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Hot Shot Mania – Using Plugs to Create the “Wall of Death”

February 7th, 2011 @

Rule Number 1

Hot shot’ing or pulling plugs has long been a secret weapon for guides to aggravate steelhead and salmon into striking by invading their holding areas. Placing two or three plugs 50 feet exactly behind a drift boat or power boat and slowly backing straight into the path of the steelhead holding area sounds simple, right? Not!

First of all, not all plugs are created equal. In a perfect world, plugs would be tuned perfectly. The experienced Hot Shot’er knows that some plugs run straight, others won’t fish at all without tweaking. Plugs must be tested before fishing them. Plugs must run perfectly straight under high water pressure. Similar to a kite that needs to be tuned to fly correctly, plugs that are tuned properly will run deeper and present an irritating action in front of the intended target.

Standard, from the factory plug.

Standard, from the factory plug.

How do we do this? A few tools are necessary to properly tune plugs; a pair of split ring pliers for changing hooks, needle nose pliers for tweaking your favorite plug or hot shot and a file for your treble hooks. I use a small bastard file to keep my hooks razor sharp. Sharp hooks will set deep and bring more fish to the net.

First, place plug in the water in a down stream position. Pull slowly in a straight line. Watch your plug to make sure it is not tracking left or right and has a “good” wobble straight down the middle. Repeat the process against the current at twice the speed. If the plug runs “true” it is ready to fish. Remember, this process needs to be repeated after every violent strike by a steelhead or salmon.

During the tuning process if the plug veers to the right use needle nose pliers and tweak not turn the bill section slightly to your left. If the plug runs to the left of center tweak or torque to the right, this should make your plug swim straight in fast currents. Remember treble hooks can and will weigh heavy on one side or the other. Look at your treble hooks to make sure to counter-balance the front treble with the back treble. Two of your prongs on a treble will weigh more to one side.

Modified plug with bead chain and Siwash hook.

Modified plug with bead chain and Siwash hook.

I use single Siwash or single circle hooks with a bead chain or a barrel swivel and split rings. I have found that salmon and steelhead can roll and pry themselves loose by getting leverage on the treble. The spinning motion of a bead chain prevents this from happening.

Rule Number 2

Now you are ready for the “Wall of Death”. First, the plugs need to be set at exactly the same distance away from your boat. Plugs should be exactly 50 feet behind a drift boat or 60-70 feet behind a power boat. Keep the plugs running in a straight line directly in front of the fish’s position. Don’t sway left or right of your intended target. By keeping your plugs tracking in a straight line will create an offensive position to push fish into a fight or flight attitude.

Ted caught this 20-pound steelhead on a Brad's plug.

Ted caught this 20-pound steelhead on a Brad's plug.

Look for narrow channels or the top end or tail out of most rapids. Never overlook a boulder patch. Summer fish can be found in faster water, winter fish tend to use side currents resting and waiting for the spawn. Your local sporting good supplier should have a variety of shallow and deep diving plugs for about any presentation. I recommend calling around for a guide on the river you would like to fish, to cut to the chase. Make sure the guide is an expert in the method you are trying to learn. Ask for references.

A properly tuned plug can be tipped with a shrimp tail or smelly jelly can be smeared on the bill section of the plug as an added attractant. At the end of the day, remove your plugs from your boat and wash them thoroughly with lemon Joy dish soap to get the stink off.

Rule Number 3

Sorry, but I usually have nine or ten rods in my boat, pre-rigged and ready for any water that is not conducive to pulling plugs. Now, let’s get back to the deadly effect of Hot Shots! For shallow water, shorten your lead a bit so the plug isn’t digging into the rocks or gravel quite as deep. For deep water action, sixty or possibly seventy feet of line should work well in channels or cut bank areas.

Modified barrel swivel and circle hook.

Modified barrel swivel and circle hook.

Rule Number 4

A well tuned plug will out-fish any color on the market. That being said, metallic plugs such as; blue-pirate, green, blue or purple are high producers along with gold, copper, nickel and pink.

When the river turns to “steelhead green” or off-colored water, I have had good luck with the cop car (black, white and red) and sparkle with an orange or chartreuse tail. Bright red and orange plugs will produce along with white. So, basically, having a wide variety and selection of colors is the key.

Rule Number 5

Scented plugs will get hit more often than non-scented plugs (in my opinion). My favorite scent is “Crawdaddy” by Smelly Jelly. Anise or shrimp oils work well also.

Rule Number 6

Be sure to keep your rod tip(s) low. Remember we are trying to keep plugs near the bottom of the river. If using a limber rod be sure to set your drag a little tighter than normal to create a strong hook set.

Rule Number 7

Don’t be afraid to look around to see what is working for other fishermen. At that point all bets are off, “while in Rome do as the Romans do” if they are catching fish on certain colors be ready to switch your plugs. I believe sometimes the sunlight on the water or lack of will create different results on any given day.

"Riverside Russ" shows a client how to get results using the Hot Shot technique!

"Riverside Russ" shows a client how to get results using the Hot Shot technique!

To sum it up; tune ’em up, put them out even, keep those hooks sharp, travel 1/3 of your water speed through holding areas, don’t rush it and FISH ON!

For more information contact Riverside Russ at the Riverside Motel & Guide Service in Orofino, Idaho by phone at 208-476-5711 or email info@theriversidemotel.com.

Category : Steelhead Fishing Tips

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Contact Info

Riverside Guide Service
11360 Highway 12
P.O. Box 1369
Orofino, ID 83544

Tel : (503) 871-1339
Email : russiott@yahoo.com