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Increase Hookup Rates

Peter Pakula 2018

Forward: Bill Pino 4th June 2017

Peter Pakula and I love to discuss the differences between lure fishing and bait or bait and switch fishing. His argument has always been if you lure fished correctly you would be 90% or better. I laugh. I Tell him that's a bold statement and mostly likely a bit exaggerated. He responds with, the most aggressive blue marlin bite is always the first one. That is where most of your hook ups are. He also tells me there are 5 tips that if done correctly and together it Will change your mind. Well I Can never find a crew that will allow me to go whole hog with his method. Everybody says we'll try this but not that or that won't work on our boat etc.....

Capt. Victor Julio Lopez Pizarro and his mates said let's try. So, we gave it a go during the lure portion of our fad trip. Now I know one test does not ensure a 100% positive result. But for our first test I must smile, grit my teeth and say you are correct Peter. We were a perfect 9 for 9. Here is a blue caught on a Pakula Sprocket in Crystal Blue MT.


The Main Points to Increase Your Hookup Rates

The Target

The aim is to confidently set a hook into a skull that isarmoured in bone that is covered in tough muscles with jaws covered in micro spikes designed to not let anything slip through them. It is understandable that there are a bunch of things you need to get right to maintain a high hook up rate trying to consistently get a hook through those parts of a Marlin's jaw or skull.

The image is of a 130kg Blue Marlin skull.


The Design of a Marlin

All fish are very similar to birds as their pectoral fins are used very much like wings, allowing fish to glide effortlessly into the current without using much of its hard-earned energy. We can use this design to our advantage in the way we fish our lures.


Direction to Troll

Possibly the greatest difference between trolling baits and trolling lures is the direction you troll. Most bait fishermen troll into the current as the fish is comfortable going into the current gliding on their massive pectoral fins, making it easier for them to smoothly strike the bait and have time to swallow it on what is often slack line. This what fish naturally do.

Although we like to think we can imitate natural bait fish with skirted lures, it is best to think of them as ‘a lure’ getting stuck by fish simply because it’s a moving target, and if it moves it’s likely to get attacked. Because there really is nothing natural about a lure, hard or soft, it’s unlikely the fish will try and swallow it. It is very likely the fish is going to work out very quickly that it’s not food and try and spit it.

By trolling down current, the fish needs to burn a lot of energy so is likely to commit to a strike much quicker and far more aggressively than if you were going into the current. As the fish has to burn a lot of energy going down, that is, with the current, it is more likely to strike from the side or at a steep angle, the best for great hookups, rather than the fish approaching from behind the lure which is the hardest to hook.

Our method of trolling areas is to start up current and zigzag across and slightly down current and rather than troll back into the current to fish an area again we pull in the gear and steam back up going around, not through the area we wish to fish.

Drag Setting

To overcome the cushioning of nylon stretch, wind belly etc reels should be set at strike which is a minimum of a third of the breaking strain of the main line used. Drags are set with scales with the rod at 45 degrees. The scales are pulled at a constant speed, which is walking pace.

 Instant Impact

In video footage we have edited in the past we’ve noted that when a billfish strikes a lure it’s jaws go from open to fully closed in under a frame of video which is around 1/30th of a second. That’s the timeframe to best get the hook in past the barb through solid bone. Things need to be aggressive and rather violent to achieve instant impact in less than 1/30th of a second, or at least as fast as you can. Once their jaws close, it’s very difficult to pull anything through their sandpaper-like jaws that are very good at gripping very slippery bait fish.

Many things are against you achieving instant impact, but we can deal with them all:

Wind belly and leader sag.
Wind Belly means there is slack line between the reel and the hook due to crosswinds. Leader sag is the weight of the leader, means the line curves from the lure to the rod tip and is not direct.

By using cup-faced lures that create drag, the wind belly and leader sag is greatly reduced. This is one of the reasons all our recommended lure patterns are cup-faced.

Line stretch
It’s not until you get to a drag setting of a third of the breaking strain of the line that most of the stretch is taken out of nylon. Under that, the line is a cushioning shock absorber and will not repeatedly set hooks into solid bone. One third class drag is the minimum drag setting for lures with the guys getting the best hook up rates that I know of use forty to fifty percent strike drag when using lures. Drags are set with scales pulled at walking pace off a rod at forty-five degrees with the clicker on.

