First and foremost, a plug of any kind needs to run straight and true
to catch fish. Whether it be for salmon or steelhead, a plug that runs
erratic, lays over on it's side while running, or does "loop-d-loops"
in the water isn't going to do you many favors on the river. A well-tuned
plug will dive more deeply and subsequently hold in the fishes strike
zone much longer than one that isn't tuned. To determine if a plug needs
to be tuned strip out some line and pull the plug alongside the boat
against the current. I'll usually start by pulling gently on the first
pass, a little harder on the second pass, and then I'll really pull
hard on the plug on the final pass to make sure it will dive in strong
the plug fails in the most gentle of current it will probably need some
major adjustments. A plug that fails on the last pass, however, probably
just needs to have a very slight adjustment to the eye to get it to
track straight again.
the tuning process by checking the belly and tail eyes to ensure that
they're screwed in straight. The eyes that the hooks are attached to
act as rudders and if they aren't positioned properly no amount of tuning
on the front eye will get the plug to run the way you want it.
final and most important step is to adjust the front eye on the bill
of the plug, which accounts for the majority of the plugs action. Plugs
like the Hot Shot come with an eye that's screwed into the plastic body
of the plug and tuning consists of using pliers to twist the eye to
the right or left until it runs straight. Twist the eye the opposite
direction the plug is diving, making minor adjustments until the plug
passes the boatside test.
like the Wiggle Wart, Tadpolly, Fatfish, and Brad's Wiggler have an
eye that's built directly into the plug. While these plugs may seem
impossible to tune, using slight pressure with needle nose pliers to
push the eye to the right or left can get these plugs running straight
again. Like the front eye the hook eyes on these plugs are also integrated
right into the plug and if they're out of alignment they'll cause the
plug to run to one side or the other. Be sure to check these in addition
to the front eye.
are manufactured to work with a specific weight and size of hook attached
to them. For instance, attaching a 4/0 hook to a size 30 Hot Shot will
definitely affect it's performance. Changing the hook size to one size
larger or smaller can slow down or speed up the action of the plug,
however, and in some instances can make it work better. As long as the
variation in hook size isn't too far out of line changing the hooks
can be used to achieve a slightly different action on the plug. An example
of this would be to add a larger tail hook to a K-15 or K-16 Kwikfish
than the hook that comes with them to slow the action down.
are two schools of thought when it comes to selecting a plugging rod.
One concept is to use a rod with a parabolic action like the Fenwick
Fenglass that allows a salmon or steelhead to essentially bend the rod
right to the cork before feeling any tension, thus allowing them to
turn downstream with the plug. The other is to use a rod with a somewhat
fast action that tapers into a powerful mid-section that puts nearly
instant tension on the plug as soon as a fish picks it up, penetrating
the point of the hook into the fishes mouth before they turn or have
a chance to. Whichever style rod you choose one thing will need to be
the same, it should have a tip sensitive enough to allow the plug to
work in any kind of current. This also allows the angler fishing the
plug to see when a foul up has occured and the plug isn't running correctly,
as any change in the plugs movement is translated right back thru the
steelheading the Lamiglas Hot Shot Composite G-1336T that lands somewhere
between these two ideals is an excellent choice. This rod has a medium
fast action that allows plugs to run in any current and enough power
to drive the hook home as soon as a fish turns with the plug.
backtrolling large plugs like the Kwikfish or Flatfish the Lamiglas
G-1310T and the new Lamiglas Certified Pro XCF 803 are excellent choices.
Both rods will fish large plugs and perform well when a hard-pulling
Size 20 Jet Diver is added, or in the case of the XCF 803 a Size 30
or 40 Jet Diver, is added to get a plug down deep.
the rods at a relatively low rod angle achieves the latter effectively
and the fast action gives the plugs the cushion that they need to keep
reel you choose is perhaps the most insignificant part of your plugging
package. The Shimano Bantam 50 and the Ambassadeur 5000, 5500, and 6000
models are all excellent choices for both your salmon and steelhead
applications. All of these reels have level winds that travel as line
is being released, making it easy to count passes. With new line counter
reels coming on the market the need to count passes to determine distance
may soon be a thing of the past, however. Depending on what your fishing
for and how much line you'll need will determine the appropriate size
reel for the occasion. The only thing I shy away from with my plugging
reels is a thumb release that's positioned directly over the spool.
