Rigging Cedar Plugs to Catch More Tuna

Cedar plugs consistently produce tuna bites on the troll. But if the hook-set is not perfect, anglers sometimes lose fish.
Adrian Gray

A cedar plug is one of the most consistent producers of tuna on the troll. Its classic short, stalky profile and radical darting actions flat out draw strikes from yellowfins, bluefins, blackfins and bonito. Most anglers prefer to position a cedar plug far back in their spread off a center rigger.

I’ve taken tuna on ­cedar plugs while fishing mid-­Atlantic and Northeast waters, and in the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas and Florida Keys. Yet, in my opinion, they have one main flaw: dropped hooks and lost fish.

Popping for tuna is all the rage today. But what happens when fish are scattered and down deep? Drop back a modified cedar plug in your spread.
George Poveromo

The Dropped-Tuna Conundrum

Several years ago while trolling off New Jersey with captains Joe Trainor and Trey Rhyne, and again with them in the far reaches of the Bahamas, cedar plugs were part of our trolling spreads. In both destinations, they out-produced the other lures and baits for yellowfins. While we did put meat in the boat and capture great television footage, several tuna were lost due to dropped hooks. It was on the latter Bahamas expedition that I began noticing the cedar plug’s Achilles’ heel: a not-so-stellar hookup-to-in-boat ratio. There had to be a fix for this issue.

Focusing on the hook shank’s position inside the rear of the plug, I reasoned that when a tuna chomped down on it, the body could prevent its jaws from fully closing. Maybe the hook was never finding solid purchase. The three of us discussed ideas to better our catch ratio, which resulted in going with a larger hook and positioning the hook outside the plug’s body. These modifications surely helped. However, an even better mouse trap would soon come into play, thanks to a gentleman from Norwalk, Connecticut.

Read Next: Speed-Trolling Lipless Plugs for Bluefin Tuna

Score a boat full of tuna with a simple cedar-plug change.
George Poveromo

A Solid Solution 

I recalled a television episode I filmed off Norwalk one fall, where Rick Mola, of Fisherman’s World, and I diamond-jigged for fall-run striped bass and bluefish. A veteran offshore pro, Mola was upset by the number of striped bass deeply hooked by the trebles, so much so that a few weeks prior to my arrival, he experimented with replacing treble hooks with a single inline circle hook.  

After a few trips, I received a call from an excited Mola. He claimed how not only did he catch more stripers on this setup, but also that not a single one was throat- or gut-hooked. We ended up having an incredible trip. The trick to making this work involved not rearing back to set the hook, but rather continuing to wind in a steady fashion and allowing the circle hook to set by the fish running off in the ­opposite direction.

Borrowing Mola’s find, I was convinced this would be the best way yet to rig a cedar plug for maximum success. And I was right, as our hookup ratios proved consistently better than the standard cedar-­plug setup. Not too unlike setting the hook with a circle-hook diamond jig, the trick is to keep the boat moving along at the same trolling speed. Before grabbing the rod, let the forward motion of the boat and tuna stripping off line for several seconds plant the circle hook. A well-set circle hook rarely drops, leaving the risk of losing a fish to a broken line, bad gaff shot or shark predation. 

Back to the inline circle-­hook diamond jigs, the same concept works when jigging for tuna with most irons. 

Rig the Circle-Hook Cedar Plug

Components include a cedar plug, spacer beads, up to 100-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader, and an inline, 3X-strong circle hook sized to the fish being targeted. In this example, we used a 10/0 VMC circle hook. Easy-to-follow steps:

Crimp or tie the inline circle hook onto the leader.

Add spacer beads to the leader; the exact number is based on keeping the hook fully exposed and away from the influence of the body. (A prime position is at least an inch behind the rear of the plug. If more ballast is desired, use similar-size egg sinkers instead.)

Complete the rig with an overhand loop knot—or a sleeve and crimp loop—at the leader’s opposite end. The snap swivel on the actual main fishing line will attach to this.

Cedar plugs draw strikes from yellowfins, bluefins, blackfins and bonito.
George Poveromo

Old Versus New

Compared to old-school cedar plugs, color has now become a major choice among anglers. Do dark-colored cedar plugs resembling small tuna and bonito draw more strikes? Or mahi-hued ones when they’re prominent throughout local waters? What about those bright hues and wild colors that resemble squid? Welcome to the current mindset with cedar plugs. The answers, of course, come down to personal choice and your gut feeling. 

Lest we forget, one of the main reasons cedar plugs were revered as tuna lures was scent. Old-timers would soak a plug in menhaden oil, which the durable yet porous wood would absorb. In my opinion, scents contributed heavily to the productivity of cedar plugs.  

With today’s lineup of painted cedar plugs, the scent advantage has been eliminated; these highly polished, showroom-like bodies can’t absorb oil. Is this a big disadvantage? 

Here’s your science-fair project: Try trolling old-school menhaden-oil-soaked plugs with modern ones in the colors you favor. Which presentation catches better? Over time, the findings may (or may not) surprise you. 

The post Rigging Cedar Plugs to Catch More Tuna appeared first on Salt Water Sportsman.

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