Deep Dive: How To Use Diving Plugs Offshore - The Fisherman

Deep Dive: How To Use Diving Plugs Offshore

USMC SSgt Andrew Hooguis with a 200-pound bigeye caught on a Nomad DTX 200.

“A deeper dive into this class of below-the-surface trolling lures for the offshore fishery.”

It seems that there are new trends in trolling lures periodically that work for a few seasons for the chosen designers and their disciples, until the rest of the fleet jumps onboard and the fish get “educated” to the potential dangers from their saturation and overuse. Japanese feathers, cedar plugs, Green Machines (the original Sevenstrand Psychobeads), Hawaiian abalone lures, shallow diving lures (Braid Marauder and Yo-zuri Bonita), squid bars, green machine bars, Iland and Joe Shute parachutes/ballyhoo combos, wide/side tracker bars, Bombers, etc.

If you look through your own offshore arsenal, I’m sure you can find a few that may not have seen a spread for a couple of seasons, though the effectiveness is still there for those who know the inner secrets of color, spread placement, and trolling speed over sea conditions.

One type of lure that has found a consistent spot in my trolling spreads for over three decades are diving plugs, loosely defined as any swimming lure that does its seductive dance below the surface. Historically, my use of these has been limited to the shallow divers like the Yo-Zuri Bonita and Braid Marauder, Braid Little Speedy and Braid Runner. I have caught hundreds of tuna, dorado and wahoo on these proven lures, with honorable mention to a host of other hungry denizens of the deep including white marlin, makos, threshers and even striped bass.

Robert Crawford shows off a 40-pound yellowfin taken on a diving plug on the offshore grounds.

I have employed deep diving plugs like the Mann Stretch, Yo-Zuri S minnow and Bomber CD30 with limited effectiveness, probably due to my own extended learning curve and bad habits, but my view of deep divers changed radically last year with my exposure to the relatively new Nomad Design DTX 200 Minnow. If there’s a better deep diver on the market right now, I have yet to come across it, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a deeper dive into this class of below-the-surface trolling lures for the offshore fishery and learn their inner secrets.

And why should shallow or deep diving plugs be a part of your offshore arsenal? The short answer is that you are minimizing the distance that fish have to travel to get to a prospective free meal. You are bringing the buffet to them, via special delivery. Fish feel safer in their own three-dimensional aqueous element, with plenty of escape routes available in case of unexpected danger.

In offshore waters, often times the hunter becomes the hunted and venturing all the way up to the surface makes them potentially easy targets from down below with limited departure options. Plus using these deep diving lures is simple; just snap them on the line and drop ‘em overboard. You don’t have the hassle of downriggers, heavy ball weights or planer boards, and the like. You can be down at 25 to 30 feet in a matter of seconds with minimal effort.

While great care should be taken to both the fleet and the commercial operation itself, trolling deep diving plugs in close proximity of an offshore dragger can pay big dividends.

Out Of The Box

Some of the first-gen deep diving plugs, easily identified by their large protruding metal or plastic lips, include the Rapala Magnum 220, Mann Stretch, Bomber CD30, Yo-Zuri S Minnow among others. Depending on your trolling speed, sea conditions and the diameter of your outfit’s main line, they’ll get you anywhere from 10 to 25 feet below the surface on a consistent basis. They have been around for the past few decades and they have put a lot of fish in the boat. I recall one trip to the Hudson where we came upon a huge pod of 15- to 25-pound plus dorado that were circling 10 feet down under a lobster pot buoy that weren’t responding to any of the usual offerings (live bait, squid, bucktails, chunks, nothing).

Of course the charter crew was getting antsy and demanded that I conjure up some sort of magical solution to the problem. I had everyone reel in the trolling spread and grabbed a pair of blue mackerel colored Rapala Magnum 190s out of the box and put them in the transom corners on light International 12 outfits spooled with 30-pound mono and attached to flatline clips. The first pass netted a pair of respectable teen-sized dorado; then the second, and then the third. After a half dozen circles around the marker, we had boated 10 mahi from 12 to 18 pounds, and then the inevitable happened.  On the very next trip around the high-flyer, a wahoo of unknown size was attracted to the melee and decided that it wanted a piece of the action.  After a blistering 100-yard initial run, the cobalt torpedo chopped off the light 50-pound mono leader and escaped to the unknown wearing my Rapala on the side of its head. When my charter group asked me to simply, “just put another one on the line”, I sheepishly replied that the remaining Rapala was it, the last of the Mohicans.