These are great for drift fishing and quick-firing into pockets where
the thumb release is easy to reach, but on a plug rod these can spell
disaster. If you don't believe me put one of these reels in the holder
of your boat and try frantically grabbing it without hitting the button
to disengage the spool. A thumb release off to the side is the ticket
for plugging for this very reason.
again, there are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to choosing
a line for your plug reels. The first and oldest is to use straight
monofilament that is elastic enough to allow a fish to turn with the
plug before feeling tension and releasing its grip. The second is to
use one of the new braided lines like Power Pro, Tufline, or Fireline
that allow zero stretch and penetrate the tip of the hook into the fishes
mouth before they have a chance to turn. The
braided lines have a very small diameter that allow the plugs to run
deeper and have the added benefit of strength, which comes in handy
when a fish runs into cover. After two years of running Power Pro on
my steelhead plug rods I'm still undecided as to whether it increases
or detracts from hook ups.
a suicidal steelhead commits to a plug it really doesn't matter what
line your using, as they're going to hook themselves regardless. In
the case where a steelhead hasn't fully commited to a plug, however,
the no-stretch super braids could cause a fish to feel tension and release
their grip on the plug. As I mentioned earlier, I am still undecided
and will continue testing the super braids on my plug rods until I have
sufficient evidence to switch back to monofilament.
is no doubt that a clean plug will outfish a dirty one the majority
of the time. This is especially true of Kwikfish that are wrapped with
bait frequently or plugs that sit around in the bottom of a tackle box
for an extended period of time. If you've used Kwikfish exensively you'll
know that after a while the belly of the plugs acquire a build up of
sardine gunk that if left alone can smell downright nasty after a while.
Fish are more sensitive to smell than we are and if you can smell it
the fish can smell it ten times better. Washing your plugs in Lemon
Joy frequently can reduce the chance of a rank smell overpowering the
fresh sardine fillet you just added to your Kwikfish.
humans have an amino acid in our skin called serine that deters salmon
and steelhead and can drive them away from your plugs. Try to handle
plugs and lures as little as possible and use a scent mask like WD-40
or some of the many commercially produced fishing scents on the plug
when it's legal to do so. Some of the northwest's top guides will even
wear Latex gloves to keep from leaving the serine "fish-b-gone" scent
on their plugs and baits. In selective fisheries where scents are illegal
it's best to wash plugs to rid them of any unwanted scents they may
have picked up along the way.
practice of adding commercially produced scents to the surface of plugs
helps to mask our human scent and creates a scent trail that can ultimately
lead a fish to your plug if water visibility is limited. Shrimp, garlic,
anise, krill, sardine, herring, or anchovy, to name a few, are all excellent
choices for scents.
wrapping large plugs like Kwikfish and Flatfish serves not only to get
a salmon or steelhead to hold onto the plug longer, it also masks our
own scent. Pro Cure, Smelly Jelly, Pautzke's, and Mikes all produce
over the counter scents that are excellent for salmon and steelhead.
salmon or steelhead fishing is concerned, plug size is more often than
not determined by visibility, depth, and flow. Size 13 and 14 Kwikfish
will generally outperform the larger K-15 and K-16 models in low water
and likewise the larger models will generally perform well in higher
water with less visibility. While this isn't always the case, it's a
general rule that applies in most situations. Flow can also determine
which plug to use, as the smaller the plug the less water it will take
to overrun the plugs ability to dive.
a size 30 Hot Shot mid-stream in high flows will more often than not
leave you with a plug spinning on the surface and zero fish in the boat.
Reserve the smaller plugs for low flows and soft edges out of the mainstream
and the larger plugs for high flows.
Foley and Kelly Hawley with Bogachiel River kings caught with Rob using
K-14 Kwikfish in low, clear water.
is also a factor used to determine plug selection. Most steelhead plugs
will dive 8 to 12 feet, but for depths greater than 12 feet plugs like
the SE Hot Shot, Wiggle Wart, or Hot'n Tot are recommended, as they
have larger bills that are made to dive deep. Kwikfish selection follows
the same suit, as any of the "K" series plugs will dive 13 to 18 feet
if tuned properly. Having said that, in 18 feet of water you'll get
consistently closer to the bottom with a K-16 than you will a K-13.
