Jetties and the Swimming Plug
by J.B. Kasper
Friday, October 25, 2013
No matter what type of fishing you prefer, if you use artificials you are well acquainted with swimming type plugs. Over the years, they have become one of the staples of most tackle
boxes and nowhere are they more prevalent than in the realm of the angler who hops the jetties along the coast in search of old line sides. Swimming plugs are probably the most commonly used lures of the jetty fisherman, and for good reason. They catch fish.
In the past thirty years they have evolved into super high tech products with just about very type of finish you can imagine, rattles that emit sounds, large bibs to make them dive, and aerodynamic shapes to give you better distances with your casts. There has also developed a whole style of fishing around them, complete with numerous tricks to allow the angler to cover a wide range of situations.
Originally, swimming plugs were made of wood and metal, and the first ones were likely the whittlings of an angler who got tired of buying or netting live bait every time he wanted to go fishing. Some of the first plugs produced commercially by such companies as Heddon, Creek Chub and Rapala, just to name a few, are now collectors treasures and are well worth hundreds of times what they originally cost. Their finishes and designs are crude by today’s standards. however, in their day their fish catching prowess became legendary.
With the introduction of injection molding and modern mass production techniques to the manufacturing of plugs, swimming plugs have steadily become more and more prominent among anglers. If you have been fishing for a good number of years, you will remember what a sensation the Rebel and it's many imitations were when they first became available in tackle shops.
Jetty fishermen were some of the first to embrace these lures, and the love affair continues till this day. Five and six inch Rebels and Red Fins were my first introduction to swimming plugs as a jetty fisherman, and believe it or not, I only paid $1.50 for them. Nowadays a quality plug will cost you two to three times as much or more, however, they are still worth it.
Swimming plugs break down into three different categories; the floating swimming plug, which floats at rest; the weighted swimming plug, which will sink when it is not being retrieved; and
last but not least, the deep diving swimming plug, which is characterized by the large bib that they possess. Most manufacturers make all three types in one piece and jointed. All three are designed to do different jobs and give the angler some versatility for working the waters off a jetty.
Violent, hard hits are a common occurrence when using a swimming plug. As a result, many times a striper will be hooked in several places, and his twisting and turning can cause the plug to
become foul hooked. This may result in the loss of the plug and fish, as the sharp gill plates can knife through the line. Another factor that comes into play is the rough nature of the rocks on
and around which you are fishing. They can nick and fray a line while playing a fish, and this has cost more than one angler a wall hanger. Throw in a stray bluefish or two and jetty fishing can cost you quite a few swimming plugs.
It's for these reasons that many jetty jockeys prefer to use a leader of heavier line about 18 inches long ahead of their plug. The leader is best made of a 25 or 30 pound test length of line with a snap tied to one end and a swivel tied to the other. Always choose a quality lock type snap and swivel for your, rig as I have seem many cheaper components break or have the snap open up under the pressure of a good sized fish. The snap allows you to change plugs easily and the swivel will help negate some of the line twist that is common when using these plugs. The snap will also give the plug a pivot point which allows the plug to achieve a better action than if it were tied directly to the line. The use of a heavier leader will allow you to lift smaller fish within your grasp without necessitating the use of a gaff or net.
Another variation on the use of a leader is to add a teaser attached to a dropper about a foot ahead of the plug. This will give the impression of a larger fish chasing a smaller baitfish. The teaser/plug combination has been one of the most common rigs used by jetty fishermen since swimming plugs first came into use.
Most swimming plugs have three triple hooks that supply the hooking power of the plug. Because of the twisting, turning nature of the fight which the stripers put up, this three hook set up can do a lot of damage to the fish and give you problems when taking the hook out if you intend to release the fish. The increased size limits of recent years make most of the fish that you catch sub-legal, which requires releasing the fish in good shape as quickly as possible. A good number of jetty fishermen have been removing the middle hook to make this procedure easier. This will not, in most cases, interfere with the action of the plug nor the hooking power of the plug, and does make catch and release much easier.
One problem you do find with some swimming plugs is that the manufacturer uses too light or too small of a hook. Many also use bronze hooks, which corrode easily. Some manufactures make the same plug is a saltwater and freshwater model. Usually the freshwater model will have lighter hooks and is less costly. This can lead to a good sized fish straightening out or mashing the hook and result in loss to the angler. Most veteran anglers will replace these lighter or smaller hooks with a stronger galvanized version. These galvanized hooks are stronger, resist corrosion better and will stay sharper longer.
Another trick that some anglers use is to tie some deer or squirrel hair to the last hook on the plug. This lock of hair will act like a fin when the plug is swimming through the water. It's effectiveness is a point of contention among jetty fishermen and most will agree it doesn't hurt anything.
One thing that many agree upon has to do with action of the plug itself. A darting action is more productive than just reeling back the plug at a steady speed. Most bait fish will not travel in
a straight line; they will dart a few feet at a time, especially in the often strong currents that are found around a jetty. Imparting a darting motion into your plug will imitate this best. Another good feature when using a darting motion with your plug is that it automatically sets the hook when a fish hits the lure. Many fishermen miss a lot of hits when they retrieve their plugs back at a steady speed because they wait to feel the hit before setting the hook. When using a darting motion with your plug this is done automatically.
Swimming plugs can be used as a surface lure in a pinch. You can accomplish this by casting the lure (floating variety only) into the water and allowing it to sit on the surface for a few seconds. Then you can hold you rod tip high, reeling the plug in while popping the tip back and forth. This will cause the plug to splash around on the surface.
Deep diving swimming plugs are becoming more and more popular among jetty fishermen. These lures with their large bibs will dive fast and deep, allowing the angler to work the deeper water close to the jetties that the other swimming plugs can't get at. You can get the maximum depth from these plugs by popping the tip up and down while reeling the plug. This will drive the plug down with each twitch of the rod tip. Quite often stripers will lie close to the jetty, and you can get at them by casting and retrieving this type of plug parallel to it.
The color of your plugs can make a difference in the amount of fish you catch under certain conditions. If you asked veteran jetty fishermen to rate their favorite colors, the top three would
include silver and black, silver and blue, and pearl white and black. These time tested colors have out sold all others combined, however, there are some new colors that are on the market that are
making inroads into the traditional colors. However, School Bus Yellow has always been a favorite of mine.
Many of the natural patterns that flooded the market a few years back have been phased out by most manufacturers, however, some are still available to the public. Some anglers prefer natural patterns over the traditional color patterns, though the latest color variations that are producing for the jetty buff are the fluorescent shades of chartreuse, orange and pink. These colors first came into prominence among salmon fishermen, and jetty anglers were quick to pick up on their charms. They are especially useful when water conditions are on the murky or cloudy side and are the favorites of many night time anglers. Their visibility under adverse water conditions and by the light of the moon is the reason for their success. The addition of rattles inside of their bodies gives them a color/sound combination that can produce under conditions where other lures will not.
Swimming plugs are one of the most versatile tools the jetty fisherman has at his disposal. Names like Rapala, Rebel, Bomber, Hellcat, Red Fin, etc. have become a part of the jetty fisherman's vocabulary and are the one lure that the angler finds himself using the majority of the time. A good selection will go a long way to giving you the means of taking your share of fish from the rock piles along the coast.
The Fisherman's Bible
by J.B. Kasper