03: Lure Rigging
by Peter Pakula
At this year's Miami Boat Show I had the great pleasure of meeting one of my childhood heroes and game fishing living legend, Captain Bart Miller. Luckily I got to share many dinners and spend a great deal of time with him. Of course the main topic was fishing, specifically lures. Bart, more than any other lure maker was a great inspiration in my early days of messing around with head shapes and lure balance. In our discussions I was glad to hear that Bart is as pedantic about lure balance as I am. We both agreed that there is nothing that contributes more to lure trolling success and the presentation of a lure to a fish than the correct rigging of a lure, we also agreed that this is one of the most abused and misunderstood aspects of game fishing technology.
Attention to detail is important, but knowing which details need attention is most important. I hope the following makes the art of rigging and balancing a lure a little clearer.
There are many considerations in rigging lures, most importantly the components, all of which go together to turn to either enhance a lure to behave as it should or wreck its action to the point you might as well tow a bit of rag. There is no doubt that on certain days in certain places the towed rag will catch fish, however, get a lure working its best and you'll catch fish on most days in most places. Consistency is what marks success, the ability to tune not only your senses and fish finding abilities but also your equipment.
Having the best pattern of lures rigged correctly is an important aspect of trolling, it's a part of the whole system. However, the best set of pro rigged lures will not compensate if they are run with no regard to positioning, or finding fish with badly set outriggers and drags not set correctly.
Rigging lures is based on specifics, certain rigs work best with certain lures. The following is based on many years of trials and statistics. There is a right and a wrong way of doing everything. Unfortunately the best way of rigging lures may not be both the easiest or the simplest, but getting the peak performance in lure balance and action does improve the odds and does increase your results. Doing it right is certainly worth the extra effort and cost.
There are of course many hook shapes and sizes available. The only controlling factor is that the hook is not offset. The hooks generally used for rigging lures fall into two main categories. Turned in points Fig 1 and straight points Fig 2.
Essentially hooks with straight points are for use in stiff rigs and the turned in points for both stiff and loose rigs. It is quite apparent that the highest hook up rates are attained by rigs using hooks with turned in points such as the one at the top of Fig 1. This shape is commonly known as "Southern & Tuna".
It should be clearly understood that the ultimate hook for trolling lures has not yet been made. However, there are a couple that have come close, in Fig 1 the two lower hooks are the ideal shape, unfortunately they are chemically sharpened and have a very short lifespan. The most important characteristic of these hooks is a turned in beak point. Regardless of the direction of pull this shape continues to pull in. They are also quite light and only suitable for 15kg and under, however, these hooks are light enough and sharp enough to be highly effective on line classes as light as 4kg.
Of course all hooks should be sharpened before use. To aid penetration the barb should also be sharpened and cut down.
CHOOSING HOOK SIZE
The are a couple of considerations when choosing hooks for specific lures. The larger and heavier the gauge of the hook the more the lure action is overridden by the rudder effect of the hooks. In some lures such as those with symmetrical head shapes this rudder effect is part of the system. In other non-symmetrical head shapes such as sliced heads the hooks actually interfere with lure action. As a general guide the hook size should be so the bight of the hook is equal to the diameter of the lure head, that is the lure head should fit through the bight of the hook as shown in Fig 3. The result is that around 50% of the bight is available to hook the fish as shown in Fig 4. In some cases this size hook may seem over large for a lure, therefore the next size down is used. This is often the case with sliced head lures.
Though wire is rarely used as leader material it is often used as a spacer between the back of the lure head to the trailing hook. The wire generally used is stainless 49-strand cable. Wire is used because it will retain its set angle and lies nice and straight. The use of wire also protects this area of the rig which is most likely to come in contact with sharp teeth or abrasive jaws and bills.
Originally all trolling lures were rigged on multi strand wire cable, with the advent of nylon it was soon realised that it was far more acceptable to game fish and has been universally adopted as the best leader material to use. This is apparent with the many brands of leader material competing in the market. Every brand has its individual properties from ultra thin, to ultra stiff, ultra supple, abrasion resistant and recently fluorocarbons. Points worth noting is the stiffer, thicker and longer the leader the more the lure has to carry. This is true of all rigging components, the more luggage the lure has to carry the less the lure is allowed to exhibit its ideal action. In a perfect world the best possible lure action would be attained with a leader as thin and supple as a hair and as strong and abrasion resistant as a titanium RSJ.
