There can be few more widely discussed subjects in the world of blue water fishing than the various methods for rigging offshore trolling lures. Every professional crew has their own favourite rigging method and they will all argue until they are blue in the face that their method is the most effective and gives the best hook-up ratio.
This lack of agreement and the conflicting advice given by the top names in the sport leads us to a situation common in all forms of angling, i.e. the novice angler is left confused and wondering which method they should use in order to give themselves the best chance of success.
When out fishing, the angler is constantly wondering whether they have selected the best method for rigging their lures and, if they miss a strike, they then lose confidence in the rig and start chopping and changing to find a better method. It is very important to find a simple and reliable lure rigging method that you have absolute confidence in, and then stick with it.
My advice (as always!) comes down to the basics – keep it simple and pay close attention to a few fundamental factors. In this series of articles, which will cover the practicalities of rigging offshore trolling lures, I will attempt to cover the most popular lure rigging methods and materials from around the world and then explain the methods that I use and the reasons why. I am not saying that my methods are the best, or will guarantee you 100% success, all I will say is that I have formed my own opinions and gradually evolved my rigging methods after years of fishing and observing some of the best crews in the business.
WHAT IS RIGGING?
Firstly, what do we mean by rigging. This is simply the stuff at the important business end of our equipment – hooks, leaders and the bits and pieces that hold it all together.
This rigging must do three key things
Firstly it must assist us in hooking the fish cleanly when it strikes the lure.
Secondly, once the fish is hooked, it must prevent the fish from biting, chewing or abrading through the rig during the fight.
Finally, it must provide us with the facility to control a large fish at boat side so that we can gaff or tag & release the fish.
Arguably our single most important item of tackle is the hook. Get this piece of equipment wrong and even the most expensive rods and reels in the world are rendered useless!
Good hooks are cheap, certainly when compared with the cost of other big game equipment such as rods, reels and lures or the cost of chartering a boat, so there is no excuse to use sub-standard, worn, rusty or damaged hooks. Use only the very best quality hooks from reputable manufacturers.
Other than the quality and condition of the hook, there is really only one absolute rule when selecting hook patterns to rig with trolling lures – the hooks must have straight points (i.e. the point is in line with the shank of the hook, it does not bend away to the side). Hooks with offset or kirbed points should be avoided as these will affect the way the lure runs and could cause it to spin or run off line.
There are two industry standards in the big game world – the Mustad Southern & Tuna (7691 & 7691S) and the Mustad Sea Demon (7731 and 7732). Both patterns have their devotees and both are excellent hooks for rigging lures – you pay your money and take your choice. These hook patterns differ in that the Southern & Tuna pattern has a point that turns in slightly towards the shank and the Sea Demon has a straight point that lies parallel with the shank (neither of these hooks are offset or kirbed). I have always used the Southern & Tuna pattern when rigging plain trolling lures and the Sea Demon pattern when rigging with natural baits or bait/lure combinations. This is just my own preference; I can offer no evidence to suggest that one hook performs better than the other in one or other situation. As I said before, you pay your money and take your choice; if the fish eats your lure cleanly then I am sure that either pattern will hook it equally well (or equally badly!).
Japanese manufacturer Maruto make excellent versions of these two hook styles and I actually prefer them to the Mustad originals. This is because I feel the Maruto points and barbs are better formed, which gives me more scope to work on them when sharpening.
Top left - Mustad Southern & Tuna
Top right - Maruto Southern & Tuna
Bottom centre - Mustad Sea Demon
This leads on to one of the absolutely most important factors in big game fishing – SHARP HOOKS. Most hooks are not fit to use straight from the packet (apart from some of the smaller sized chemically sharpened models) and every hook should be checked before it goes into the water. Your hooks should be so sharp that you are frightened to venture into your tackle bag for fear of mortal injury! They should cut you just by looking at them! I cannot over-emphasise the importance of really sharp hooks, if you return home after a fishing expedition and your hands are not covered in nicks and scratches, then your hooks were not sharp enough! The fish we are targeting have very hard, tough mouths and blunt hooks will create a major handicap in getting a good hook-up.
If you use your own gear then you have no excuse for blunt hooks, pay them close attention! If you use the gear provided on charter boats make sure that you or the crew check every hook before the lures go into the water. It’s amazing how many so called professional crews don’t bother checking their hooks every day.
