What Are Fishing Plugs Used For? (Beginner’s Guide)

Fishing with artificial lures is a common alternative to using livebait. There are many types of lures, and they can come in a whole range of different styles, sizes, shapes and colors. One type of lure used is a fishing plug, you may wonder what fishing plugs are and what are they used for.

Fishing plugs are used to lure predatory fish in to striking. Fishing plugs are a type of hard artificial lure and are used to mimic the natural prey of the predator fish. The two types of fishing plugs are surface and sub-surface plugs, and come in an array of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Lures are an effective way to attract a bite and catch fish, with different types of conditions suited to different types of lures such as plugs. In this article we shall look at fishing plugs, the different types of plug you can use and how to fish with fishing plugs.

What Are Fishing Plugs?

Fishing plugs are a type of lure, usually made from plastic or wood. They are designed to mimic the natural prey which predatory fish feed on such as baitfish, crayfish and frogs. Sometimes called crankbaits, fishing plugs come in different shapes and colors to best match the natural food sources.

Fishing plugs can be effectively used in saltwater and freshwater, and while most often associated with bass fishing, plugs can attract a number of other predatory fish, including:

  • Pike
  • Salmon
  • Zander
  • Pollock
  • Mackerel
  • Sea trout
  • Tuna

Fishing Plug Designs

Fishing plugs are designed to be cast out and reeled back in. As well as their look, plugs use movement and the sounds they make in the water to attract fish. Although you would normally try to match the shape and color of the lure to the natural prey of the fish you are targeting, you can also buy plugs in less natural colors like bright pink or orange.

When using fishing plugs, anglers may try different colored lures at different depths to find what works best on a given day. Fishing plugs can be designed with multiple sections as this is felt to better replicate bait movement within the water but plugs with a singular section or two sections still remain popular with anglers.

You usually have two or three hooks attached to a fishing plug, helping to ensure you hook the fish regardless of the angle at which it strikes the lure. Traditionally these hooks have been treble hooks, the barbs of which anglers may look to crush to help make removing or releasing the fish back into the water that much easier.

Different Types Of Fishing Plugs

Surface Plugs

As the name suggests, surface plugs are used to bait fish on the surface of the water. Also known as topwater plugs, they float on the surface of the water to imitate prey. The body of the plug tends to be hollow and has treble hooks on either end of the body of the plug.

Once cast, a surface plug is worked back and forth with the rod, and the movement plus the sound the plug makes in the water will attract predatory fish. This style of fishing is sometimes called ‘walk the dog,’ as you move the plug back and forth to attract a bite.

This is a particularly good type of plug for beginners as you can see the strike since the lure is sat on the surface of the water. However, surface plugs do require calm conditions to optimize their value. When the water is more disturbed it becomes harder for fish to see the movement of a surface plug on the water.

While these plugs can still be effective during the day, early morning or evening time can often be the best time to use surface plugs. A black fishing plug is a good generic color to use as it helps create a silhouette on the surface of the water to attract a predator. However, having different colored plugs to match the natural food source or surrounding foliage can also be very effective.

Sub-Surface Plugs

There are two types of sub-surface plugs depending on the depth you want to fish. Diving plugs are designed with lips or vanes to help the plug sink as you retrieve the lure, after initially floating when cast. The larger and steeper the lip the further the depth the plug will sink as you retrieve it. The plug will also wiggle about as it moves through the water to help attract predatory fish.

These types of plugs are often called crankbaits. Plugs designed for deep diving when fishing deep channels and drop offs can be weighted as well as having lips. The second type of sub-surface plug is designed to operate just below the surface. These work well when fishing inshore for fish such as redfish and tarpon.

Types Of Surface Plug

1. Crawlers

Ideal for calm water, crawlers can have a large faceplate to help create a wake effect as you move it back and forth to help attract predators. Creepers are a variation of crawlers, and have wings attached to penetrate the water and give off a swimming effect.

2. Surface Wobblers

Another plug which is excellent on calmer water, it has a tail to help produce a wake effect behind the lure. This plug has two sections, and the rotating effect of this sees it make clicking noises as you retrieve the lure.

3. Chuggers

This plug produces a chugging sound as you move it back and forth across the water. The plug has an indented cup on its face which catches water when you jerk the lure, producing the chugging sound that attracts the predator’s attention.

4. Stickbait

This plug is ideal for the ‘walk the dog’ style of lure fishing. This plug does not have a lip or tail and does not require the angler to jerk the rod to create an effect or noise. The plug rests just below the surface and will wobble from side to side when retrieved.

5. Rotating Tail

This is a plug which can work well in slightly choppier conditions as well as calm water. The tail section of the plug has a blade which rotates in the water to make a popping sound to attract predatory fish like trout.

Types Of Sub-Surface Plug

1. Floating Minnow

This is a versatile and popular sub-surface plug. They are designed in shape and color to resemble minnows and have a small lip so they can be used beneath the surface.

2. Jerkbait

These are buoyant plugs which use an internal weight system to float when at rest. An angler creates motion by jerking the rod when reeling in the lure, causing an erratic motion similar to wounded baitfish. They are good for luring a fish which is following but yet to bite.

