Whether you adorn a dredge with sleek ballyhoo imitations or deep-bodied shad depends on personal preference. “I don’t know of any situation where a ’hoo dredge is more effective than a shad dredge or vice versa,” Richardson says. “A school of bait is a school of bait. A hungry predator won’t shy away from either if it feels there’s a free meal waiting.”
Warning: Paddle-tail models like shad from Action Plastics (www.action-plastics.com) or Mann’s Mannhaden (www.mannsbait.com) can work so enthusiastically at trolling speed that their tails wag right off! To prevent caudal amputations, Richardson modifies baits by cutting an upside-down V notch in the tails. He says this minor surgery relieves stress on tails while still allowing them to work properly, and reduces a dredge’s overall drag.
Offshore bottomfishermen know the rewards of embellishing jig heads with plastic bodies. The B2 Squid (www.b2squid.com) rates as a favorite among halibut anglers, while the grouper troop often uses oversize shad. Action Plastics wins the shadzilla award for its monstrous 15-inch Shad Minnow.
Billfishermen will find synthetic versions of the old standby in Mold Craft’s Tuff Hoo and Mann’s Ultimate Hoo (in straight- and paddle-tail models). Those who subscribe to the bigger-bait/bigger-fish theory can ramp up to a Mold Craft Tuff Mac Mackerel (13 inches) or Carolina Lures Yummee Tuna (14½ inches).
Perhaps the most realistic baitfish imitations make up the Live Series from Williamson (www.williamsonlures.com). Introduced in 2005 with six models, the series now has 11, including mock ballyhoo, bluefish, little tunny, mackerel, mullet, ribbonfish and squid. A patented design gives these lures molded-in wings that keep them running true at speeds up to 10 knots, depending on the model.
“When using Williamson Live Series lures, you might have to drop back to a finicky sailfish to give it time to take the bait and turn for a good hook-set,” says David James, Rapala field-promotions and media-relations manager. “Otherwise, a tag-line or flat-line clip will do.”
The rising cost and uncertain availability of live bait make offshore plastics an attractive alternative, especially since artificials won’t wash out after a few hours of trolling. With the exception of shads, all models mentioned feature slots for hooks, leaders and/or weights, so rigging is a no-mess breeze.
McKeral points out that he often trolls his fake flyers under kites, where the skipping lures withstand beatings that would shred natural baits. “There are other advantages,” he says. “We get testimonials from fishermen who have caught as many as a dozen large yellowfin on one Yummee Fly’N Fish. You can carry them in your luggage and they won’t spoil. I’ve kept some of my original prototypes in a warehouse since the 1990s, and they haven’t deteriorated. Try that with a natural!”