We spent the next hour trolling around that pot, picking dorado here and there, culminating the effort with a 43-pounder that was the largest that I’ve ever pulled from the Hudson.  I remember that fish like it was yesterday, since I still have a scar on my left ankle from it driving the aft pair of twin 8/0 hooks trough my leg as it hit the deck. As you can imagine, that was no fun at all with the dorado going ballistic with the hooks still embedded in my ankle. I had to cut those out myself after we iced the big mahi and that effectively killed the second Rapala, the metal lip mangled like it had been in a three-car collision.

Battle scarred Nomad Design DTX 200 Minnows; they take a licking but keep on ticking off bigeye and wahoo to bite back.


Yo- Zuri S Deep Diver

Shallow divers include myriad Australian and Pacific Rim lures like the Yo-Zuri Minnow, Braid Marauder/Little Speedy/Braid Runner, and Black Jack. Although the early versions were hand-crafted from balsa wood and used a flat surface on the lure’s upper surface like a planer to bring it down to depth, next-gen versions of these lures were typically formed from either hard foam formed around a lead core, or a hollow plastic form filled with BBs inside the cavity for added ballast and sound attraction.

The latest design to hit the market that has totally captured my attention is the Nomad Design DTX deep diver. The Nomad Design Minnow family is unique in the world of deep diving lures in that it features their patented Autotune system that gives the lure the ability to perfectly center itself at the tow point. This allows the lure to always swim straight, with increased diving depth and the ability to tow them at increased troll speeds. This combination makes it unique in the world of offshore trolling minnows in that it will troll up to 10 knots and still do its seductive Aussie Outback dance as expected, allowing you to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.

These lures are practically bullet-proof with a super heavy duty construction and finish that is top shelf and should endure dozens of bites from large predators with minimal damage. Some of the color selections are really striking and I picked up a half-dozen of these over the winter and look forward to seeing what they can do this season.

When employing the larger, heavier deep divers in your spread you’ll need a more robust rod to handle the strain of running these high-drag lures directly off the rod tip, and of course fighting a big canyon tuna.

When, Where & How

Any time that you can put a presentation in the strike zone, you are more likely to get a hook-up and that’s the concept around the deep diving lures in that you’re bringing the action to the targets. If your echo sounder shows action at 50 feet for example, it’s going to be a challenge to convince these voracious predators to leave a great party down below and take a ride upstairs for who knows what. The one feature that I like about the new Nomad Design DTX Minnows is their ability to go deep, 35 to 50 feet. Riding at this depth will put a target on these minnows for every pelagic in the neighborhood that’s riding the thermocline down below looking for a quick score.

Like most offshore trollers, I continuously tweak my trolling spread to get maximum action.  This season, my preferred setup for my 228 EdgeWater CC (no outriggers) will be to run Sterling Wide Trackers outboard of the third wake, a pair of standard 6-inch squid bars tight in the third wake, a Yo-Zuri bird/Rainbow Psychobead (green machine) way back in the seventh or eighth wake and then a pair of deep diving Nomad Design DTX 200 Minnows down deep right off the transom attached to flatline clips. The concept of the four bars making a ruckus on the surface is to attract attention from pelagics down below, but I’m hoping that whatever is cruising in the depths will take note of the deep divers working at 35 to 40 feet and hit them first.

I could have used a few Nomad Minnows last season when large schools of 40- to 120-pound yellowfin took up residence in 35-fathom areas of the NY Bight for the better part of August and September. Initially, we were trolling them up nonstop near the draggers, with the smaller 30- to 50-pound tuna responding to squid bars on the surface, with larger 100-pounders cruising down deep in 50- to 80-foot depths under the youngsters where they’d only take jigs or live bait. As we neared the end of September, I could see pods of fish down at 50 to 60 feet behind the draggers, but they simply would not come to the surface.  If that happens this season, the Nomads will hopefully be a game changer.

When blind trolling the edge, lobster pots, wrecks or drop-offs, adding a pair of shallow or deep-diving lures tight to the transom makes sense and will be a nice changeup to your surface lures. Some savvy anglers put the shallow divers right under their squid bars to compress the proximity of the two and illicit strikes on the deeper lure. Once again, it’s the shortest path for predators from down under to get a free meal.

When all else fails, try trolling a couple of deep divers around the offshore lobster pots to see what lurks below.

Your Tackle Compatibility

Depending on the type of diving lure that you have selected, it might put some excessive strain on your rod and reel to get it into the game. When shallow divers are on the menu I can usually get by with a single speed outfit, like the Avet JX or Ocean Max 09 lever drag reels spooled with 40- to 50-pound braid and 50-pound mono or fluoro leader. Matching these to an appropriate 5-1/2 to 6-1/2-foot boat or trolling rod will get the job done. I’ll typically run these to AFTCO Roller Troller flatline clips to keep the line’s entry angle as horizontal to the water as possible. The clips take the majority of the strain off the rod tip, giving it a moderate bow. When a fish strikes your lure, the clip sounds off like a rifle shot and gives you a millisecond of warning that your reel is about to start singing your favorite song. If the reel doesn’t engage, it’s a classic swing-and-miss and at least you know that fish are in your area and it’s time to circle back and try again.

