Plugs are a type of hard lure which is most commonly associated with fishing for bass. They can, however, be used to catch a range of predatory species found all over the UK, including pollock, wrasse and mackerel. There is a seemingly infinite choice when it comes to selecting plugs, but as we will see there are a number of features which all plugs have in common.
Features, Design and Pricing
Plugs are vaguely fish-shaped and usually made out of plastic, although more traditional plugs can be made out of wood. Poppers and wobblers are also terms used for plugs and plug-like lures, due to the action which these type of lures have, while the American term crankbait is also sometimes applied. Plugs are often designed to imitate a prey fish which is found in our waters such as a herring, sprat, sandeel or small mackerel. However, other plugs can take on colours which are not usually found in nature such as bright pinks, oranges, yellows and greens. There is much debate (and absolutely no definitive answers) over which is the best colour/shape combination when it comes to plugs, with most anglers using a trial-and-error method to find which plug works best for them from certain marks and in certain conditions. Plugs can be made in a single piece or be jointed, usually into two but sometimes into three sections. Most plugs are sized between 10 and 20cm and usually come with two or three treble hooks attached to ensure that fish are hooked no matter which angle they attack the plug from.
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Many anglers will have a favourite plug which they believe gets the best results. There is however no hard and fast rules to plugs with realistic looking plugs which mimic the appearance of other fish producing the goods at sometimes, whereas at other times it is the luridly coloured plugs which will catch the fish. The design and pattern of plugs is therefore a personal choice with different anglers having different plugs which work for them. Plugs range in price from £3-4 for cheap and yet effective plugs, whereas top-priced plugs designed specifically for bass fishing can cost upwards of £25. Again it is personal choice as to how much anglers want to spend on their plugs, although few anglers would want to risk losing £20+ lures to snaggy marks!
Floating and Diving Plugs
Plugs can be divided into two main types depending on the action which they have: floating and diving. Floating plugs can take a number of forms but are mostly designed to either float on the surface of the water as they are retrieved, or dive just below it. These type of plugs are also called surface poppers as they often rattle or make some other noise and create disturbance to the water as they are retrieved, as this imitates an injured fish and tempts predatory species into attacking. They are also known as top-water lures, as they work near the top (surface) of the water. Cronus Sargasso Plugs are an example of sea fishing plugs which are designed to work on the surface. Diving lures have a vane on the front which causes the plug dive under the surface as it is reeled in, with most manufacturers stating the depth the plug will reach as it is retrieved. The larger and steeper the angle the vane is set at dictates the depth which the plug will dive to, while stopping reeling in will see the plug float back upwards to the surface (see diagram below). In this way diving plugs can be used to fish at different depths until anglers have located the depth at which the fish are feeding. Cronus Salish Plugs are an example of diving plugs which work under the surface of the water.
Both types of plug are effective for catching bass and other species around the UK, with anglers again using trial-and-error to find what produces fish for them. Often anglers fishing snaggy and rocky marks will prefer to use surface plugs as they can be used to fish around rocks and weed beds with less chance of becoming snagged and lost.
Sometimes other categories are used to describe what plugs do with even greater accuracy. They may, for example be described as ‘sub-surface’ – i.e. plugs which although they do dive are very shallow divers and work just below the surface. There are also ‘sinking’ plugs which will, as the name implies, sink under the water but as they have some buoyancy will be retrieved at a higher level in the water than a solid metal spinner.
Of course most anglers who have been using plugs for a long time will have built up both a collection of plugs and knowledge of which plug to use in in certain conditions. This means that experienced anglers will be able to switch between surface plugs, diving plugs and plugs of various colours depending on the conditions they are faced with, and will be able to give themselves the best chance of putting a fish on the beach. For example some anglers may find that natural coloured plugs work best in clear water, whereas the brighter colours come into their own when the water is murkier. Similarly surface poppers which make a lot of noise and splash water around, or have an internal rattle, may work best when the water is clouded. It is all a process of trial and error and working out what works best from certain marks in certain conditions.
Plugs can also be relatively light and weight cannot be added to plugs as this would spoil the action. Having a selection of plugs means that heavier ones can be switched to if conditions, such as wind strength or direction, begin to change.
Rods, Reels and Line for Plugging
Many anglers use bass rods for plugging, which seems logical as bass are the most commonly targeted species with this type of lure. However, some anglers prefer to use spinning rods of 8-10ft matched with an appropriately sized fixed spool reel. This is because many plugs can be less than 20g in weight, and they cast better with lighter spinning rods, rather than the larger bass rods which are designed to cast 2-4oz (56-112g). With bass rods many anglers use the standard 5000 to 6000 sized reel which suits this type of rod, whereas if stepping down to a smaller spinning rod than a 3000 or 4000 fixed spool reel is appropriate. Whichever sized reel is chosen anglers should ensure that it is a front drag reel as hard fighting fish such as bass and pollock can prove too much for rear drag reels which are weaker and designed for lighter types of fishing.
In terms of line many anglers are happy to use 15lb or similar monofilament all of the way through, finding this is a good balance between being light enough to allow good casting distance while still having the strength to handle any larger fish which may be caught. There is, of course, and increasing number of anglers using braided line with plugs, finding the strength, low diameter and stretch-free nature make this line more effective than monofilament. There is no definitive answer to what is the best line for using plugs, with both monofilament and braided line proving effective, meaning that it comes down to the angler’s personal choice over which type of line to use.
Techniques and Methods for Using Plugs
Plugs have their own type of action built in depending on whether they are a floating or diving plug, whereas wobblers and rattlers will all have additional actions as they are retrieved. However, anglers can impart additional action to the plugs they are using. The speed at which a plug is reeled in has a big influence over how it acts, with diving lures submerging faster if they are reeled in quickly, while surface poppers will create more splashing if they are reeled in fast. Furthermore anglers can impart additional action by twitching or pulling their rod to one side as they retrieve the lure which will add erratic movements to the plug which will potentially attract predatory fish looking for an easy meal of an injured fish.
In terms of where to use plugs it is again a case of trial-and-error. Anglers often get success using plugs from rock marks with submerged rocks, weed beds and gullies being key areas where bass may be present. Other key signs which may provide profitable for anglers using plugs include places where two different currents meet as this will churn up the seabed and attract small fish which will in turn attract larger fish. Furthermore key signs of the presence of feeding predatory fish such as a ‘bubbling’ sea (a sign that small fish are trying to escape predators) or diving birds such as gannets are all signs that it is worth casting a plug in that area.
Targeting bass with plugs is an area of sea fishing which is growing in popularity around the UK. Although there can be a bewildering range of plugs on the market anglers can soon work out which plugs are the most effective around the marks they fish. Many anglers describe plug fishing as one of the most exciting forms of UK sea fishing, and seeing a bass take a surface plug, or feeling a bass powerfully take a submerged diving plug, takes some beating.