If you are using outriggers, taglines reduce the amount of drop back to reduce the time it takes to set the hook. More than just using taglines, the release pressure should be equal to your drag setting in helping get that hook through bone when it’s easiest to do so. Many outriggers will not cope with those severe pressures on heavy tackle, so just use the most you can in those circumstances. The introduction of stiff, strong carbon fibre outriggers has certainly increased hook up rates as well as many aluminium outriggers with spreader supports are able to deal with severe release pressures.

With fibreglass outriggers that may flex greatly, you should make sure that the tagline releases before the drag on the reel comes into play.


In every form of artificial presentations such as poppers, hard bodied lures, flies, dead and live bait great efforts are made to allow them to have as much ‘natural’ action as possible either by using loop knots or as with bait rigging just the head or supple leaders and / or loose loops using multiple hooks.

Often this goes straight out the door when it comes to skirted trolling lures using stiff or semi-stiff rigs and overly thick leaders. This is very much like putting a ballerina’s legs in full-length plaster casts and expecting her to dance.

Apart from allowing the lure to have the freedom to perform its maximum action the lure competes with the leader as the leader has its own bubble trail and vibration, much like a taut anchor rope in a current vibrates so do leaders as they are dragged through the water. If this vibration and bubble trail is violent enough, the fish will often strike at the leader where the leader enters the water. This is often seen when a lure is retrieved with scuff marks on the leader above the lure, but no marks on the lure or heat shrink on the rig.

By using thinner leaders and allowing the rig to flex you’ll rarely if ever get leader strikes and massively increase your hook up rate on fish that are supposed to be hard to catch on lures such as sailfish, white and striped marlin.

A basic guide to a maximum desirable leader on
6” lures 100lb
8” lures 150lb
10” lures 250lb
12” lures 300lb
14“ lures and over 400lb to the point we use leader tube in our large lures that you can’t fit leader any thicker. There are no hooks that we’ve tested that are stronger than 300lb

Controlling the stability of lures and rigs to maximize hook up rate success in water that is 800 times denser than air plus adding the turbulence caused by the boat and weather conditions isn’t easy but luckily there are a few things that you can do to deal with the difficulties. 

The slower you can troll lures the more stable the system is. A trolling speed of 6.5 to 7.5 knots is ideal. Once you go over that it is very difficult to maintain stability. Trolling speed isn’t as relevant as many imagine to predatory fish that feed on things that are dead, that is not moving at all, to chasing down very speedy tuna. Arguing the point of trolling speeds of 6 to 9 knots seems unimportant, certainly not as important as maintaining lure action and most importantly allowing the rig to maintain the hooks aiming at the target of the upper jaw, over the jaw bone.

Note that trolling speed is speed through the water usually indicated by gauges using a paddle wheel, not GPS speed which is speed over ground.

If you only have a GPS for speed then at the start of your troll and perhaps ever few hours troll in a large circle. For example, the fastest speed is going down current, say you get 8.5 knots, the slowest is going into the current, say 4.5 knots. Minus 4.5 from 8.5 you get 4 knots which you divide by 2 which equals 2 knots which is the speed of the current, then subtract it from the 8.5 reading or add it to the 4.5 and you’ll find your trolling speed is 6.5 knots.


Once you get your trolling speed 6.5 to 7.5 knots set up the next step is setting the lures so they are positioned in the lower third of the pressure waves. Which lures to run in which positions is another story which is discussed in many articles and videos on my site.

Rather than change trolling speed as conditions change through the day, try and maintain your trolling speed and preferably adjust the distance of the lures. If the seas calm down, bring the lures in a wave or two, or increase the height of the halyards on the outriggers and if it gets rougher, drop them back a wave or two or lower the halyards on the outriggers.

Most classical game boats over 35 foot have great outriggers, often the same length as the boat and strong enough to troll giant baits for giant black marlin. However, most smaller boats have flimsy outriggers that are short making deploying lures difficult especially in rough weather. The right length for outriggers is as long or longer than the boat set so you get the most height and width.

Height is important because as mentioned previously leaders vibrate and have bubble trails and the height of outriggers aids in keeping as much leader out of the water as possible. Separation of lines using height and width allows lines to cross over without tangling in tight turns. 

Width is important to get the lures out the side into clearer less turbulent water which aids the lure and especially the stability of the rig.

Once again on smaller boats, the stiffer carbon fibre outriggers have a definite advantage to softer alternatives.


Hook Points
Hook points when you buy hooks are generic. That is, they are not specific for the drag used to set hooks through bone. Drag settings vary according to line class. From 2kg minimum on 6kg line to 20kg on 60kg line. Understandably they need different points to be consistently effective. The lower the drag the finer the point, also the weakest, to a stubbier point, the stronger, for heavier drag settings.