Apart from thick leaders retarding action they are also quite visible to the fish and may create a disturbing bubble trail of their own. In all other fishing systems it is acknowledged that one of the logical ways of increasing your catch is to lighten the leader. The lighter the leader the more bites you get. This is just as applicable to using lures as it is to all other types of fishing. This is a case of worrying so much about loosing that fish of a lifetime, that very long and thick leaders are used to a point that many fish are not lost, because they are spooked in the first place. A general guide is tabled hereabouts.
Min Line Class
The stretch factor and elasticity of nylon leaders should be addressed. The more it has the more cushioned the jerking when the fish is traced. The down side is that if it stretches too much the leader may pull out of crimps. An otherwise legal leader may have stretched beyond the legal limit. Stretchy nylon can also cause problems if a fish surges when a leader man has multiple wraps around a gloved hand as the nylon may cut in and bind on the glove making it difficult to dump the wraps.
The types of lures discussed here are skirted trolling lures. One of the main characteristics of these types of lures is that they are designed to slide away from the fish on hook up. This is because many of the species, particularly Marlin and Mahi Mahi are very athletic, spectacular jumpers and head shakers. If the hooks were fixed to the lure head their weight and resistance would act like a pendulum resulting in many thrown hooks and lost fish. This consideration would suggest a minimum length so that the head shaking and jumping does not result in using the weight of the lure to throw the hooks. This minimum length would be around 8'. Ideally the connection of the leader to double, usually a snap swivel should not continually splash and bubble on the surface which is hard to avoid on leaders shorter than 8 feet.
Long leaders up to 30 feet on medium and heavy tackle are generally used by experienced crews to compensate for novice anglers. As expected, short leaders of around 9 to 12 feet are used by experienced anglers fishing with novice crews and skippers. Shorter leaders are also used in solo game fishing.
The benefits of short leaders are that as discussed before, the less the weight the lure has to carry the better the lure action, plus they enable tagging or gaffing directly off the rod tip. Many tournament winning fish have been lost as the trace man grabs the leader and pulls the hooks out of the fish before a tag or gaff could be put in.
WIND ON LEADERS
Though wind on leaders have been around for many years there has been a recent resurgence which raises some discussion. Winds on leaders were primarily introduced by commercial charter operations so that they could pack lots of rigged baits in their freezers without the leaders tangling. Plus these short rigs of only around 3' saved a great deal of money through a busy season.
Wind on leaders were also found safer when heavy tackle fishing as the leader was safely stored on the reel rather than washing around and tangling in an often water filled cockpit or whipping around the trace mans head. The use of this system has also been adopted by single crew charter operations as the deckhand can cope with pulling on the fish and tagging or gaffing it without assistance.
Clearly the wind on leaders have a purpose. However, in lure trolling they have some major disadvantages.
· The leader from the lure to the snap is generally too short with an increased incidence the fish throwing hooks.
· The snaps consistently splash on the surface, which can often be responsible for spooking fish.
· The added weight of the leader which is generally of maximum length and thickness is far too much luggage for the lure and retards its action so that it is quite simply not as effective as it should be.
The result with wind on leaders is quite simply less fish lost because there are fewer strikes.
If the system appeals then try using a short leader of around 9 to 12 feet, with a long double say 25 feet on medium tackle. If more pressure is needed on the fish as it gets close to the boat the angler can put as much pressure as they wish as soon as the reel has a couple of turns of the double on it.
CHOICE OF LEADER
As with all choices in fishing tackle everything is a compromise. There is no doubt that many of the species hunted using trolling lures have very rough jaws, skin and bills that demands abrasion resistant leaders. Many of these animals are huge creatures that require as much strength and reliability as possible in the tackle and leaders. Just as clearly these large predators, at the top of the food chain, are certainly not less cunning or less intelligent than the smaller species we fish for using gossamer thread and well presented baits in an effort to catch as many or as large a fish as possible.
Crimps also known as swages have taken over from using knots in lure rigging essentially because it is quicker and easier to line up and centre the components.
There are two main types, which have different methods of crimping:
- Crimps for multi strand wire are generally binocular or figure 8 crimps, as in Fig 5, are twin barrelled and generally made of coated copper. The way this system works is that the crimp is softer than the wire and when crimped the wire filaments indent the inside surface of the crimp resulting in a very strong connection. When crimping wire the crimp is swaged along the full length of the crimp. To tighten the loop when using chaffing gear such as thimbles start crimping from the end of the crimp away from the thimble and work up the crimp to towards the thimble.
