Jigging and trolling plugs

Capt. Todd MacGregor, MAC-ATAC Sportfishing, Fairhaven, MA

Last month we covered some of the basics of fish biology and why fish have daily movements based on light conditions and some other factors. This month I will cover the basics of trolling plugs and jigging. I decided to cover both topics in one article because they basically go together like peanut butter and jelly; which is a basic staple while fishing and often 3 days worth of meals on the long canyon trips.

Whether you are fishing the early morning transition of light or in the evening in the spring, and sometimes in summer and fall; we will generally be jigging in the light and trolling plugs in the dark.

Lots of people hate to jig because it is hard work; especially when the fishing is slow. But as I was repeatedly told as a kid – there is no other way to take fish quicker when they are eating hard and want to chase something. Hard work often equals success and lazy people rarely succeed.

In the spring, I love the 3-oz white parachutes from CMS Tackle in New Bedford. I use white or red pork rind along with my basic wire set up of 90’ of 50# wire and 18’ of 100# Team Fish High impact mono. My jigging rods are either custom CMS or stock Daiwa wire line rods. I use Daiwa Sealine 450 reels as a standard because they are tougher than the Penn’s we used years ago. If I have to fish when the sun is high, I am generally switching off the white jigs to chartreuse, yellow or pink jigs. If the shallow water fishing is slow, I am moving off the break line to deeper water where the fish hang in their daytime sanctuary depth of 25-40’ of water and using heavier jigs; let out more backing; and jig slower than the usual 60 x/minute.

If I am on an evening spring charter, we switch off the jigs once the fish stop eating them. It is that simple. If we go a couple minutes without a fish, we change. The first plugs I will always switch to will be white 3-3/4 oz Gibbs Danny Deep Divers, trolled on the same rods. Towards July and depending on how many Scup I am finding in the bass, I may also put a yellow Danny or Yellow, Gibbs, 3 oz. Trolling swimmer out. I will troll only 2 wire line rods.

If the conditions are OK and there is limited boat traffic (which will hang a surface plug since we pass 100-150’ from each other’s sterns), I may put a 2-oz Danny Deep Diver out on 150’ of braid to fish a 3rd rod fishing close to the surface. This plug is intended to take those fish which will ‘drive up’ towards the surface at dusk or dawn. You may never see these fish but the plug will find them. We know that a minority portion of these fish are coming up to within 10’ of the surface at dusk and dawn and they will hammer that plug trolled 4-5’ under the surface. Sometimes during this transition of light, we get a lull in the action. This is because the fish’s eyes are adjusting to change in light, just as our eyes adjust to see in darker conditions. The surface rod may produce during this period of time. This technique usually only works for about 10-15 minutes but has accounted for many 35#+ fish and usually at least produces some action.

As long as there are fish in troll-able areas, there is an absolute beauty to the plugs. They catch fish when they are eating because they imitate the food they are eating and when they go off the bite, the plugs intimidate them into eating. Basically, you are getting a reaction strike.

People ask me ‘what plug do I use and when?’ There is a basic rule that lighter the conditions, the lighter the plug and the darker to night the darker the plug. If an angler just invests in a couple White, Yellow, Blue, and all Black Danny Plugs and Yellow and Blue Gibbs Trolling swimmers, 90% of the needs are satisfied. Invest $300, take care of the plugs by washing them and hanging them to dry and your investment will repay you 20 fold.

Light conditions are always changing and no 2 nights are the same. You can have fog, haze, clouds, or a clear sky. If I am going out to fish a trip on a dark night, I use a trick I developed as a teenager. I hang in front of the rip to recover from the ride across and pull various darker plugs out of the box. I hold these plugs up against the horizon and select the plugs that look silvery-gray to me. I don’t care if they are blue, black, brown or whatever. I will start with these plugs. Of course the old stand-by of the Blue 3 oz. Gibbs Trolling swimmer – the best plug ever! – is usually on 1 of the rods.

People always ask me about boat speed. Since the advent of all these modern electronics that have made the foolish more adventurous, people seem to want to fixate on their GPS & speed. Boat speed, however, is defined by the minimum speed you need to maintain steerage and make the jig fall back quickly. The same is true for trolling plugs; you just need to be going fast enough to make the plug swims steadily. Don’t over fish the plugs or they will roll over and won’t be fishing. This is especially true for the Gibbs trolling swimmers, Atom swimmers, and the Gibbs Goo-Goo-Eye plugs as they are of a flat or bottle nose design and do not have the shaved front that the Danny Plug offers.

Concentrate on reading the water and feeling your baits. Just as with the classic movie “Caddyshack” when Chevy Chase tells the young caddie “you gotta be the ball Danny – be the ball, I spend a lot of time telling customers that “you gotta be the plug”. Understand what it does and be on it all the time. You only have so much time and tide and the fish will only eat for just so long – make it productive!

As with my first article in this series, my goal is to teach simple techniques that should make you a better fisherman. I wasn’t just born a good fisherman. These skills were developed over time and the result of great commitment. A lot of great fishermen (great people) took a lot of time to teach me and I have an obligation to pass these skills on to ensure the traditional Cuttyhunk methods live long after my fishing days are over…

Capt. Todd MacGregor
Fairhaven, MA

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