Oversized, soft plastic tubes, swimbaits, and ‘Bulldawg’ style lures become one of the most productive options for fish with teeth during the cooling waters of fall.
They’re great for probing deeper water and they’re often at their best when fished slowly and methodically.
What’s more, they’ve got a highly natural look and profile. To generate strikes from these cold blooded predators this season, give these quick tips a shot. They’ll make your good lures even better:
Paging Dr. Rubber: Soft plastics are prone to rips, tears and some pretty major damage from a pike or muskie’s angular, slicing teeth. On the water, carry a small vial of super glue for patching minor areas. Small, portable butane torches also make melting lures back together fast.
For major damage – such as entire body sections torn off or long, ragged tears – a small, inexpensive soldering iron does a great job.
I learned this tip from my friend Matt O’Brien, who fishes a ton of rubber baits, while filming the popular Slobland Flicks series of muskie videos all over Ontario. ‘Use the iron to carefully heat both sides of the tear in a well-ventilated area,’ he advises. ‘Press and hold both sides together for several seconds, and allow them to cool.’
He hits re-melted plastics with a good shot of spray-on scent before fishing, to mask any unnatural odours caused by the melted plastic.
Dyes, eyes & accents: The colour of rubber baits is easy to customize. Companies like Spike It! offer a range of dye shades, in flavours like garlic, crayfish or baitfish. You can dip tentacles or tails straight into the jar, or create more precise details, using marker pens.
Splashes or highlights near a bait’s head, tail or along the belly gives fish a noticeable target to zero in on. The eyes are one of the best places to customize.
Regular, adhesive lure eyes are easy to add, and when secured with super glue, they’ll stay put.
Try making them larger, by outlining them using a contrasting colour. Some tubes, lack dominant eyes. Regular, adhesive lure eyes are easy to add, and when secured with super glue, they’ll stay put. One of my killer Magnum Bulldawgs is just a plain, pearl/silver pattern that I added eyes to, along with a hot orange splash on the tip of the tail.
Speaking of tails, try tipping a seven- to 12-inch tube with a magnum-sized twister tail. It adds size, improves the tube’s gliding action as it sinks and also helps fish find the lure, with extra vibration.
Deep-running rubber: Those deeper shoals, rock ledges and weedlines all factor heavily in fall predator fishing. In many cases, heavy current and deep, open water hold fish, too. For getting rubber baits running through these zones, look at adding weight.
Lead solder can be easily wrapped around the shank of one (or more) hooks. It’s a wooden jerkbat trick that works every bit as well on baits like Shadzillas, Bulldawgs and SuperDs. In a pinch, bell sinkers can also be added to a lure’s split rings.
During the offseason, I’ll take a selection of egg sinkers from 3/4 to two ounce and customize them, for weighting tubes. Simply lay the sinker lengthwise in a vice and saw it halfway through, using a hacksaw.
Pry the gap open enough to fit around the lure’s internal body harness or hook shank, with a screwdriver. Slip in on, clamp it closed and you’re good to go. This trick works especially well for vertical jigging tubes around moving water or on windy days, when the boat is moving quickly and you need a heavier presentation.
Hook ‘em for keeps: Being made from soft, bulky materials, pike and muskie plastics really demand not only a jarring, solid hookset, but the smart sizing and placement of your hooks, too. Many strikes occur towards the front third of the lure, making the front hook really important. Upsize it, and keep it razor sharp. Regular contact with rock is part of the game, in fall.
Keep a file handy, along with several replacement trebles. Also consider burying one prong of the tail treble up into the base of the lure’s tail. Windy conditions can make these baits tumble when casted, and securing the rear hook like this helps the long, flowing tail(s) from fouling.
I’ve found that this also keeps the tail hook in an excellent hooking positon while sweeping or popping the lure through the water.
The large, single hook found along the back of lures like Shadzillas and Bulldawgs really divides anglers, in terms of its value. Some feel it’s every bit as important for hook-ups as the belly hooks are. Other anglers feel it hurts their hooking percentage, offering opposing force away from the hooks under the lure.
Try both. The top hook can be bent downward into a semicircle, allowing you to add a small swivel and attractor blade instead. Or it can be cut off completely. The keel-effect of the top hook helps many lures track straighter through the water without rolling, so be sure to water test your lures before removing it.
Bottom line: You don’t need to break the bank every time you want to hit the water. With a little ingenuity and a little hardware, you can make your baits last and they can remain effective for a long time.