- Crimps for nylon are generally oval shaped aluminium as in Fig 6. Unlike crimping wire the system works by the crimp crushing both the crimp and the nylon. For this reason the crimps used on nylon are usually considerably longer than those used to connect wire as they are based on friction. When crimping nylon the ends of the crimp are left flared so that the ends don't cut into the nylon.
The following points are applicable to successful crimping both wire and nylon. Most importantly the crimp should be the correct size. It should be a snug fit. This can only be achieved if the ends of the material are cut neatly which involves using the correct tools. Cutting tools such as the parrot jawed Felco are perfect for wire. Ordinary garden shears do a great job of precisely cutting nylon.
Dedicated swaging pliers with double hinged jaws such as the Jinkai in Fig 7 are a must. There are many brands available. This is certainly a case of you getting what you pay for. The wider the jaws and the heavier the pliers the better. Several of the larger types have also got pressure adjustments. Nearly all leader manufacturers have a swaging system that incorporates leaders, crimps and pliers and instructions so that the correct components are used as well as the correct crimping position on the pliers is used.
Correct positioning of the crimp in the pliers' jaws is very important. The swage should be positioned as in Fig 8 with the oval shape of the crimp vertical.
Wear and tare on leader, rigs and the lures themselves occur just from being used. All lures have some type of action if only from the influence of sea conditions and the configuration of the boat wash. This action and movement of the components causes abrasion and wear through friction. Nylon leaders in particular are easily abraded and weakened by friction. On all parts of a rig where the leader comes into contact with any other part that is free to move against it we use protective items such as thimbles, nylon tubing, wire or stainless springs as shown in Fig 9. All of these items are known as chaffing gear. In many cases we secure parts of the rig with heat shrink tubing or rigging tape or coloured electrical tape.
One of the main and often overlooked areas of wear is at the point where the back of the lure head rests against a crimp. A leader on an active lure can very quickly fatigue and break. This is often wrongly blamed on toothy fish such as mackerel, wahoo and sharks. Inserting a rubber washer between the back of the lure head and the crimp easily solves this as shown in Fig 10.
Thimbles are often used to protect leaders where they connect to hooks, snaps, and shackles. However, they are often used incorrectly. Thimbles are often supplied with open jaws so they may be passed through hook eyes or rings as shown at the top of Fig 11. However before crimping the thimble jaws should be closed with a pair of pliers as shown at the bottom of Fig 11. If the thimble jaws are left open the thimble can twist in the nylon loop and easily cut through it.
It is important that any tubing, thimbles or springs that are used should fit the leader as tightly as possible and that the crimp should be snugged up so there is no leader exposed at the ends.
SHRINK TUBING AND RIGGING TAPE
Electrical shrink tubing (Fig 9) and electrical tape is often used to protect joins, align components and stiffen rigging. Both come in a good selection of colours that can also be used to highlight rigs and imitate bait fish lateral lines.
Small stainless steel yachting shackles (Fig 9) are a great way of a very strong (minimum 500lbs) quick connection between leaders and hooks. Particularly useful for loose free-swinging rigs as they allow a great amount of freedom of action and movement.
Al aspects of lure rigging are important to the overall balance and resulting action of a lure. In many countries such as Hawaii lure heads are sold without skirts, offering a large choice of skirt length, material type and colour. Though this certainly offers total customisation there is a very real probability that the lure will not end up in its optimal configuration. It is best to get these heads and skirts assembled by either the head manufacturer, the rigger at the shop you bought the lure or an experienced rigger. If the head and its skirts are not balanced then there is nothing you can do with the rigging to overcome this.
A brief outline of the relationship of skirts to heads is as follows:
- The longer, thicker, rougher the surface of the skirt, and the more the skirt bulges outside the diameter of the lure head, the greater the drag on the lure and the more restricted its action will be and the higher the lure will ride to the waters surface.
- The shorter, thinner, slicker the surface the skirt and the thinner the skirt behind the head the less restricted the action and the deeper the lure may run.
The relationship of lure head and skirt is critical. Changing any of the above by even a minuscule amount can affect the lures behaviour and its success dramatically.
It should also be noted that many of the octopus skirts that are used on today's trolling lures are made out of vinyls developed for skirts that are used for commercial salmon fishing in North America. These waters are much colder than the warm tropical waters many of these skirts are used in. Because of the heat they become much softer and display a tendency to tangle in the rigs. This can be overcome by trimming up to an inch of the bottom of the skirts or by stiffening the skirts by washing them in a degreasing detergent.
