Rigging Trolling Lures
There are as many ways to rig a marlin lure
as there are lures themselves. I've seen rigs as simple as
a Palomar knot to tie on the hook and an overhand knot to
hold the head, and as complex as those using thimbles, wire,
tubing and multiple hooks. There is no one correct method,
and most will work just fine, provided they meet two simple
- The rigging must interfere with the action of the lure
- The rigging must not fail in battle
I personally would add one additional requirement, for reasons
I'll cover later ...
- The rigging must be quick to re-rig
The method I use is based on one developed
over 20 years ago for use on the original SoCal marlin lures.
I like my method for several reasons. First, it provides both
chafing protection and proper head-to-hook spacing, and does
so in an reasonably elegant manner. You might not give a lot of thought
to how your rigging looks, but when you're hosting the cocktail
hour in the cockpit and all your lures are hanging in plain
sight, you'll care. The second, and most important, reason
is that it's quick to do. Time is critical when
your hot lure needs to be retied - it can't catch fish when
it's out of the water! Also, the quicker it is, the more likely
I am to rerig as often as I should.
Time for the caveat. This is how I rig a trolling lure today - not yesterday, and probably not tomorrow. Like any good fisherman, I'm a continual student, and if I find a better way, you know I'll use it. Of course, that'll mean I'll have to change this chapter when I do ...
Before we talk about how, let's talk about what - the materials you'll need:
A lure (duh)
New or used, but must be in proper condition. Our example is a Big Reidee, beautifully crafted by Ron Akana.
I've seen fluorocarbon used for lures, but I prefer standard mono. The fluorocarbon tends to be stiff and turns milky with use. Besides, I don't think the fish ar that picky on lures, anyway. I use 150-lb test leader material, but have on occasion used 125 on smaller lures, or if I sense the fish are line shy (which is seldom). Any brand will do, but my current preference is Jinkai. It seems limper than the rest, and is small enough to go easily through the crimps. You'll need a piece 16 to 17 feet in length.
My current preference is a Mustad 7732SS or 7691SS. I usually use a 9/0, although I like to adjust the hook size up or down based on the diameter of the lure head.
There are many ways to get the proper spacing between the lure head and hook, but I prefer tri-beads because they provide great chafing protection when installed correctly, and add extra color and body to the lure. Some lures provide a package of beads, but I use them on all lures. They are available in several colors from your favorite tackle store, but I get my beads from a craft store, where the color selection is much greater. The actual colors you use are a matter of personal choice; I try to pick 1 or 2 colors that complement the skirts and add to the illusion.
This single bead rides just behind the lure head and protects it from the bead crimp. It's also a great way to add an identifier to your lure. I use a 10mm artificial pearl.
Please hold the cards and letters about crimping versus swaging and the benefits (and flaws) of each. I freely acknowledge that the crimping method I use was designed for wire, and that swaging is probably a better method (and will likely be one of those better ways mentioned above). But in nearly 30 years of using this same basic method, I've never had a crimp fail. 'Nuff said. I use Sevenstrand A8 crimps for the ends of the leader and an A6 to hold the beads.
Nothing fancy here - they just need to work. For the cutters, I prefer nail clippers, because you get a cleaner cut.
Now that you have collected your materials and tools, it's time to go to work.
Examine the Lure
Before I rig the lure, I give it a quick once-over. On a
new lure, I'm looking for workmanship errors - chips or other
flaws in the head, loose or misaligned skirts, etc. If I'm
rerigging a used lure, I add a check for battle damage. The
most common damage is bill marks on the head and missing fingers
on the skirts. No matter the flaw, take the time to repair
it before you rig. If the flaw or damage is severe enough
to compromise the performance of the lure, and cannot be repaired,
replace the lure.
Start with the Hook
In rigging your hook, you need a method that will both withstand the pressure of the hooked fish and provide some measure of chafe protection. If you've ever felt the bill of a striped marlin you know it's just like a rasp, and can cause a lot of damage to the leader if not properly protected. Some folks use thimbles, springs or other devices to protect the hook loop, but the method I use provides security by running the leader through the hook twice. I've heard it referred to as an "offshore loop", but I can't say where that came from.
Start the rigging by sliding an A8 crimp sleeve (concave end first) onto
the end of the leader. Next, slide on the hook and tie an
overhand knot with the hook eye in the middle of the knot. Run the tag end back through the loop one more time and adjust
the size of the loop to your liking. If you've tied it correctly, the leader will be running through the eye of the hook twice. Pass the tag end back
through the sleeve, snug the sleeve up to the knot and crimp
in place. Cut off the excess as close as possible to the sleeve
with nail trimmers, being very careful to not nick the main
Pack 'Em On
Now comes the beads.
