safe to go up one hook size, but that is about it. Using too large a hook can destroy the lure’s nature action.

Replacing the factory treble hooks on plugs with single Siwash hooks is also a popular option. A single hook snags less and has the benefit of making it much harder for a hooked fish to throw the bait. The best way to add a Siwash hook to a crankbait is to add a small swivel to the split ring, then add a second split ring to the Siwash hook and connect them. This rigging option allows the hook full freedom of movement and makes it very difficult for hooked fish to shake the hook and escape.

Most crankbaits come factory equipped with round bend style treble hooks. Replacing the factory OEM hooks with round bend style trebles is another way to insure the fish that bite are hooked and landed.

Mustad started this trend with their popular Triple Grip hook, but now Eagle Claw and Matzuo also have similar wide bend treble hooks on the market. All of these tend to hook and hold fish better than conventional round bend hooks.

Any crankbait that catches fish is going to catch more fish if it is treated with a quality fishing scent. Adding scent to lures not only helps to attract fish, but it also works to conceal unnatural odors like human scent.

Plugs are great fish catching lures. By modifying them slightly,
a good bait can often be turned into an exceptional bait.
The trick when using fishing scents is to start with a lure that is free of any foreign odors first. Plugs can be cleaned using dish soap like Lemon Fresh Joy to rid them of any odors, prior to adding the fish scent of choice. Another way anglers clean their plugs is by dousing them with WD-40. This solvent based lubricant does a nice job of cleaning plugs prior to adding fish scent.

Not all fishing scents are created equal. Some are made of natural forage fish and fish oils and others are more like perfume than fish attracting scents. I like natural fish scents and oils that set up a appealing and natural scent trail in the water. 

One of the leaders in the production of fishing scents is west coast based Pro-Cure. They produce some of the finest fishing scents, oils and other fish attractants on the market. The Super Gel product Pro-Cure produces is produced using a host of natural forage species including herring, alewives, crayfish, smelt and many others. Even better this gel is not water soluble so it sticks and stays on lures much longer. 

No matter how attractive a fishing scent might be, it’s useless if it washes off the bait quickly. 

Plugs are amazing fish catching lures. By modifying these baits in various ways they become even more productive fish catching tools.