As you can see rigging lures correctly needs a great deal of consideration and understanding, not only to balance the rigging to achieve the best possible action but also to achieve the maximum hook up rate. Note that all lures work to their ultimate with no hooks or rigging components. Everything you add influences this to some extent.To start we'll review the I.G.F.A. rules that most game fishing clubs adhere to. These rules maintain that when using two hooks they are at least the distance of the larger hook apart, and that part (not all!) of the trailing hook is within the skirt, that is at least the eye of the hook as in Fig 14.
Now that all the components of a rig have been reviewed we can now assemble them. The variations in the set up of rigs are only limited by your imagination and, if used in club, record or tournament fishing by their respective rules. Various judges at tournaments run to the I.G.F.A. guidelines have approved all the following rigs, though it should be noted that tournament judges have their own interpretation of the rules, so check with them if you are not positive if your gear is in accordance with the rules.
Another major consideration is hook placement within the lure skirt and alignment with the lure head. These factors control which way up the lure runs in the water, the impedance on lure action, and to a great extent the hook up rate.
HOOK ALIGNMENT WITH THE LURE HEAD
Though this is discussed under each topic we should at this stage note the natural balance
of a single hook. When a single hook, on a loose loop is pulled through the water it rides point up, bend down with point riding almost level with the eye as in Fig 15 below. The hook also has a natural wobble, swivelling on its bend.
When we design and assemble a rig this natural hook balance is important to remember, as the hook will always try to run at this attitude which can be used as a rudder and keel to the lure. Incorporating this we can actually aim the points of the hooks at a target such as either the upper or lower jaw.
HOOK PLACEMENT WITHIN THE SKIRT
Perhaps the most important aspect of lure rigging is where the hooks are placed within the length of the skirt. There is some tendency to place the hooks as close to the lure head as possible as in Fig 16. Sometimes the back of the lure head is drilled out to accommodate crimps and lure eyes. The belief is based on the fact the lure heads are marked by bill swipes. This is because the lure head and the leader are the only things that mark. The fact is that bill marks would show over the full length of the lure if they were made of materials that showed these scratches.
It is far better to run the hooks as far back in the lure as is legal as in Fig 14. No matter where the fish grabs the lure the hooks are still coming. This configuration also increases the chance of an outside in hook up, which is the most desirable.
Many rigs necessitate securing the rig to the lure head to maintain the alignment of the rig to the lure head. This normally achieved by jamming the leader against the leader tube in the lure head. If this system is used the toothpick should be placed in the back (skirt end) of the lure head. This is to allow the lure the freedom to slide up the leader as discussed earlier in this article. However if the rigs are not aligned perfectly they may cause the lure to spin.
If there are hooks placed well within the skirt the friction and water pressure will stop the lures from rotating on the rig.
We have certainly been through all of the rigging components and their use. So it now a simple matter of assembling them in the desired configuration, some of which follow. The affect that rigging components have on the finished lure presentation cannot be overstated.
SINGLE HOOK RIGS - (ALL LURE HEAD SHAPES)
Recently there has been a major increase in the use of two hook rigs in skirted trolling lures. The decline in the use of single hook rigs has been followed by a general decline in hook-up rates. A lure rigged incorrectly with two hooks is not as effective as the same lure rigged with a single hook.
The success rate using single hooks, sharpened ones of course, is relatively high. A released fish caught on a single hook has more chance of survival, especially if the hook is left in the fish. It is also far less dangerous for the crew handling a fish caught on a single hook. There are many instances of getting a flailing hook stuck in one hand while the other is still connected to a sometimes very large and very lively fish. If you're not sure which type of twin hook rig to use in a lure then a single will probably give you a higher success rate. Each type of skirted trolling lure has a optimum system for rigging to, for example the Pakula Shackle Rig was specifically designed for use with Pakula Lures giving the highest success rates. On the same lures a standard 90-degree stiff rig results in a very bad hook up rate.
All lures have a more active action when using single hooks. The wrong two hook rig results in a far worse catch rate plus other associated problems such as hook and skirt tangles, line twist and impaired lure action. Even the correct twin hook rig results in only marginally better catch rates than using a single hook.
Apart from the fact that single hooks have a high success rate they are very easy to put together.
THE PAKULA SHACKLE RIG - FOR SYMMETRICALLY SHAPED HEADS
Symmetrically shaped heads are where the head is concentrically built around the leader tube, which is straight, and centrally located as the two heads shown in Fig 23. These lures include all Pakula type lures, many tuna lures such as clones and bullets and flat-faced pushers.
There is no inherent top or bottom to these lures. The hooks in the rigs are used as both keels and rudders to orient which side of the lure rides uppermost in the water.