Back on the subject of hook patterns; the well proven Southern & Tuna and Sea Demon patterns are pretty much all you need when rigging lures for use with regular trolling tackle, i.e. rods, reels and lines in the 30lb to 130 lb class range. However, if you want to pull lures on lighter tackle (below 30lb class) then these hooks could be too heavy and the gauge of the wire and size of the barbs could prevent good penetration with the low drag pressures used in light tackle fishing. Pick a lighter gauge hook that sticks with the important rule of having a straight point (i.e. not offset or kirbed). There are two choices that I can recommend – Mustad make a light gauge version of the Southern & Tuna pattern (model 76LGS), this hook is still quite strong and meaty, so it may be a little heavy for ultra light tackle situations, but it is a great hook for 20lb and 30lb class gear.
A really superb hook for light (or ultra light) tackle is the Gamakatsu SL12S. This hook is quite light gauge by big game standards and was originally developed for tying large flies for big game fly fishing. It has a chemically sharpened point, so is good and sharp straight from the packet, but these light gauge chemically sharpened hooks do not like saltwater. Check them regularly and if they are blunt, or have even a hint of rust, get rid of them and fit new hooks. Don’t try to re-sharpen chemically sharpened hooks, it just doesn’t seem work.
Having ultra sharp hooks is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT when light tackle fishing and hooks with very prominent barbs can also benefit from having them slimmed down a little to aid better penetration.
Both these light gauge hook patterns can be hard to find (particularly in the UK), try searching the international on-line internet retailers or, if you have trouble finding them, drop me a line at Sekard.com.
Having selected the type and pattern of hook that we prefer it is then necessary to decide on the correct size of hook to match the lure we are rigging. We are likely to use hooks ranging from size 8/0 in small lures up to 14/0 meat hooks in the very largest monster Marlin lures. I would say that sizes 9/0, 10/0 and 11/0 make up the mainstay of my lure trolling rigs, but this may be different for you depending on your intended destination and species.
There is a very simple method that will give a good indication of the optimum hook size. The gap of the hook (the distance measured between the hook point and the hook shank) should be approximately the same as the diameter of the lure head at its widest point. This does not have to be exact, you may go one size up or down, but the lure head diameter does give a very good starting point. If you use hooks that are considerably smaller than the lure head diameter you are likely to suffer poor hook-ups as the bulk of the lure head and skirts will mask the hooks. Alternatively, the use of excessively large hooks may affect the action of the lure due to their weight and the drag they create in the water.
STEEL OR STAINLESS
For years I was a confirmed devotee of plain carbon steel hooks, I would never consider using stainless steel hooks. The reason I had formed this opinion was my passion for conservation; I always tag & release ALL billfish and I also like to release other species whenever I have the opportunity. I reasoned that if it was necessary to leave a hook in the fish, or if the fish broke off during the fight, then the plain steel hook would rust away easily. My views on this changed forever after a conversation with a game boat crew with whom I was fishing. They quoted the opinions and comments of legendary billfish captain, Roddy Hays. He argued that stainless steel hooks were actually more conservation minded than plain carbon steel hooks. This is the reason why;
A small light gauge plain carbon steel hook will rust away very quickly in salt water. However, the hooks we typically use for big game fishing are anything but small and light gauge. They contain a lot of metal which will take a considerable length of time to rust away, even in salt water. Furthermore, and more importantly, during the rusting process the steel of the hook will dissolve into all sorts of nasty liquors and chemicals and these will be absorbed into the fish’s flesh. As the hook rusts it gradually injects poison into the fish. A stainless steel hook on the other hand will not rust away, but neither will it poison the fish with the components of its decay.
The punch line is this; suppose you went into hospital for an operation and, before sewing you up, the surgeon accidentally left a piece of surgical equipment inside your body. Which would you prefer to have inside you, a piece of plain steel rusting away in your body juices, or a nice clean piece of surgical stainless steel?! I know which I would prefer and hence I now use stainless steel for all my large size and heavy gauge big game hooks.
Use only good quality hooks
Make sure all hooks are in good condition and RAZOR sharp
Use hooks with straight points, NOT offset or kirbed
Size the hooks to match the lure head diameter
Consider using stainless steel rather than plain carbon steel hooks
That concludes Part 1 of this series of articles on rigging big game trolling lures. In the next instalment we will look at leaders and then later we will move on to assembling the rigs and discussion of the tools we need to do the job properly.
If you’d like to raise any questions or seek clarification on any points within this article, feel free to contact me at on the Sekard Technology website at www.sekard.com