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March 18, 2013

A Lure Maker's Creed

Factors and Techniques to Help Ensure Success
lure makers creed
Pat Ford


A very good friend of mine and a great teacher, Hawaiian Capt. Mike Rand, once said to me, “Marlin fishing is a simple thing that we make complicated, only to realize just how simple it is.” No truer words have been spoken.

As an avid fisherman and lure maker, I made it my goal to understand how to be more successful when trolling for billfish, and then use that insight to help make lures that produce the best possible results. I’ve been lucky enough to fish in some of the best lure fisheries in the world and to learn from some of the best lure makers and captains in these places. I combined their experience with my own ideas, gained from my time running boats, working cockpits and designing and making lures. There are many theories regarding lure fishing that get bandied about, some of which just provide food for thought and others that seem to actually make a difference out on the water.


However, some would argue that the practice of trolling lures really has evolved quite a bit since I first started fishing. Those of us who take it seriously have come a long way from the old “drag ’em and snag ’em” days.



I think it’s helpful to break lure fishing down into the factors that we can control and those that we can’t. We can control where we fish (within reason), what sort of lures we fish, how we arrange the lures in the spread, how we rig the lures and what drag settings we use.

We can’t control whether the fish are on the chew, or the weather and sea conditions we may face on any given day.

leadering black marlin
Yes, big fish eat lures — it’s just a lot harder to get back! Watch this sequence in video at

Since there’s no need to fret over things I can’t change, I like to focus on the factors that I can control, and to direct my efforts toward getting an aggressive bite. It’s much harder to hook a fish on a lure when you don’t get an aggressive bite out of the fish. When I fished in Bermuda this past summer, the fish were uncharacteristically lazy on the bite. We got a few committed crash bites that blue marlin are normally associated with, but most of the fish we saw would take a halfhearted swipe at the lure, pull it out of the rigger and then start to follow. That’s a frustrating situation, but it is also the type of situation where some sound thinking about lure patterns and rigging can make all the difference in your day.

It almost goes without saying that you’ll get your best results if you fish where the fish are, but many recreational fishermen don’t take the time to find out where the fish are holding before committing to a fishing trip. They simply go where they found action and success during their last trip. But as we all know, a lot can change over just a few days, let alone in the weeks and months that pass between most recreational trips. The end result is often a large fuel bill and no bites! So, a gentle reminder: Try to find out where the fish are biting as best you can before leaving the dock. Either spend some time rubbing elbows with the local charter captains or use a good fish-forecasting service, like ROFFS or Hilton’s, before leaving the dock.


The Spread

marlin plugs

Most lure spreads are run this way, with the larger lures up close to the boat and the smaller stuff farther back. Fleet likes to mix up the lure action on each side. (Dave Ferrell)

I believe that if I can get my lures running in the right spot and at the optimal speed, they will raise more fish, and, in turn, I’ll get the chance to get more hooks into the fish. I pay a lot of attention to the action of the lures I plan on running. Experience has taught me that I will have the most success if I can get the fish to tell me what they want to eat on any given day. On some days, the marlin seem to only want to eat the splashy, noisy surface lures. On other days, the fish bite deep-diving lures more readily, or sometimes only the lazy running lures fished out of the long rigger prove to be successful. Therefore, I set up my lure pattern around these three lure actions, as they all have a place and a purpose. It’s all about giving the fish a choice. Make sure there are ample menu options available, but remember that the secret is how you put the menu items together!

I like to run my lures in pairs. The first pair of lures are my corner lures, and these are generally my largest lures. The pair is made up of an aggressive surface lure on one side and a deep-diving lure on the other side. I then take this same rule of pairing lures with opposite actions and apply it to the next pair of lures on the riggers. These lures are generally smaller.

Finally, the last lure in the spread is my shotgun, or stinger, lure, which is the one farthest away from the transom. In this position, I tend to run something smaller in size with a lazy action, such as a bullet, like my Bonze Darter. Everyone in Hawaii pulls a tuna jet down the center, and for that reason alone, more 1,000-pound marlin have probably been caught on a bullet lure with the action of a dishrag than any other lure.

This shotgun lure represents the last option in the spread, and as I mentioned earlier, you never know what the fish will want to eat that day. The shotgun lure stands out clearly in its way-back position. That lazy, quiet lure way out in the back looks like an easy meal to a marauding marlin!

The reasoning behind pairing lures with contrasting actions is to trigger that aggressive bite. I believe the contrasting actions make the menu items look more appealing to our target species. The splashy surface lure provides a contrast to the deep-diving lure running on the opposite side, sometimes triggering a bite on the surface lure. On other days, the deep-diving lure gets all the action, assisted by the contrast provided by the noisy surface lure. For example, I have found that even if the fish comes up on the splashy lure and sits behind it, the fish will often see the easy, deep-diving target opposite and race across and aggressively attack that or fall back onto the smaller lures farther back in the spread. Sometimes the marlin will fall all the way back to the lazy lure on the shotgun, which is just screaming “Eat me!”