Begin sliding tri-beads onto the leader and down to the hook crimp. If you're using more than one color, you can alternate them as you like to form a pattern. Once
you have several inches of beads in place, begin comparing
your leader to the lure. The goal is to have the point
of the hook at the end of the skirt, so continue adding beads
until you approach the right amount. When you think you're
close, slide an A6 sleeve onto the leader followed by the
terminal bead and the lure. Let the lure hang from your hand
and look at where the hook is located relative to the end
of the skirts. Add or subtract beads as necessary to get the
point of the hook where you want it.
Once you have your beads in place, it's time to secure them with a crimp. This is an important step often overlooked
on pre-rigged lures. The beads provide good protection for
the lower leader, but without the upper sleeve, they can ride
up the line during a fight, exposing it to bill damage. Worse,
they can slide back down and hide the damage from view - until
the line breaks and you wonder why.
There's another advantage to using the upper crimp above the beads. Should the leader break at the hook in a way that takes the lower crimp, the beads and lure will slide off and be lost. But if you've secured your beads with a upper crimp, that crimp will also prevent you from losing an expensive lure. It's bad enough to lose the fish, but worse to lose the weapon you used to hook it.
To crimp the upper sleeve, remove the lure and terminal bead
and pack the beads together while holding the sleeve in the
jaws of the crimping pliers. You want the beads to be lose
enough to remain flexible, but tight enough to prevent a bill
from slipping between them. Crimp the sleeve sufficiently
to keep the beads in place, but with as little deformation
Next up is the terminal bead. Several years ago, when I started experimenting with different brands of marlin lures, I noticed a great variety in the design of the back of the lure head. Some would have a small hole barely large enough for the leader to pass through, while others would have much larger holes to allow a plug or pin to be inserted. There was a wide variety of materials, as well. I found that the upper crimp would sometimes dig into the head material or become stuck in the exit hole, both of which I considered unacceptable. By adding an extra bead between the upper crimp and the lure head, it served as a spacer between the two. It also serves as a way to identify my own lures, which is important when everyone on the boat is using the same lure brands!
After you add the terminal bead, slide on the lure and perform a quick inspection. Verify that the lure hangs where you thought it would, and can rotate freely on the leader. If everything looks OK, you're ready to complete the leader.
IGFA rules allow a 30-ft leader, but I limit mine to 15-ft.
You need the leader to be long enough to never allow the fish
to touch the main line. Make it too long, however, and the
fish will remain too deep when the swivel hits the rod tip.
I don't like to force the leaderman to have to handline in the leader, so I want it short enough that when the angler has the swivel at the rod tip and steps back, the fish is near the surface. The height of your boat's gunwale will affect your leader length, so experiment to find the length right for you.
Measure off your desired leader length from the hook, adding
6 inches for the upper loop, and cut off the excess. Add an
offshore loop (without the hook, of course!) to the remaining
end of the leader, and you're done!
I said at the outset that I like this method because it lets
me rerig in a hurry. I cannot overemphasize the importance
of rerigging your lures whenever damage is detected. The small
amount of time and effort you will pay is a pittance compared
to losing a marlin due to shortsightedness.
All marlin lure leaders show wear over time, even if they
have seen no action. Check your lures periodically for wear,
and rerig if damage is found. This is doubly important after
a strike - it's nearly impossible for a marlin to hit a lure
without doing damage.
Start your evaluation at the hook end, since this is where
most damage occurs. Look at the loop holding the hook for
cuts or abrasions from the marlin bill or for thinning of
the line due to the hook itself. Run your fingers along the
leader, feeling for those nicks you eyes might never see.
Finally, check the attachment loop for damage. If you find
any damage at all, rerig the lure - it's just not worth the
lure that gets bit is a lure that I want in the water
- but not if the leader is potentially damaged. As a
result, I re-rig any lure that catches (or loses) a
fish. Here's how to get it back in the water in a hurry
In my tackle kit, I carry several partially completed
lure leaders with the hook crimped onto 16 feet of mono.
This give me a head start on the new leader. Cut the
old leader just above the lure and slide it off. Grasp
the beads tightly in your non-cutting hand in the first
fold of your fingers (for you golfers, it's the same
place the handle of a club resides) and cut the leader
again between the beads and the hook crimp. Slide the
tag end of the new leader into the hole in the tightly-held
bead stack, pushing out the old leader as you go (if
you have maintained the alignment of the bead stack,
this should go smoothly). Add a sleeve and crimp the
beads in place, followed by the lure. Complete the
loop at the end of the leader and you're ready to go! With a little practice,
the total time is only about a minute.
As I said at the outset, there are many ways to rig a lure that will get the job done. Be open to new ideas and ways of rigging your lures - you'll find your methods will refine themselves over time. And if you come across something particularly effective or cool, email it to me so we can share it in the Tutorial!