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October 26, 2001

Getting Into Shapes

This quick tutorial on offshore trolling lures will start you on the path to rubbery enlightenment.

Most anglers choose lures like they choose women: They always pick the pretty one wearing their favorite-colored skirt. Unfortunately, the best-looking lure may not be the one that fits our trolling speed or fills that glaring hole in our pattern with just the right action. To make matters worse, there are more lure manufacturers and types than bimbos who claim to have slept with the president.

Ask any two different manufacturers what characteristics make up a Konahead, for example, and you'll get five contrary answers, citing different degrees of face slant, taper and diameter. To simplify matters, I've tried to narrow the playing field to just seven basic categories: tubes, bullets, plungers, Konaheads, jets, pushers, and chuggers.

There's no mistaking a bullet lure for any of the other designs; they are, after all, shaped just as their name implies. Bullets can be run in all sea conditions, but most skippers like to pull them when it gets rough because of their ability to stay down. Johnson says that while bullet lures don't provide a lot of action, they still trigger a lot of strikes. "A bullet lure looks like the weak bait in a school and the least likely to be able to evade a predator," says Frank Johnson III, general manager of Mold Craft. "If you have a bunch of lures in the spread that are smoking like hell, a bullet lure fished deep on the shotgun looks like a weak bait that will make easy pickings."

Bullet lures run and track well with almost any rigging configuration, and their small size - rarely exceeding 1 inch in diameter - also makes them good tuna and dolphin baits.

One of the first head shapes made, tube lures are nothing more than a cylinder with a slant face. Capt. Bart Miller, maker of Black Bart Lures, likes tubes because they track a straight line just under the surface and make a lot of noise. "Lure shapes go in and out of favor over the years, and a lot of people have got away from pulling tubes," Miller says. "Tubes are a deadly top-water design that creates a great bubble trail and makes a lot of noise. If you're not pulling tubes, you're making a big mistake."

Tube lures exhibit an aggressive swimming action, thanks to their relatively small-diameter head (3/4 to 1 1/4 inches) and radical slant. They'll run in a wide range of conditions at speeds from 6 to 8 knots, but you have to keep an eye on them when it gets choppy. Once your speed tops 8 1/2 or 9 knots, tubes start to jump out of the water. Tubes work well from the outriggers or as long transom baits and pull with fewer hassles than most slanted lures - they don't require being perfectly rigged.

The term Konahead has been used to describe so many different lure styles that it is now used by most people as a generic term to describe any large, resin-head lure with a slanted face and taper. True Konahead lures, however, feature elongated, severely tapered bodies, offset leader tubes and a scooped-out face - like the Konaclone from Sevenstrand and the Horse Bally Kona from SeaTal.

Johnson says that many lure makers have stopped making Konaheads because they swim too radically. "It's very hard for the average guy to get a scoop-faced lure to track properly," he says. "Also, if the bait is swimming and darting around, it's more difficult for the fish to eat it."

Plungers are commonly misidentified as Konaheads, probably because they too were first used in Hawaiian waters. Slanted faces and tapered bodies typify plunger-style lures, and several manufacturers claim that more grander blue marlin have been caught on plungers than on any other style. One of the larger head styles, plungers run anywhere from 12 to 16 inches in length (with skirts) and are usually over an inch in diameter - although they work well in smaller sizes also.

Sadu Frehm, owner of Sadu Lures in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, says that you should follow one rule of thumb when pulling any slant-faced lure, a rule that particularly applies to plungers. "The rougher it gets, the less slant you should have on your lures," Frehm says.

Chuggers are easily identified by their uniformly concave or "cupped" face. The cupped face gives a chugger its most tantalizing attribute: the ability to trap a large bubble of air at the surface, then disperse it as a thick bubble trail.

Three factors make chuggers very popular among beginning anglers: 1) They are easy to rig and run; 2) Chuggers create a good bubble trail in the calmer waters in which most new anglers fish; 3) They work well at a wide range of speeds. "Chuggers provide a huge amount of smoke and tight, vibrating action," says Johnson. On the downside, Johnson says that his soft plastic Super Chuggers are lighter than most hard or resin-head lures and they have a tendency to leave the water at speeds in excess of 9 knots.

If you're having trouble getting your plungers or tube lures to run correctly, you might want to consider throwing out a pusher. A pusher sports a completely flat face cut at 90 degrees that "pushes" water forward and gives the lure its name. It seems strange that this simple, low-tech concept offers the angler more versatility than any other head design. Pushers practically rig themselves and run well at just about any speed from 4 to 15 knots.

According to Tom Wyatt of Ferro Jets in Santa Rosa, California, the ram holes on a jet force a mixture of air and water through the skirt pocket, creating an extremely thick bubble trail that also adds action to the lure's skirts. "It takes a pretty good speed to get a jet out of the water - at least 8 or 9 knots for the heavier ones - but once they break the surface they really pop and smoke," says Wyatt, whose company has been making jets since the early 1960s.

By combining the already low drag resistance of a traditional bullet head with the further drag reduction offered by flow-through holes, jets are able to track straight at high speeds and stay in the water in almost any sea condition.

"A jet on the shotgun down the middle is hard to beat," says Tracy Melton. "Sometimes if you put the jet out with a bunch of radical lures, the fish ends up hitting the one that's just lying there."