Artificial lures for trolling
by Chris Tan

Trolling can be done with a wide variety of lures, such as artificial lures live bait, dead bait, and strip bait. Live bait fish can be rigged up to be trolled slowly, up to about 2 knots. Dead bait can be trolled a bit faster, and the dead fish can be as big as 2-3 kgs when trolling for the huge marlins and tunas! Strips of fish flesh can also be rigged up for trolling but, many experienced anglers have differing opinions on which methods are the most effective, but in this article I shall only concentrate on explaining the intricacies of using artificial lures.

There is a great variety of artificial lures on the market which makes it extremely confusing! When the angler goes to a tackle shop to purchase lures for trolling, he is faced with a considerable variety of lures to choose from! Some are designed for slow speed trolling, others for high speed. There are surface lures, shallow running lures and deep divers. I shall attempt to enlighten those anglers not so familiar with the usage of offshore trolling lures on how to select and use them.

Surface lures are normally skirted lures, rather like squid. These skirted lures have heads made of various materials, from chromed metal to clear plastic/resin heads with eyes and other bright material within them to make them more attractive. These heads come in all shapes and sizes, to give different swimming actions. Flat or cupped heads will splash along the surface. Slanted heads generally are designed to dive and surface alternately.

Basically the commotion and bubble trail created by these heads attract the pelagic fish. Some heads are made of metal with holes in them, they are called jet heads. These holes create a bigger bubble trail than the normal solid heads. Then there are the soft headed lures. These soft heads are supposed to make the fish to hold onto the lure longer in its mouth due to the natural "soft" feeling, giving the angler a greater chance of setting the hook. Attached to these heads are long strands of soft plastic or fibrous material. They give the lure a sinuous and wavy action. They can be found in all the colours of the rainbow and more! Some skirts are even available in luminous colours.

These skirts normally work best at high trolling speeds, from 5 to 20 knots. However the normal trolling speeds most skirted lures are designed for, are 6 to 12 knots. Some heads though, are designed/shaped to be trolled above 10 knots up to 20 knots. Generally most local anglers do not use these surface lures very much. Probably due to the lack of exposure to skirted lures and also due to the price of each one, being more than the cost of minnow type lures. The plastic skirts are also easily damaged by the toothy predators like the spanish mackerel (tenggiri) and barracuda. Another high speed lure used for offshore trolling is the bibless minnow lure. These lures are shallow diving lures that run a few feet below the surface. They do not have a bib, thus they are not able to dive as deep as the lures with bibs, but they can be trolled at higher speeds than bibbed lures. Their most effective trolling speed is generally between 5 to 10 knots.

As the profile of the minnow lure is narrow, the bibless lure has a very tight shimmering action, On some days, fish really go for this type of action. On a few trolling sessions I have experienced, the only fish hooked up were on the bibless lure. The lures with bibs did not get any hook ups.

The most commonly used offshore artificial trolling lure in Malaysia is the bibbed lure. One can normally tell how deep the lure dives or swims by the size of the bib on the lure. The bigger the bib, the deeper it can dive. However the larger bibs tend to restrict the ability of the lures to swim at higher speeds. As a rule, big lures dive deeper and can be trolled faster than smaller lures of the same design.

Mistakes most anglers new to offshore trolling make is to bring along lures made for freshwater casting or trolling. Most freshwater trollers do not troll above 3-4 knots, whereas trolling at 4-8 knots is common for offshore boats. Often when anglers new to saltwater offshore trolling joins us for our offshore trips, they will insist on bringing their freshwater minnow lures for trolling, even though they have been advised to purchase the appropriate lures. So when they try to troll they find out that the lure is unable to swim properly at the speed the boat is trolling at, causing it to "jump" out of the water and spin uncontrollably! Naturally on their following trips they come properly equipped with the suitable lures!

When trolling inshore, or within the estuary areas, the boat normally trolls slower than the offshore boats, therefore the choice of lures available for this sort of trolling is mind boggling. The things that should be noted for these lures are whether the lures can take the abuse our hard fighting tropical fish dole out! Often the hooks and split rings should be upgraded to saltwater ones, as the ones supplied with the lures are normally for freshwater use.

There are only a few bibbed lures among the eye-boggling variety available in Malaysia that are really suitable for offshore trolling. Generally they have a body length longer than 14 cm, not including the bib. There is one well known Scandinavian brand in our country that has brands imitating it on the market here. The imitations look similar and even the name sounds similar! But that is as far as the similarity goes. Only the original lure can swim effectively at both high and low speeds. The imitations tend to give up swimming at speeds up to 3 to 5 knots. Above that they just spin and jump out of the water.

In boats that do troll slowly offshore, below 4 knots, one can troll a wider variety of bibbed minnow lures. One thing that I found about the bib size is that a smaller bib does not necessarily mean it can troll faster than a lure with a bigger bib. It has something to do with the design of the body shape of the lure too, as to how fast it can be trolled.

The quality control of the lure production is very important. Lures that are not regular in shape will not be able to track true (straight) consistently. The better brands/models are good, able to be used straight out of the box without "tuning" it. When the lure is not tracking true or straight, it will either spin in the water or it will start swimming sideways, ending up by "jumping" out of the water!

When a lure starts "jumping" or swimming to the side, immediately bring it in! Otherwise you will find it gets tangled up with the line of the neighbouring troller, and you will have to face his wrath! Often the angler will just adopt a wait and see attitude, hoping the lure will "cure" itself. Never do this, because once it is not tracking true the problem will not go away by itself. Sometimes it will only jump once, then it will remain underwater spinning in circles, continuously wrapping itself around the neighbouring lines and lures! When the lures are retrieved those unfortunate trollers will know why they did not get any strikes! The tangled mess is a headache to untangle, and the longer the "renegade" lure is left in the water the greater the tangle. Often it is more expedient to just cut the lines and retie them. So be a responsible troller and make sure the lure tracks true.

To do so, let out the lure about 2 to 5 metres, and make sure it is tracking directly behind the rod tip. Even if it is tracking sideways just a bit, bring it back to "tune" it, because when it is let out to the normal trolling distance, it will be tracking sideways a lot! Getting all tangled up!

The lure is tuned by either adjusting/bending the bib of a metal lure or bending the eye of the towing point of the lure with a plastic bib. For example, if the lure is swimming to the right (viewed from behind the lure), bend the right side of the bib (also view the lure from behind) down, just a bit. Make minor adjustments only. Likewise for lures with plastic bibs, if it swimming to the right, bend the eye slightly to the right too, to correct the lure swimming action. (I hope I got this right. I do this by instinct in the boat. If I got it reversed, just reverse my directions. Oops!)