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This week's Feature Blog

Modifying Plugs

By: Mark Romanack

Custom painted plugs catch fish, no one is more aware of that fact than the guys at Fishing 411 TV. However, the author feels that the “custom painted” lure concept has gotten out of hand and he fears that anglers may be forgetting that factory colored crankbaits also catch fish.

My experience with fishermen is they are never happy. No matter how good the fishing might be they are always thinking about how it could be better. When it comes to fishing lures, it seems everyone is tweaking their lures in one way or another in an attempt to make them better.


Custom painted plugs are a good example of this behavior. While most manufacturers produce dozens of different color patterns for their crankbait line up, there are always going to be guys who want more.

When I broke into the fishing industry back in the early 1980’s, it was common for crankbait manufacturers to offer 100 or more different color patterns. Storm and Reef Runner are a couple of good examples of how offering too many colors can come back to haunt a lure manufacturer.

The problem with offering that many colors is some don’t sell and the ones that don’t sell kill the profit for those that do. This is true of the manufacturer, the custom painters and the retailer.

Recently, I was at a retailer in Michigan who was closing out a pile of “custom painted” crankbaits at deeply discounted prices. Just because a lure is “custom painted” doesn’t mean that particular color is going to catch fish any better than other “customs” or even the factory painted versions that cost about half as much.

To my way of thinking the idea of “custom painted” lures is a good one, but it has gotten somewhat out of hand. As the number of these lure painters continues to expand they are in effect competing with one another. It doesn’t take long and some pretty zany or off the wall color patterns start to emerge that don’t sell. Therein lies the problem of offering consumers too many options.

These days there is so much “buzz” about custom painted crankbaits you might get the idea that factory colors don’t catch fish. Nothing could be further from the truth.


I’m amazed how many anglers I come across who are angry that the paint on their crankbaits gets worn off. In the big scheme of things, paint on a lure isn’t going to last forever. The process of catching fish on a lure is going to damage the paint finish.

The good news is that even with the paint job seriously compromised, it has been my experience that the lure continues to produce fish. For those of you who have baits that the paint has worn off, I’ll gladly swap you out with new lures that have the paint perfectly intact.

Not every crankbait is a fish catcher. When I find one that is, I’m not going to worry about the paint finish looking a little rough.


Removing the factory supplied treble hooks and replacing them with after market hooks has been going on almost as long as crankbaits have been on the market. In the early days, replacing the hooks was almost mandatory because the factory supplied hooks were such low quality hooking and landing fish was challenging.

These days, most lure manufacturers are equipping their baits with suitable if not premium quality hooks. Eventually these hooks are going to get damaged and they need to be replaced.

My advice for decades has always been to replace damaged hooks with a hook that’s the same size and weight as the hook that was supplied by the factory. Crankbaits are delicately balanced baits. Experimenting with different hook sizes is like playing with fire because adding too much weight to a crankbait can literally destroy the action these lures were designed to deliver.

Of course, that advice falls on deaf ears, so my next piece of advice is that if you feel it absolutely necessary to switch out hooks on crankbaits, limit yourself to using hooks that are just “one size” larger than the factory supplied hooks. Going any larger on the hook selection is almost certain to produce a bait that doesn’t produce as well as it did when equipped with factory hooks.

When I do replace hooks on my crankbaits, I usually go with a wide bend hook rather than the round bend style treble hooks that are normally provided on crankbaits. Wide bend hooks such as the Trokar Extra Wide Gap TK949 do an amazing job of keeping the fish that bite buckled up.

The author is a big fan of wide bend treble hooks like the ones featured on this crankbait. Wide bend hook designs do a better job of keeping the fish that bite hooked up and ultimately finding their way to the landing net.

In a perfect world, all crankbaits would be supplied with wide gap treble hooks, but that’s not likely to happen any time soon. You see after market premium hooks are expensive and in an effort to keep their products competitive in the marketplace, some manufacturers (not all of them) are reluctant to use these premium hooks.

Most crankbaits are equipped with two treble hooks and a few come with three hooks. The third hook on a crankbait serves little purpose in my mind except to insure the bait will tangle more in the landing net.

Removing the belly hook on lures that feature three treble hooks will make it easier to unhook landed fish. To avoid destroying the lure’s balance, I recommend using a side cutter and removing just the tip of the hook points. This trick keeps the center of gravity balanced and eliminates the problem of bait tangling so badly in the landing net.

In some cases, removing the belly hook will be necessary to avoid the bait snagging so often. This is especially true when crankbaits are fished in contact with the bottom.

This nice chinook salmon hit a Mag Lip 3.0 that had the belly hook removed. When fishing plugs in close proximity to the bottom, often removing the belly hook will reduce snags and lost baits.

The problem is some lures fish fine with the belly hook removed and others go completely out of balance. I routinely fish the Yakima Bait Mag Lip 3.0 with the belly hook removed. Most of the time when I’m using this bait it’s crashing bottom for steelhead, brown trout, lake trout and walleye. Thankfully the Mag Lip will run great even with the belly hook removed. If the lure you’re using isn’t running right with the belly hook removed, try just cutting off the hook points on the belly hook and leaving the hook shank attached to the lure to create balance. If this doesn’t work, wrap a little soft lead wire around the belly hook shank to simulate the weight lost when the hook points were removed.

What about single hooks? A lot of guys swear by using single hooks in place of the traditional treble hooks. It’s a no brainer that a single hook is going to snag less than a treble hook. It’s also true that single hooks tend to stick and land fish better because the fish doesn’t have any leverage to tear the hook free.

The trick when using single hooks is to balance the lure using hooks that weigh as close as possible to the factory hooks that were removed. To get the most from single hooks on crankbaits, it’s important to add in a small barrel swivel between the split ring and the hook eye. This allows the hook to rotate and position itself with the hook pointed upright while the bait is working.

Some guys will use two split rings to accomplish the same goal when using single hooks, but the swivel is a cleaner way of accomplishing this goal.


The use of scent products on plugs has become commonplace these days. There is little doubt that scent products help create a scent stream in the water that can in turn deliver more strikes.

The down side to using scent products is there is a right way and a wrong way to use them. Before applying fishing scent to a lure, I first clean the lure with soap and water and a scrub brush. I use Lemon Joy because it cuts greasy residue nicely and dries odorless.

Once the bait is cleaned, I apply Pro Cure Super Gel to the lure. Super Gel comes in a host of different formulas made from popular bait species. My goal is simple, I try to use a scent product that replicates what the fish are naturally eating.

If I’m on Saginaw Bay in the fall and the walleye are chowing down on gizzard shad, that’s the Super Gel formula I’m going to use. Matching fishing scent formulas to the naturally available forage species in any given body of water is the fast track to scent fishing success.

After I’m done using a bait that has been treated with fishing scent, I again wash the bait down to remove the greasy residue left behind. This simple step keeps my gear clean and ready for the next day on the water.

Adding scent products such as Pro Cure Super Gel to plugs is a great way to create a scent stream in the water that helps to trigger more strikes. While scent products work, they work best when plugs are first cleaned to eliminate any unnatural odors before applying scent products.


When it comes to putting fish in the boat, crankbaits or what us ole school guys simply refer to as plugs are hard to beat. Experimenting with plug colors and/or rigging options is not a bad thing. Just keep an eye on common sense and let the fish decide which baits are winners.

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