Plugs are wooden, plastic or metal lures designed to imitate the prey of predatory fish. There are now four basic types of plugs: floating divers, floaters, slow sinkers and suspenders. It is important to match the lure to the quarry and take note of the conditions, too.
Floating Diver Plugs
An old, established and well-known example of a floating diver plug is the Big S, which comes in a wide range of sizes. These lures carry a diving vane on the front, creating the dive effect when they are wound in: the faster the retrieve the deeper the dive. By altering the vane angle, the steepness of dive can be controlled. A small, steeply angled lip on the plug indicates that it is a shallow diver, and a deep-running bait will have a quite shallow-angled lip. A useful feature of this type of plug is that once you have submerged it with a sharp pull, say to 2 ft (60 cm) below the surface, a steady, constant retrieve will keep it at that depth, which is very useful for searching shallow, weedy areas.
Plugs with the ability to run at a set level at a controlled speed are the ones to select when you are searching a large water by trolling – towing the lure behind a slow-moving boat. Many plugs are now made in hollow plastic, and the body cavity tilled with multi-reflective surfaces to mimic silver fish scales. They are also filled with ball bearings so that they rattle, increasing the sound attraction. A further refinement in the floating diver category is jointed plugs, which have two body sections that can move independently, increasing even further the action and disturbance as they are brought through the water.
The Rapala is one of a family known as minnow plugs, which are all successful lures. Drifting a floating minnow plug downstream can help you fish at a further distance than you could probably cast with a light lure. Probably the best known is the Devon minnow, which is a finned, revolving variant well loved by salmon anglers.
All kinds of weird and wonderful designs are available, to imitate almost every animal, insect or reptile. Some of these are ideal for chub fishing as well as for pike. With these surface lures, a very erratic retrieve -stopping and starting in a jerky fashion to make them pop on to the water – can produce spectacular takes.
Another exciting surface presentation that produces vicious attacks is possible with an adaptation of the standard surface plug, which includes a small propeller at the front end, so that it actually buzzes when pulled at a high speed through the surface film. These are, appropriately enough, called propbaits. It is better to tie these lures directly on to the line or trace with an open-looped knot without using snaps or swivels. When fishing with these, and in fact all surface lures, always keep your striking arm in check for a vital second or two. It is very easy to strike instantly in the excitement of the moment and pull the lure straight out of the fish’s mouth. Just like the take of a chub on floating crust, let the pike turn with the bait before setting the hooks. Bear in mind that many lures have hook points that are far too blunt and it will pay to spend time sharpening them before fishing, especially when piking.
These are probably the least used, and reserved for those occasions when fishing a water of very variable depth with some deep holes to explore. They can be sub-divided into slow divers, like the Kwikfish, and fast divers like the Hi-Lo, which actually has an adjustable diving vane to vary its rate of descent. With divers, the technique is to count a set number of seconds after the plug hits the water before starting a steady retrieve, altering the delay periodically to vary the retrieve depth. Once at the required depth, increasing retrieve speed will send the lure deeper.
These are interesting to use, the general idea being that they are of neutral buoyancy, and just hang “suspended” in the water when you stop retrieving for a moment. Restarting the retrieve makes them dive. This stop-and-go retrieve technique is effective for all species, but is apparently the most efficient way of lure fishing for zander, which are ultra-suspicious predators. When fishing for zander in this way, some of the takes to suspender plugs are vicious in the extreme and at high speed, so do not have your clutch setting too tight.
As fish see surface lures in silhouette, they often miss at the first attempt because of light refraction. Give them a chance to catch up with the lure and have another go. Anglers often mistakenly feel that the pike has deliberately “come short” at the lure when, in fact, it has genuinely missed its target and ends up just as frustrated as the angler.