How-To Rig and Tune a Plug-Cut Herring for Trolling.

A Nice 3-Year Old Chinook Salmon that took a Blue-Label Plug-Cut Herring in the Coos River Bay.  Fall 2010.Overview

Fall Chinook Salmon fishing in Southern Oregon's estuaries can be absolutely fantastic with fresh ocean bright fish moving in and out on the ebb and flood of the tides.  One of the most important factors in catching Fall Chinook Salmon is the bait.  Good quality bait with the proper spin (or roll) on the the bait will drastically increase your hook-ups.


Several different leader variances for trolling with plug-cut herring exist.  What they all have in common is they have a front hook for holding the bait and a trailer hook for connecting with the Chinook.  The front/lead hook is a single point octopus style hook and can range in size from 4/0 to 1/0.  Depending on the size of the bait we prefer to vary the size of the lead hook from a 2/0 (for purple and blue label sized bait-fish) to a 1/0 hook (for smaller bait-fish).

Trailer hooks vary from single point 5/0 and 6/0 hooks to size 2 and 2/0 treble-hooks. When weeds and debris are thick in the water, a single point hook will keep the debris accumulation down.  Treble-hooks provide superior hook-ups but will collect more leaves, grasses, and weeds than single points.  We try to use treble-hooks whenever possible.

Use 25 lb to 40 lb test monofilament leader.  If you know the size of the baits you will be using then tie the leaders with a fixed front hook.  If you plan on changing bait sizes or threading your baits on, then tie the leaders with a sliding front hook to adjust the length of the trailer hook.  The trailer hook should ride near the tail of the bait-fish, or slightly behind the tail.

A Healthy and Bright Jack Salmon.  Notice the Beads and Spinner-Blade on the Leader.  Jack Salmon are Agressive Biters. A pre-tied salmon mooching leader can be used if you cannot tie your own leaders.  Also, most tackle stores sell a 'Rogue Rig' with beads and a spinner blade.  You can use the 'Rogue Rig' with a plug-cut bait with success.  The spinner-blade will trigger aggressive strikes and can be used to get a strike when the 'bite' conditions are slow or changing.

Jack Salmon are aggressive biters are will often take the baits with spinner-blades.  Check out the picture and look for the beads and spinner-blade on the leader.

Bait Quality

Having the freshest, brightest, firmest bait in town will make a huge difference in your hook-up rate.  Salmon are scent and sight orientated hunters.  The bright flasher and bait will catch the fish's attention and the bait scent and spin will seal the deal.

Cutting the Bait

The spin of the bait, or how the bait rolls, is a very important factor.  Some people would say the most important factor to catching Chinook with plug-cut herring.  The spin is provided by the angle cut into the bait by the plug-cutting jig.  Where you place your top hook will also affect the bait's roll.

The bait can be cut in two fashions.  Both cuts result in one side of the bait-fish being longer than the other with an angle across the face of the cut.  The long side of the cut bait is where the lead hook is usually placed.

The first cut is the top-down cut.  Place the fish in the cutting jig with the belly down and the head towards the hole in the jig.  Cut through the back and out the bottom of the bait-fish.  Use a gently sawing motion with a sharp knife to create a clean edge that is not torn or ripped-up.  Check out the video to see the top-down cut.

We call the second cut, the side-cut.  Lay the bait-fish on its side with the head near the hole in the cutting jig.  Make sure the belly is facing towards you.  Cut through the fish from one side to the other.  Again, use a gently sawing motion with a sharp knife to create a clean edge that is not torn or ripped-up.  Check out the video to see the side-cut.

Guts-In or Guts-Out?

Once cut, the plug-cut bait-fish will have a small cavity filled with, guess what, guts.  These should be removed for proper spin and water flow.  The guts can also tear the belly of the fish out, ruining the bait.  When using frozen bait, Team aFISHionados will leave the guts in the bait for the first 15 to 20 minutes of trolling.  Then on the first bait-check, we will remove the thawed guts with pliers or a knife and vent the baits if needed.  If using brined, salted, or fresh baits we will remove the guts immediately and vent the bait during high currents or fast trolling conditions.

Venting the Plug-Cut Herring

Many people will vent the plug-cut bait-fish.  This allows water to pass through the bait and reduces water drag and resistance.  The bait can be trolled faster through the water as it will not rip off the hooks as easily.  It also helps to prevent the belly from ripping out of the bait.  Simply cut out a small chunk near the vent of the fish.  Another method is to cut the vent larger from the inside to the outside of the gut cavity.

Front Hook Placement

The lead hook placement in the cut of the bait-fish will determine the speed of the roll as well as how tight the bait spins.  imagine the vertebra as being the 12 o'clock position of a clock.  To the right of the spine are the 1, 2, and 3 o'clock positions and to the left of the spine are the 11, 10, and 9 o'clock positions.

With a top-down cut, the 1, 2, and 3 o'clock positions will be on the long side of the bait.  Take the front hook and go through the bait from the belly to the back, next to the spine.  Go into the bait as far back in the gut cavity as you can.  Then, come out of the back of the bait in either of the 3 'clock' positions.  We prefer to run the top-down cut in the 1 o'clock position.  This gives the bait a nice tight and fast spin.  Check out the video to see how the top-down cut spins.

Rig the side-cut in the same fashion as the top-down cut with the spine being the 12 o'clock position.  Again, the 1, 2, and 3 o'clock positions should be on the long side of the bait.  Again, the 1 o'clock position is the preferred Team aFISHionados method.

A plug-cut bait, either cut, can be made to spin using the 11, 10, and 9 o'clock positions.  This creates a spin that has a different action.  We prefer to use the 1, 2, and 3 o'clock positions but make sure and try a few baits using the short side of the cut.  Find out which roll works best for you and change things around until you find a method that works for you.

Tuning the Bait

A bait that is not spinning on the first attempt can be tuned to spin properly.  Also, the baits will loosen up over time and need a tune-up to get their rolls back.  As the bait is used it will soften.  Where the front hook was originally placed will become a large hole and the hook will need to be adjusted.  This is also a sign that you will need to cut and rig a new bait soon.  To tune the bait simply change the clock position of the front hook, or switch from the long side to the short side of the bait-fish.


Adding scents to the herring is a good way to increase your hook-ups.  Either inject your bait-fish with your favorite scent (herring, sardine, or tuna oil) or liberally coat the bait with the scent.  Oil injector systems can be purchased at most tackle stores.  For outside coatings use a sticky UV enhanced gel that will stick to the bait.

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