What they do have in common is that all hooks are pulled from the eye. When sharpening hooks, it’s a good idea to aim the point at the direction of pull which once again is the eye of the hook. Don’t sharpen the underside of the hook where the barb is as this will help dig the point in rather than the point slicing along rather than into the fish’s jaw.

Although it’s been difficult to sell hooks with small barbs it’s getting more acceptable to cut barbs down so that the hook is easier to penetrate through bone.

This is where the concept of instant impact comes into play as you want to get the point in past the barb before the fish and boat move and change the angle as that will bend the point and reduce the chances of a great hook-up.

Image 04 Hook Points

From top to bottom

  • Hook straight out of the box
  • Barb cut down point for light drag settings 5 to 8kg
  • Barb cut down point shaped for drag settings 8 to 12kg
  • Barb cut down point shaped for drag settings 12 to 20kg
    All points aimed at the hook eye which is the direction of pull.

Hook Size

Choosing hook size on skirted trolling lures is unlike choosing a size for bait which is generally squashed easily to give the hook it’s full gape to penetrate, as with live bait head rigged with the hook in front of the bait, and hard bodied lures where the hooks are external and once again have full gape width to work with. 

With skirted trolling lures the lure head whether it’s soft or hard restricts the ability of the full gape to come into play, so hooks should be sized minus the radius of the lure head if as in most cases the leader exits the back in the centre of the lure head.

It’s ideal for the hook to have enough gape to allow for the radius of the lure head and go over and not through the thick jaw bone which for example on a 150kg marlin is about 25mm.

The normal minimum size of the hook on trolling lures is the hook gape being equal to the lure diameter, however going larger to accommodate bigger fish on smaller lures and monsters on big lures is certainly worth consideration


Hook Rig

The design of the hook rig has two main considerations. Firstly, and most importantly deploy the hook so it has the best chance of targeting the best place to hook the fish which is above and over the jaw bone and secondly not to hinder the lures action.

Most discussions about rigs are about single or twin hook rigs with single most often winning out as it’s safer for the crew (and fish) rather than what is the best catcher where most often twin hook rigs win the discussion. There are many rig configurations of both single and twin hook rigs, some of which are great and others not so great.

The reason twin hooks have a better hook up rate in the best configuration is that twin hooks weigh twice as much as singles and therefore have greater stability being pulled through a turbulent environment. The swivel rig with a keel weight is a single hook rig that addresses all the points in consideration:

Image: Single Hook Swivel Rig with Keel Weight


The hook we choose has a turned in point sharpened so that the point is aimed at the direction of pull which is the hook eye.

The wire is at least twice the breaking strain of the leader used so it’s not a weak point.

The hook is on a loose loop giving the hook the freedom to do what it does naturally ride point up and self-adjust with the lures speed through the water. Even though the boat may be trolling at a consistent speed at least in calm conditions a skirted trolling lure accelerates and decelerates through it’s working cycle as can be seen by the rod bending as the lure dives after breathing and straightening as the lure surfaces to breath. As the lure cycles the bend of the hook drops down when the lure slows and the bend of the hook rides higher as the lure accelerates. If the hooks are restricted from having this action the rigs tend to lay on their side or spin.

Image: The Single Hook Swivel Rig orientation at slow speed


Image: The Single Hook Swivel Rig orientation at normal speed


Heat Shrink tubing goes over the crimp and down over the wire loop to almost touching the eye of the hook and a second piece is along the hook shank and up over the eye of the hook to almost touching the wire loop. This prevents the hook hanging up on the wire loop but still allows the hook to keep its natural balance of hook point up.

The swivel is at least twice the breaking strain of the nylon leader so it isn’t a weak point. We also put heat shrink over the end of the swivel to stop the swivel hanging on the wire loop while also allowing the swivel and leader freedom of movement. The swivel allows the hook rig to remain balanced plus allows lure action to be affected as little as possible.

The Keel weight adds the weight that a second hook would give while remaining as safe as a single hook rig. The weight can be decreased or eliminated in calm stable conditions or increased if fishing rough or turbulent conditions.

Putting it all together

The points discussed here are the ones I usually give in discussions with anglers who aren't achieving a good success rate. I certainly hope you will consider adopting some of them if you want to try and increase your success rates. Fortunately, some take on most and just a few put it all together and have had an incredible success rate hooking and catching a very high percentage of billfish and other species they encounter.

I know that fishermen get very comfortable about the systems they use and are unlikely to adopt much if anything discussed here, but just maybe the idea that success may be increased may hopefully get through to fishermen like you.

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