It's no surprise that smaller plugs won't dive as deeply as larger ones,
so matching the correct plug to the depth being fished is something
are hundreds of plug colors to choose from and in my honest opinion
the color of the plug is somewhat insignificant in comparison to the
action, size, and presentation of the plug. Color choice does play a
small role, however, and matching the right plug color to visibility
and lighting can help vault you into the "10 Percent" club. For winter
steelhead I put colors like pink, orange, cerise, red, and chartruese
at the top of the list. For reasons unknown to us knuckle-dragging fisherman
steelhead that enter the river mature, as most winter steelhead do,
are more apt to attack a brightly colored object than their summer run
kin. This color scheme is especially effective in medium flows with
classic steelhead green water between 3 and 5 feet of visibility. These
same bright colors can be used in clear water with low light, such as
at dusk and dawn or in water with shade from overhanging trees. In low
and clear water with bright sun, however, silver, gold, green and blue
pirate, white, green, and copper all see time on the end of my plug
This Skykomish River summer run fell to a green size 30 Hot Shot
in low, clear water.
run steelhead are an entirely different creature and seem to prefer
blues and greens above anything else. The bright colors may still see
some action in the summer if the flows are up and visibility is down,
but by and large plugs that have blue or green in them will generally
hit the water first in my boat. As the summer goes on and flows decrease
I'll switch to silver, gold, copper, green, or blue, and I'll downsize
the plugs as much as possible. Hot Shot 30's and 35's will typically
see the most action if I'm fishing the North Puget Sound rivers.
chinook taken on a "Chicken Little" Kwikfish in 3 foot of visibility
from a Washington coastal river.
selection for salmon varies as wildly as the salmon runs themselves.
As a very general rule stick with chartruese in limited visibility and
as the water clears up start mixing in purple, pink, blue, geen, silver,
gold, etc.. Kwikfish that incorporate pink and chartruese have always
performed well for me in medium flows with 3 to 5 feet of visibility
and plugs like the "Fickle Pickle", "Grinch", and "Double Trouble" are
all producers when flows are up and visibility is limited. As I mentioned
earlier, as the waters recede and clear I'll generally start dropping
the size of my Kwikfish to match the water conditions.
a few years ago I had the opportunity to fish Alaska's Situk River for
steelhead. With unbeleivable numbers of steelhead in this relatively
small, clear river we were able to see how steelhead react to our plugs.
On one particular day we were working a small run that held around 30
steelhead. The fish were holding closely along a brushline and as I
backed the boat slowly down into their holding water we watched in disbelief
as all but a half dozen of them swung out midstream and let us pass,
edging back into thier lair one by one only after we had passed. The
half a dozen, or so, steelhead that remained below the plugs, however,
were not so lucky. In text book fashion these fish slowly let our wall
of plugs push them downstream into the tailout and the more shallow
it became the more fidgety these fish acted. As if it had enough one
of them finned up behind one of the plugs and began tracking it, following
its every movement. Then another steelhead, just miles from the North
Pacific, slid up behind the port side plug and began tracking it, as
well. Silence fall upon the boat as we watched the calm before the storm.
After some 15 to 20 seconds the steelhead on the starboard side bolted
forward and hammered the wiggling green Hot Shot and blistered off across
the tailout. As if oblivious to the fate of its school mate the other
steelhead stayed intently with the plug it had honed in on and with
luck smashed the gold size 30 Hot Shot after the other fish had cleared
every fish going to behave like this, certainly not, but it proved that
steelhead can, in fact, be herded and pushed by a pattern of plugs all
the same distance from the boat. The Situk also gave us the chance to
set the plugs at varying distances and watch the fishes behavior. Much
as I had suspected, the fish would weave their way thru the plug pattern
and end up between the boat and the plugs unscathed. Time and time again
it's been proven that a group of plugs worked in conjunction with each
other can be used to draw steelhead and salmon into biting.
course, the perfect plug presented to an aggressive fish will usually
draw a strike, but working a group of plugs together to draw strikes
from both aggressive and somewhat passive fish is just one small piece
of becoming a successful plug fisherman. Depending upon water conditions
plug distance from the boat can vary between 35 and as much as 100 feet.
Water visibility, flow, and depth all play a role in determining the
right distance. On average my steelhead plugs end up 40 to 50 feet from
the boat under optimum conditions and further as the waters get low
and clear. Salmon plugging distances are much the same, though I'll
tend to keep a little more distance between the boat and plugs when
using the kicker motor to backtroll.
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