How to fish with skirted lures


Skirted lures have been around since the dawn of fishing time. From roughly designed lead and timber heads with cloth and hair skirts to the extravagant and eye dazzling models produced today skirted lures have continually found their way into the tackle bags and boxes of many anglers and for good reason. These fantastic lures will account for a large variety of fish species and are an excellent option for fishing rougher sea conditions or covering ground. Fishing with hard bodied lures can be an extremely productive technique providing four key rules are followed.


1 – The right lure is selected – Choosing the correct skirted lures to use on the day requires some knowledge from the angler with regard to their target species. Knowing where to find your intended target and what it is likely to be feeding upon are crucial elements to all fishing success including trolling. Knowing where the fish are and what they are going to be eating is not always possible and this is the reason so many anglers carry so many lures with them. Matching the exact size, colour and action of the food source your intended target species is chasing could and will often mean the difference between success and failure when trolling with skirted lures. Research your target species and their feeding habits carefully and try to choose a style and colour of skirted lure that is going to replicate their favourite food source closest. It is always best to purchase a couple of each model you think may work and test these out in the field so to speak. Once you have found the model in which your intended target species is most fond of you can then purchase a few more. This saves ending up with hundreds of lures that you thought would work but didn’t really. Quite often price plays an important role in lure quality and performance, cheap, flimsy offerings are more often than not rejected by most smart fish or simply do not cope with the shear power of larger specimens. Skirted trolling lures or pushers as they are some times referred to are generally used to target larger game fish species such as Mahi, tuna and billfish and come in many various colours, shapes and sizes. These lures can be trolled at speeds of up to 20 knots and are the fastest running trolling lure available.


2 – The lure is used with the correct rod, reel and line – Choosing the correct rod, reel and line to use in conjunction with your skirted lure choice is extremely important! More often than not casting any lure small or large, light or heavy will take its toll on the angler eventually. Choosing the wrong outfit as opposed to the right one will not only severely decrease your chances of catching a fish but also frustrate and exhaust you both physically and mentally. The correct fishing outfit should be a shear pleasure to fish with even when not catching. Budget is always the first thing to take into consideration with a good rule always being to spend one amount once! Never buy cheap, flimsy tackle as it will simply not last and eventually let you down when you need it most, generally on a fish of a lifetime! Skirted lures are generally trolled on light, medium and heavy  lever drag, trolling outfits. These outfits are generally loaded with brightly coloured nylon lines to aid anglers in not only seeing the lines better but also provides a stretch factor which is important when trolling for powerful, high speed pelagic species. Nylon lines are a must when competing in most game fishing competitions around Australia! Braided lines may also be used for trolling provided a rod length or two of nylon or fluoro carbon leader is attached to the braided main line via a bimmini twist double and albrite knot. The reels drag must also be backed down so line will freely flow from the reel under no real pressure during a strike. Just enough drag to prevent line from feeding from the reel will suffice. Most trolling outfits are set into rod holders positioned into the vessels gunwales leaving the angler to relax and enjoy the surroundings whilst waiting for a strike.


3 – The lure is trolled in the correct location – Making sure the fish can see your lure by trolling it past the correct location is most important! Trolling skirted lures over structure or through and around current lines and bait schools is a sure fire way of locating most pelagic species from tuna to billfish. There are generally three variations of skirted lures that are categorised by their preferred trolling speeds, slow – 4 – 8 knots, standard – 8 – 12 knots and high speed – 12 – 20 knots.  All these variations are designed to perform with maximum efficiency when trolled correctly and are all capable of producing amazing results! Location would have to be the most important ingredient for trolling success as it is no use having all the right gear and being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Tides, moon phases, structure, currents, water temperature and boat traffic all play important roles in finding fish when trolling. Again some knowledge of your intended target species and its preferred habitat and food source will help to increase results considerably. For example when targeting small to medium billfish look for an area with around 60 – 150 meters of warm, clean water loaded with plenty of bait fish and good reef structure near by, stay away from full moon phases and try to fish around low or high tide changes around 9am to 5pm.

