Using Sea Fishing Plugs

Plugs are a type of solid fishing lure which is most closely associated with fishing for bass, although a range of other species can also be caught when fishing with this type of lure. While plug-type lures have been made out of wood for centuries it was the Heddon company of Michigan, USA which first began mass-producing plug lures in the early 1900s. Their first lures were carved from wood but plugs made from early forms of plastic began appearing in the 1930s. Today plugs are a very popular fishing lure, and although traditional wooden plugs are still available the vast majority are now made from plastic.

Heddon Plug
An original Heddon plug.

Types of Plug

Plugs can be made from a single section or be jointed with two, three or even more sections, and are usually fitted with either two or three treble hooks. Many plugs incorporate a rattling noise which adds vibrations as a further attractor to predatory fish. Poppers and wobblers are also terms used for plugs and plug-like lures, due to the action which these types of lures have, while in America they are often known as crankbaits.

Floating and Diving Plugs
The pink plug above is a floating plug. As it does not have a diving vane it will remain at the surface as it is reeled in. The green plug is a diving plug which has a large diving vane meaning it will dive below the surface as it is reeled in.

Plugs can be further divided into categories depending on the action they have once in the water. Floating plugs are mostly designed to either float on the surface of the water as they are retrieved, or dive just below to a very shallow depth. These types of plugs are also called 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. Hengjia Coral Plugs and Nomura Real Fish Floating Plugs are examples of sea fishing plugs that are designed to work on the surface. Diving plugs have a vane on the front which causes the plug to dive under the surface as it is reeled in. The larger the vane and the steeper the angle it is set at the faster and deeper the plug will dive. When an angler stops reeling in a diving plug it will float back upwards to the surface. 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. Lineaeffe Deep Diving Plugs are an example of this type of plug, view them at Sea Angling Shop by clicking here.

Cronus Sandeel Plug
Cronus Sandeel Plugs are a diving plug. They are 18cm long and 26 grams in weight. Their resemblance to sandeels means they will catch species such as bass, pollock, coalfish and other predatory fish. They are available in a choice of four colours priced at £2.99 from Sea Angling Shop by clicking here.

Related article: Types of Sea Fishing Plugs

There are also sinking plugs that 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. Rapture Shore Gun sinking plugs (which can be viewed at Sea Angling Shop by clicking here) are an example of this type of lure. Luminous plugs are a relatively new development that can be very effective when fishing in murky water. These plugs can be charged up by leaving them in sunlight or by shining a torch at them and they will then emanate light which will attract predatory fish. Click here to view and purchase Lixada Lumi Plugs for only £2.29 each from Sea Angling Shop.

Plug Colour

Plug Colour
Plugs come in a range of colours.

There is much debate over the most effective colours of plugs and no definitive answers to which works best. Generally, in clear water it stands to reason that natural silver, blue and grey plugs will work best as these colours mimic the small preyfish that larger fish will be feeding on. Black or dark coloured plugs can also be effective, especially if they are fished on the surface as predatory fish will see the plug silhouetted on the surface and attack it from beneath. In murky or coloured water it can be worth trying the more lurid green, pink, orange and yellow plugs, or lumi plugs in order to attract the attention of fish. It should be remembered, however, that sight is only one of the senses fish hunt by. The rattle produced by most plugs, as well as the vibrations and splashing many designs create will also attract fish. This means that in many situations the colour of the plug may play less of a factor than anglers believe.

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, although spinning rods of 9 or 10ft can also be used. Plugs can be light, being typically around 20g in weight, although heavier plugs are available. This limits the casting distances which can be achieved with plugs, but as most plugging takes place close in (see the section on plug fishing marks below) it is rarely required to cast more and thirty or forty yards or so when using this type of lure. Fixed spool reels are the most commonly used when plug fishing, although anglers should ensure that it is a front drag reel as hard fighting fish such as large bass and pollock can prove too much for rear drag reels which are weaker and designed for lighter types of fishing.

Bass Rod Rock Ledge Fishing
Bass rods which are around 11ft long and cast between 2 – 4 oz are often used when fishing with plugs.

In terms of line, many anglers are happy to use monofilament of around 15lb breaking strain, 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 are an 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, meaning that it comes down to the angler’s personal choice over which type of line to use.

Plug Fishing Marks

Deciding on a mark to fish using plugs can be difficult. As with most types of sea fishing anglers who have successfully found a productive fishing mark likely to keep this a closely guarded secret, meaning anglers who are new to an area must try and work out which marks give them the best chance of catching fish. When using plugs to catch predatory fish such as bass anglers should look for an area that will hold natural sources of food such as weed beds where small fish will shelter and rocky areas where shellfish and crustaceans will be present. If plugs can be cast over or near to features such as these they are much more likely to produce fish. Similarly, if a gully or channel in the seabed can be located at low tide it can be worthwhile casting plugs over this at high tide, as sources of food such as dislodged shellfish and marine worms will naturally gather at the bottom of the gully as they are moved there by currents and the tide. Bass are also attracted to faster flowing and rougher waters. An area where there are calmer patches of water near to a faster tidal flow can be a very good place to target bass.

Bass Mark
Often places that are the most challenging to fish produce the best results.

All of this means that the areas which are most comfortable to fish from such as piers, harbours and promenades are less likely to have good bass and other predatory fish present. While safety should always be the priority, targeting bass can mean seeking out fishing marks that are more challenging to fish from and it is anglers who put in the effort to find productive marks who make the best catches when it comes to fishing with plugs.

Seasons and Distribution

Most lure fishing is associated with the summer months when predatory species are more likely to be in the shallow, inshore waters where anglers can target them. However, bass are present in the waters around Britain and Ireland for most of the year, although this can differ from region to region. Around the south and west of England, Wales and Ireland bass can be caught on plugs and other lures from the start of the spring until well into winter. Further northwards the bass fishing season is shorter and concentrated more around the warmer summer months. Bass do appear to be extending their distribution further northwards with each passing year, meaning that bass are becoming more commonly caught along the northern and eastern coastline of England and parts of Scotland where they were once relatively rare.

Techniques and Methods for Using Plugs

Plug Hitting Water
A plug is cast into the water. Copyright: witoldkr1 / 123RF Stock Photo.

The methods and techniques anglers use to fish with plugs depends on the type of plug they are using and what it is designed to do. If floating plugs are used anglers can experiment with reeling them in slowly which will present predatory fish with an easy source of prey, or reel them in quickly which will make them splash and rattle more and potentially attract the attention of larger fish. It is a case of trial and error until anglers find what works for them at the fishing mark they are at and the conditions they are fishing in. With diving plugs the speed at which they are reeled in is also important as a faster retrieve will see the plug dive deeper than a slow retrieve. With diving plugs anglers should also stop reeling in and allow the plug to float upwards, as the diagram below shows Not only will this will mimic the behaviour of a small fish but it will also cover more of the water column and increase the chances of locating feeding fish.

Plug action
A diving plug will be driven deeper as it is pulled through the water and then float back up when the reeling stops. This allows anglers to cover a range of depths when using this type of plug.

Furthermore, anglers can add further 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 which will see an injured fish as an easy source of food. Sinking plugs can be used in a similar manner to spinners and can be used to locate fish that are feeding close to the seabed. Again retrieving the plug in an erratic manner can impart movement to the plug which will attract the attention of larger fish.

Over time anglers build a selection of different types plugs which allows them to change the plug they are using to suit the conditions and find the feeding fish. If surface plugs are not producing any catches anglers can switch to diving plugs and then sinking plugs, covering the whole of the water column and giving themselves the best chance of making a catch.