3. Sinking

Although designed without a lip, these plugs will still sink for sub-surface lure fishing. Gliders and twitch are sinking lures. The twitch lure is retrieved with some fast pulls on the rod to cause the motion that will attract fish. The gliders need timed, short pulls which allows the lure to glide through the water with a side-to side motion.

4. Trolling Plug

These plugs float at rest and use the flattened design of the head to sink for trolling. These are light plugs which have an erratic wobble beneath the water to help lure predatory fish.

How Do You Fish With A Plug?

Fishing plugs can be used to fish for many species of fish and in a number of different locations, including sea fishing, in-shore fishing, on-shore fishing and in rivers and lakes. The type of fish and the conditions will determine the type of fishing plug you use, but regardless of the plug the basics of fishing with a fishing plug stay fairly constant.

A surface plug is ideal in calm and clear water where a predatory fish can get a good visual on the lure. It is also the option when fishing from the shore in shallow water, as it will bob about on the surf and attract nearby predators.

Sub-surface plugs or divers are the usual go-to option in deeper waters, such as when you are sea fishing. Anglers may set-up more than one rod, each containing a different plug which can sink to a different depth to find where the fish are feeding. Having different shaped and different colored plugs is also useful, as if one plug is not getting a response, another style might.

Tying Your Line

The line you use with a plug will often be a personal preference between mono and braided, although some anglers prefer mono when using surface plugs as it stretches more than braid. Breaking strain will depend on where you are fishing, but 15lb can be a good starting point as it will cope with larger fish, but still be light enough to allow you to cast a decent distance.

A leader of fluorocarbon may be used to reduce the visibility of the line, helping to avoid spooking the fish. This could be around six foot in length, tied to the main line with a bead chain. Some anglers will say you should use a swivel to avoid wear and tear on the leader. However, a swivel is not essential as the main movement of a plug will be side to side and not one which rolls over.

The knot is quite key, though. If you are tying the leader directly to the lure, the knot should be slid as centrally, and as far back on the eye of the plug as possible. A high knot should help with the side-to-side movement of the plug. This can be tested in the water before casting, and if the action of the plug is not right you can adjust the knot accordingly.

Therefore, if the plug tracks to one side rather than providing the required side to side effect, you can move the knot toward the side to which the plug is tracking. This may take more than one adjustment but getting the movement of the plug just right will better replicate the natural prey and is more likely to attract predatory fish to the plug.


As previously discussed, you want to cast beyond the target area in order to retrieve the plug toward the fish. As you retrieve the fish you can pull or tweak the rod to emphasize the movement on the plug. If you are fishing with a surface plug from the beach you will want to cast as far as you possible can before reeling the plug back though the surf.

If you are fishing on a river for trout, you will still want to cast upstream, behind the trout. However, as trout take a fancy toward wounded prey you may want to hasten the retrieve rather than steadily reeling the plug back. This helps generate the more erratic movement of a wounded fish, which can also be achieved by sharp twitches of the rod.

Reeling In Plugs

Although casting is similar for different types of plugs, how you retrieve the plug to attract the fish will depend on the type of fish you are targeting and the water conditions. When using surface plugs you may retrieve the lure more slowly, presenting what seems an easy prey to a predator.

However, if this is not working you can try reeling the plug in quicker to see if the additional noise and wake will attract the fish instead. As with a lot of fishing, what works on one day may not work the next, so an open-minded approach and the willingness to change tactics is required alongside a good degree of patience.


The faster you reel in sub-surface or diving plugs the deeper they will sink. When fishing with these types of plugs, you should also stop reeling in intermittently to allow the plug to float up toward the surface, mimicking small baitfish. This process can be repeated until you get a bite or until you try deeper depths or move on to a new area of water.

Similar to surface plugs, you can twitch or move the rod from side to side to add more action on a sub-surface plug. Once again, this can help give the impression of a vulnerable, wounded baitfish, and is more likely to pique the interest of a predatory fish.

Trolling Speed

Trolling is a popular method of fishing in open water with plugs, and works well when targeting bass, salmon and trout. When fishing from a boat the speed at which you’re trolling can be key. However, it can be a case of trial and error to find the right speed at which to present the plugs before the fish takes an interest.

You may find you catch lake trout at a slower trolling speed of up to 2.5 kph compared to rainbow trout which you may catch while trolling at 3.5 kph. There is no perfect science operating here and you will have to experiment at different trolling speeds before finding one which attracts the fish.

In the case of salmon, which like to swim fast, you may find a faster moving plug does the job, whereas the salmon might not show any interest in going after a slower moving plug cruising along at a more sedate pace.

If a faster speed affects the movement of the plug and causes it to roll over rather than move from side to side, you could try using a larger plug or changing the hook to a larger one to act a bit like a keel and correct the movement of the plug.

Final Thoughts

Fishing plugs are plastic lures used to mimic the food source of predatory fish, these plugs can be used when fishing on or below the water’s surface. There are many different types of fishing plugs, and they come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors to match the food sources of the fish.