Positioning lures correctly behind a vessel requires the combination of a few key elements. Lures should be positioned into the spread according to three key rules, they are the right size, shape and colour for each position. Skirted trolling lures come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are designed to swim in many different ways. Very small to small skirted lures such as chrome jet heads are typically designed to be trolled at reasonably high speeds of around 10 – 12 knots and are made from heavy, metal or lead materials designed to keep them in the water during rougher weather conditions. Larger, resin head and soft headed pushers or skirted lures are designed for larger pelagic species such as tuna and billfish. Soft headed pushers are designed for smaller billfish and calmer sea conditions with the larger resin heads better for larger billfish and rougher weather. They are available in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colours all of which will work well on their given day. Skirted lures with longish, angled head shapes are generally designed to be run further back in calmer sea conditions with the shorter, angled and cup faced pushers being run much closer or in rough weather conditions. Skirted lures come in a myriad of colour patterns and designs trying to replicate almost everything that swims, most simply attract anglers and their credit cards while some do actually catch fish. The main rule of thumb is that the darker the lure is the darker the water or sky should be to match it against and the brighter a lure is in colour the clearer the water or brighter the sky should be when it is used. This is just a general rule of thumb mind you and trying different colours and shapes around on different days is also a very productive method of producing quality fish whilst trolling. Size is always important! Matching the size of the prey items your intended target species is feeding upon will increase your success rate immensely. Although this is generally the case in most trolling situations changing lure sizes will sometimes trigger fish into feeding when they don’t want to. Some strike at larger lure offerings due to territorial dominance while others are simply full of food and just feel like a smaller morsal to snack on. Trying new things when you are certain the fish are there will more often than not produce results!

Deciding how many lures to run behind a vessel is dependent upon two things, one, how many experienced anglers are on board and  two, the size of the vessel. As many as seven lures or more may be trolled at any one time depending on the size of the vessel and the amount of experienced anglers on board. However for those new to the trolling game the KISS principal – (keep it simple stupid)  might be slightly more appropriate. More often than not one or two lines in the water is more than enough for most trolling situations in both salt and fresh water locations around Australia. Trolling multiple lines requires that each individual lure be positioned at around 1 – 2 meters apart from each other to avoid tangles during tight turns. This is simply achieved by positioning the lure chosen to run farthest back into the spread  first before following suit with the rest. The opposite of this technique is used to retrieve the lures, closest lure to the boat first then the next closest and so on. Most experienced game fishing crews run a total of five skirted lures and at least one teaser whilst targeting large pelagic species such as tuna and billfish. These five lures are generally run in a similar pattern and are referred to as –

The short corner – the closest lure to the transom generally positioned at the base of the first pressure wave.

The long corner – the second closest lure to the transom, base of second pressure wave.

The short rigger – the closest outside lure to the boat, generally attached to an out rigger pole to distance the lure away from the propeller wash, base of third pressure wave.

The long rigger – the furthest outside lure from the boat, base of fourth pressure wave, again outrigger pole used.

The shot gun – the furthest lure from the transom generally run at the base of the fifth pressure wave with the use of a centre rigger pole positioned above the vessels cockpit.

A double barrel shot gun can be incorporated into this spread during calmer sea conditions on larger vessels allowing a total of six lures to be run at once, this spread is typically referred to as pandemonium and for good reason!

Pressure waves are the ever present swells that follow your vessel as you travel, there are generally three to five pressure waves in a boats wash depending on its size.

Pressure waves also play an important role in successful trolling spreads and act as huge mirrors to approaching fish. Hard bodied lures that swim beneath these waves do not need to be taken into consideration but skirted lures or pushers should be positioned at the bottom two thirds of these pressure wave to be most visible.


4 – The lure is trolled correctly – Trolling skirted lures with a natural and enticing action will increase strike rates considerably. Try to pay attention to the natural behaviour of the bait your intended target species is feeding upon and try to imitate it to perfection. Most blue water bait fish can be seen leaping from the water at high speeds in an attempt to elude predators, this is the motion that when replicated correctly will account for a very large variety of pelagic fish species. Imparting extra action into the lure can be easily achieved by twitching the rod tip during the retrieve or troll. Boat speeds should vary considerably when trolling different styles of lures. When trolling with skirted lures or pushers the main rule is generally if your lures are tumbling out of the water or surfacing every second or two you are going to fast and if they are not splashing every 4 – 7 seconds you are going too slow. Around 8 – 9 knots is typically preferred for skirted lure trolling for billfish with quicker speeds of up to 12 knots also producing excellent results during calmer sea conditions. Travelling with or against the sea will have an effect on your vessels trolling speed and should constantly be checked to ensure a steady speed is maintained. Travelling with the sea increases boat speeds considerably and causes lures to tumble out of the water and look extremely unnatural and heading into a sea can cause the boat speed to drop to a point where the lures have very limited, if any action at all.