The action of this group is usually based on a head shake that pivots on the back of the lure head. The stiffer the rig the more inhibited this fish attracting action.
The 60 degree set up as shown in Fig 24 has both hook points riding up. With this configuration the hooks naturally ride point up regardless of size aiming at two separate targets on the fish's top jaw. As the hooks in this rig are relatively free they exhibit a rocking action that actually enhances the action of the lure by causing the reflective insert in the lure head to flash. Though as in all rigging, the larger the hooks the more the action is retarded.
I developed the Full Shackle Rig as in Fig 25 specifically for use with his Pakula Lures some in the late 1970's. It has remained the most successful rigging system since. This rig has many assets: the lure has total freedom of action. The hooks self align. You can change hooks quickly and only need several sets of hooks that can match up with many lures. The hook up rate has remained unsurpassed for many years.
This is a complex rig and full explanation follows including a review of many of the points covered earlier in the article. the following points are in reference to Fig 26.
1- Leader: The thinner the leader the better the action of the lure and as with all fishing, the lighter the leader the more fish will be fooled.
2- Rubber Washer: This washer protects the leader from fatigue and abrasion against the back of the lure head.
3- Crimp: When crimping nylon ensure you leave the ends of the crimp flared so the edges do not cut the leader.
When using wire the full length of the crimp should be crimped. Make sure the crimps are the correct type and size for the nylon you are using.
4- Thimble: The stainless thimble allows the shackle to swing freely. These have a gap when purchased which must be closed prior to inserting snugly in the leader loop, as under pressure they may twist and sever the leader.
5- Shackle: The shackle should be small enough to allow the hooks to swing and align freely.
6- Stainless Wire: Use stainless 7 x 7 which is semi rigid so that it lies straight and protects the rig against 'toothy critters'. The 60-degree set up of the hooks is done by twisting the wire to align the hooks.
7- Loose Collar: By using a loose collar the hooks are free to swing and move with the lures action without retarding it. The collar also restricts the wire from crossing over the hook and fouling.
8- Top Hook: The top hook and trailing hook should be the same size to balance the rig. We prefer hooks with turned in points such as the Southern Tuna style as statistics have shown these to have a much higher success rate than hooks with a straight point.
9- Shrink Tubing: On the wire and hook the tubing only covers half the loop so the hook remains free to swing, yet prevents the hooks from swinging all the way around and hanging up on the lure head or other hook.
10- Trailing Hook: This hook should be set back in the lure skirt so that at least the point is below the skirt. In areas of 'toothy critters' to minimise skirt damage set the hook right back so that only the eye is within the skirt. This hook and wire should be set at 60 degrees to the forward hook forming a "V".
The positioning of the hooks in the lure determines which way up the lure will run as the hooks at this angle will both ride point up when trolled. Both hooks will ride with their points riding up. Normally you would wish to run the lures so the dark side is uppermost. To accomplish this, place both hook points in the dark side of the skirt as shown in Fig 27. There is no need to fix the hooks in position, as the drag on the skirt will prevent them from moving.
PAKULA SLIP RIG
A quick and effective method of positioning hooks within the skirts is by twisting and tying a rubber band around the leader in between the hooks and the back of the lure. Then by pushing the band up or down the leader you can place the hooks exactly where you want them. This system is effective using both the Pakula Shackle Rig and Single Hook Rigs as shown in Fig 28 below.
There are many advantages of combining the Slip Rig with your normal rigging. If a fish bills the lure there is more chance of hooking it in the mouth rather than glancing off a hard bill. If the lure is taken from the side the hooks must pass across the jaws, and if taken from behind the hooks are further down the throat.
No matter how the fish attacks there is a greater chance of hooking it securely. The fact that the hook point and bend are totally visible does not in any way disturb the fish.
The use of the rubber band also cushions the back of the lure against the knot or crimp to the hooks. This is a major fatigue area that leads to many failures on both wire and nylon. These failures are normally blamed on toothy fish such as Wahoo and Mackerel.
There is much to learn and much to enjoy in the complex world of the Sports and Game Fishing. Knowing and understanding aspects such as rigging lures and having the confidence that below all that froth and bubble your lures are set to work to their optimum action and hook-up potential. The great thing about most technological aspects of the sport is that they are done at home. This allows you the peace of mind to enjoy the day a little more and leaves you a little more freedom to concentrate on the other things that catch fish, such as searching for birds and current lines. This is the edge that makes you that bit more aware, to be that little bit ahead of the competition.