By Capt. Mike Hogan
In New England, “offshore” can mean different things to different anglers depending on where one is fishing. For some, “offshore” may mean chasing tuna, marlin and mahi mahi in the warm waters of the gulf stream. Others might define offshore as trolling big squid rigs in cooler water for blue fin tuna while others still, fish “offshore” with heavy casting gear, a enjoying the growing trend of blue water casting fueled by technological improvements in gear. However, all the aforementioned anglers have one thing in common: Their game can be improved with soft plastics! Namely, Soft Stick Baits.
Now I’m not saying to short sell all your offshore lures on eBay but I strongly believe more fish are caught with some big softbaits on board.
Hogy Soft Jerk baits have several competitive advantages:
- 1. They easily match the hatch with smaller forage
- 2. They stay in the strike zone and
- 3. Their action is unbeatable.
Though soft jerk baits are most noted for their effectiveness in casting situations, there are also a few trolling tricks that are amazing and thus, they are extremely versatile.
Finicky Fish? Get Your Casting Gear Out!
Have you ever been in a situation where tuna where busting everywhere but behind your boat??? This frustrating situation is often due to smaller forage. A big problem when your trolling big green machines, squid rigs or any other conventional trolling lures 5 times the size of what your quarry is eating. Well, in matching the hatch, it is time to downsize!
If you haven’t tried casting when finicky fish have presented themselves on the surface, now’s your chance. The obvious answer to many is to switch over to the many metal lures on the market due to their small size. But soft baits are often over looked and offer a few important differences their hard cousins.
Firstly, soft baits, when rigged un-weighted, have neutral buoyancy, which adds value as the soft bait can be presented in the strike zone with a slow retrieve where metal baits will sink straight down. Thus, you will have the opportunity to try varied retrieval speeds until you have dialed in exactly what the finicky school is looking for. In a nutshell, you’ll have more time in the strike zone!
Matching the Hatch
OK, so you’re in the zone now. Now let’s discuss matching the hatch. Often breaking fish that are hard to catch are eating small sand eels, tinkers or spearing. (To name a few!) What do all these baits have in coming? Narrow silhouettes. What else has narrow silhouettes? You got it, soft baits, which come in infinitesimal numbers of colors. I say keep it simple though. Bone, Chartreuse, Amber, Bubble Gum and Black will have you covered. Size? What’s running? I tend to favor 10” soft baits, as they are small enough replicate the local forage at the time, but big enough to cast. If large oceanic sand eels present themselves, I’ll switch over a 14inch Hogy Original.
So we have matched the hatch and we’re fishing in the zone but let’s not forget the ultimate merit of soft baits. They’re soft! While soft baits may not be exact replicas out of the package their action is unbeatable. In other words, it’s about the wiggle! Soft stick baits are the major players here. Whether your ripping them through the water, fishing them slowly with short twitches or simply letting them drop, their action just doesn’t quit. Since the best soft baits come “unrigged” you as the angler can rig your bait to meet the need of your situation exactly. If the fish are on top, you can fish them “weightless.” Sub surface situations are accommodated with just a little weight while deeper scenarios are well suited for jig heads.
Even if I intend to spend the day trolling, I always have two outfits rigged and ready to go; one rigged with a 10” double wide Hogy for casting distance and the other with a tandem rigged 14” Hogy. (Both baits weigh over 2 ounces) In terms of the outfit, it must be blue water tough: 300yards of 50lb braid, 60 to 80lb flourocarbon leader section and a drag capable of over 15lbs of pressure. On board the Hogy, I use Van Staal VS250s loaded with 50lb braid, 300 yards of it to stand up to a big fish on the move.
A Few Scenarios
Breaking Fish that Won’t Eat Anything
Get out those soft baits. Approach the school carefully and lead the fish. Do your best to judge where the school is going and cast in front of it. In this situation, I’ll use the 10” Hogy or 10” Double Wide Hogy for castibility rigged with a single heavy-duty 7/0 hook in the nose. A drop of super glue will help the hook stay in place through out hard casts on heavy gear. Start with a slower retrieve with short twitches. If this doesn’t work, pick up your retrieve. Sometimes they want it ripping across the surface.
If Mahis are your game, start small and work up. I prefer 7” Hogys rigged Texas style on an Owner 7/0 offset worm hook in this situation. Texas rigging soft baits in this scenario can be invaluable. If your casting to bigger fish, 10” Soft Baits rigged in the same manner with an Owner 11/0 offset worm hook will get the job done. Weedless is key here. If you get to close to structure, you’ll be less likely to snag. If fishing a weed line it’s needless to argue otherwise as sargassum will catch onto almost anything. For some reason, amber and bubble gum have been the most effective for me on mahis. If the school becomes weary, try switching colors.
Fish in the Spread
Snap Snap! A rod goes off but just one fish is hooked. Why not grab your ready rigged outfit cast out perpendicular to the boat; fish the swing as the bait swings astern due to the boat’s forward motion. Simply twitch the bait and reel slowly. I have caught countless fish in this situation. Big soft baits make great ready action pitch baits! In California, they call this technique, “fishing the slide.”
We’ve all seen it; a fish following in another hooked fish. A ready rigged pitch bait can mean two fish instead of one.
Anglers for years have thrown live eels to sunning white marlin? Granted we see fewer “whites” these days but why not be rigged and ready with a fast action pitch bait. In this situation, I prefer the 14” Tandem rigged Hogy in Black, Chartreuse or Amber.
Marking Fish On Sonar
If you’re witnessing big fish on your recorder but seeing no signs of life top, pop a soft bait onto a jig head and let it drop.
You’ll notice how many different ways we have rigged soft baits in the above scenarios which highlights another major attribute to soft baits offshore (inshore for that matter too!) Basically, with the same soft bait, you can customize your lure to meet the demands of just about any situation you may encounter offshore. At Hogy Lures, we have based our whole rigging platform around this concept. We call it the Hogy System with the idea being that due to the ease of rigging soft baits, you can be rigged and ready to go, literally in seconds. A major bonus in rapidly changing situations. In this line of thinking, I would argue that soft baits are the most customizable lures in existence. Highly versatile…