Drag settings also play a key role when trolling and should be set hard enough to set a hook yet light enough so as to allow a fish to pull line from the reel once hooked. Having a mate pull line from your rod tip rather than pulling it straight from the reel yourself will give anglers a better feel and understanding of exactly how much drag they will encounter once hooked up! Drag settings when trolling for larger game fish species such as tuna and billfish should be set to one third of the lines stated breaking strain. For example if fishing with 24kg line for billfish set your reels strike drag so it will begin to loose line when 8kg of pressure is placed upon it. Quite often reel drags will be set considerably lighter when trolling baits for billfish as this allows the billfish to take a bait and swim away to swallow it without feeling any resistance from the rod and reel. Some anglers also prefer to adopt this approach whilst trolling lures for billfish also but I have personally found a greater strike, to hook up and land ratio whilst using razor sharp, single hooks and firmly set strike drags. Gunning or increasing the boat speed rapidly is also a popular technique for setting hooks on billfish when trolling and not only helps to maintain a secure hook up but also distances the billfish from the rest of the lure spread and avoiding treacherous tangles.

Once you have put it all together and are now staring at a buckling rod and screaming reel try to relax, calmly clear the remaining lines and settle into the enjoyable moment. Multiple hook ups can also be achieved by keeping the boat running for a little further after the initial hook up. This is a great technique for achieving multiple hook ups on tuna and billfish but is not recommended when targeting larger specimens due to severe line loss. When done correctly trolling can be one of the most productive and exciting forms of fishing available allowing anglers to target everything from the humble trout to the mighty marlin. It is a fantastic way of fishing rougher weather conditions or exploring new ground and is certainly a great technique to have up ones sleeve, enjoy.


Matching the right lure to the right rod, reel and line – Choosing the correct rod and reel to use in conjunction with your skirted lure is extremely important as the wrong combination will only result in frustration and failure. The hook size with which the skirted lure is rigged should also be taken into consideration when trolling as trying to drive an 8/0 hook in on 2kg line will generally result in a failed hook up or a bust off.


Heres a rough guide of what sized skirted lures to use with which rod and reel outfits when trolling –

1 Lure size – Ultra small – 1” – 3” – Rod and reel match – Super light 1 – 3kg, 6’ graphite or fibreglass rod and 1000 – 2500 class spin reel loaded with 1 – 2kg braided or nylon line. Hook sizes of 1/0 – 3/0 are preferred.

2 Lure size – Small – 3” – 6” – Rod and reel match – Ultra light 4 – 6kg, 6’ graphite or fibre glass rod and ultra small sized, lever drag  trolling reel loaded with 4 – 6kg braided or nylon line. Hook sizes of 4/0 – 6/0 are preferred.

3 Lure size – Medium – 6” – 8”- Rod and reel match – Light 8 – 10kg, 5’8” – 6’ graphite or fibre glass rod and small sized, lever drag, trolling reel loaded with 8 – 10kg braided or nylon line.  Hook sizes of 6/0 – 8/0 are preferred.

4 Lure size – Medium – 8” – 10” – Rod and reel match – Medium 10 – 15kg, 5’8” – 6’  graphite or fibre glass rod and medium sized, lever drag, trolling reel loaded with 10 – 15kg braided or nylon line. Hook sizes of 8/0 – 10/0 are preferred.

5 Lure size – Large – 10” – 12” – Rod and reel match – Heavy 24 – 37kg, 5’8” – 6’ graphite or fibre glass rod and large sized, lever drag, trolling reel loaded with 24 – 37kg braided or nylon line. Hook sizes of 10/0 – 12/0 are preferred.

6 Lure size – Extra large – 14” plus – Rod and reel match – Heavy 37 – 60kg, 5’4”, short stroker or 6’ chair rod and extra large sized, lever drag, trolling reel loaded with 37 – 60kg braided or nylon line. Hook sizes of 14/0 are preferred!


[What The Fish]