When employing the larger, heavier deep divers in your spread like the Mann Stretch, Bomber CD30, Yo-Zuri S Minnow, Rapala Magnum or the newer Nomad design DTX 165, 200 and 220 Minnows, you’ll need a more robust rod with a heavier reel to be able to handle the strain of running these high-drag lures directly off the rod tip, which is akin to pulling a small parachute behind the boat. This is where 30- and 50-pound class tackle is the first choice; but I’m going to give it a shot this year with my PENN 12 VISX, 16 VSX and 20 VISX outfits.  My PENN International V 30-80 and 5-1/2-foot rods should be up to the task of handling the consistent strain of dragging these lure down into the depths at 6- to 9-knot trolling speeds. What I like about these one-piece rods are their hard Slickbutts that don’t compress in the rodholders and are easy to remove after the strike; the long forward grip for extended leverage; plus the roller stripper and roller tip that takes some of the strain and friction off the running line.

One of the author’s recommendations for rigging is a crimped connection to mono leader when attaching diving lure.

In terms of the rigging nuances, we could probable spend an entire article on how to rig and attach diving and deep diving lures to your main line for maximum effectiveness.  But there are few proven methods that have worked best for me.

Direct Connection:  One of my son’s (Lt. Chris) best friends from the sandbox, USMC Staff Sergeant and Suffolk County PD officer Andrew Hooghuis, has been having a huge amount of success catching 200-pound plus bigeyes in the Hudson Canyon using a direct connection to his Nomad Design DXT 200 Minnows. This involves the simple process of attaching the snap swivel directly to the flexible eyelet of the Nomad plug and dropping it overboard.  Andrew typically trolls 30W or 50W type outfits with topshots of either 80- or 100-pound mono. This wouldn’t be my first choice of a connection, but what do I know? I’m not catching bigeyes in the canyon with Andrew’s frequency or consistency; his process is simple and it works.

Wire Leader:  When wahoo are in the area and chopping off my mono leaders and expensive lures, I’ll resort to substituting an 8-foot length of black vinyl-coated 7- or 49-strand 100-pound wire leader to solve this problem. I’ll crimp a ball bearing swivel on the attachment end of the leader and a simple coastlock snap on the lure end. Not only will this method save lures while taming wahoo (mako and threshers too), if tuna are hungry enough and there’s a lot of competition for the food, albacore, bluefin, yellowfin and bigeye will also hit this wire line rig.

Mono Leader:  If the mono topshot of your trolling outfit is a bit heavy (100- to 130-pound mono), consider using a separate shorter 7- to 10-foot long mono leader in the 60- to 80-pound range. This move increases the risk of a cutoff due to line abrasion, but it also enhances the strike ratio if the fish are leader shy on the day of your trip. Making this connection is easy; simply tie a 100-pound ball bearing swivel on the connection end and a 100-pound class snap swivel on the lure end. Make sure that the type of snap that you use connects easily to the eye of the lure.

I wouldn’t make the leader too long, since it will be more of a challenge to get that tuna or wahoo into gaffing range if there’s too much to handle and requires taking wraps. For added attraction, I’ll add a small shell squid or rubber skirt over the snap swivel to the main line, which hides it and gives the appearance that the diving lure is focused on chasing the squid and is not aware of the big tuna lurking down below. If I am constructing a separate mono leader for my diving plugs, I’ll usually fashion it from Hi-Seas Quattro camo leader material which has a tendency to disappear more readily in the briny.

Fluorocarbon Leader:  For those perfectionists among us, making a separate leader of fluorocarbon material is yet another way to attach the main running line to your diving lure. I have never been a fan of the clear fluoro, since I have personally observed tuna shy away from it due to the fiber optic or sparkle effect of light running down the line. Pink fluoro has less of a tendency to telegraph light and if I were going to fashion a rig out of fluoro material, this would be my first choice.

As we get into the 2022 offshore season, adding a few shallow or deep diving trolling lures to your spread might make the difference between a slow pick and non-stop action. With the price of fuel these days, make every trolling mile count.



“Lock And Load” Spring Stripers On Raritan Bay

This “spot” was “burned” decades ago, and it just keeps on getting better!


Giving Back: Oystering On Delaware Bay

More oysters, cleaner water, and perhaps some better fishing.

Talkin’ Tautog: A Concern For Blackfish?

It's not always how to catch blackfish, but how are the blackfish.