So what about plugs? I’ll bet less than 10% of the inshore anglers here on the west coast have even thought of using a crank plug to catch bass, bonita, barracuda and even halibut and yellowtail. In other parts of the country like San Francisco Bay for striped bass, the Gulf coast for sea trout and redfish, the Florida Keys for king mackerel, and the east coast for stripers and bluefish, dedicated lure chuckers will be using “plugs”.
Maybe one of the problems is that most of these crankbaits feature not one, but two otherwise dangerous treble hooks. I say “dangerous”, not to the fish, but rather to the 60 other passengers that may be crowded on the deck on a sport boat in a wide open barracuda attack. Getting plucked in the back by an anchovy hooked on to a small #2 hook is one thing. Having two large treble hooks snagged into your body by a sloppy caster is quite another.
But the reality is that these crankbaits really produce! Basic Yo-Zuri, Rapala and Bomber plugs you might cast for largemouth bass in freshwater lakes, will also surprise you when you take them out to sea.
I have filmed so many outings on my weekly television show on FOX Sports West, demonstrating how regulation freshwater bass lures are deadly on coastal in-shore species. I recently filmed at Cedros Island, a remote calico bass haven about 265 miles south of San Diego in Mexican waters. Using a popular Yo-Zuri lure, the Crystal Minnow, I scored over 100 beautiful 3-5 pound saltwater bass per day on this freshwater crankbait.
There are a few limitations I might note when using these crankbaits. First of all, do not change the lighter wire freshwater hooks on their lures. The treble hooks, matched with the lure body from the factory have been tested to provide perfect balance and steady swimming action when you cast or troll these plugs. Yes, there is a chance of bending out one of these trebles on a bigger, tougher saltwater species, but don’t alter the factory hooks.
Many lure companies now offer saltwater versions of many of their popular freshwater bass or trophy trout plugs. The lure body shape, weight and swimming actions remain the same, but stronger, heavy duty saltwater treble hooks have replaced the thin wire freshwater hooks. Sometimes you will also find these saltwater plugs with stronger snaps or split rings than their near identical freshwater cousins.
There isn’t much difference in using crankbait in saltwater or freshwater, with one exception. In the marine environment, don’t be surprised if inshore game fish strike these lures wound or trolled ultra fast. With fish like the Pacific yellowtail, you simply cannot out wind them. Even with fast reels with 7:1 gear ratios, you might be able to pull in one these plugs at 7 miles an hour. A yellowtail can swim at speeds exceeding 30 miles per hour.
The same goes for trolling with these plugs. Conventional freshwater trout or bass trolling occurs at 1 ½ -2 miles per hour. Many of these saltwater inshore fish like bonita and barracuda will nail a plug pulled at upwards to 15 miles an hour. So with saltwater plug casting or trolling, inshore fishermen are able to cover a lot more territory than prospecting for freshwater bass or trout pulling these versatile crankbaits.