River Fishing Tips 
Pulling Plugs or Back Trolling
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Hook Setup                     Green Gold w/ Red Bill                       Wiggle Warts                        Pink Netting

Willies Worms

Willies Worms are a crank bait made by the Producers Corp. that come in 3 sizes, although the middle size is what we'll concentrate on here.  The plug or crank bait has a small built in rattle and a large bill that will dive to at least 8 feet in a slow or medium current (under 3 mph).  It comes in a variety of Steelhead catching colors with the gold ones generally being best.  Oh, I just about forgot to mention the bill also has 2 eyelets to attach the fishing line for shallow and deep diving.

This bait shines when heavy current is not present and can produce fantastic results when used under the right circumstances.  This is an outstanding choice for late fall and winter fishing because of the amount of action produced in a tight vibrating wiggle and sharp angle, diving towards the bottom.  My best colors in the Willies are black and gold, red and gold, and pink over a white pearl with a black bill.

 Features on Willies

3 things come to mind here, first being it runs true out of the box and don't require bending or messing around with the eyelet to get it to run true.  This is especially important when driving your plugs straight down the river through tight, snag infested fishing holes on the Big Manistee River.  Second, this lure is price right, generally under 3 bucks even at "up north prices" which are always high.  Third, this is a high quality lure that is put together by sonic waves that seal the bait in a fashion that don't make leaking a problem like Wiggle Warts.

Drawbacks to Willie's

This lure comes with the lousiest hooks on the market and will produce disappointing results is Steelhead are on the agenda.  However, this can be fixed in a manner that is far superior and a better way by going to a single number 2 round bend hook that is run off the first hook hanger.  To modify this bait leave the split ring on and add a extended spilt ring from Luhr Jensen and Sons with a light wire number 2 round bend treble.  See the above photo for details.  
Here's a tip that should save you losing fish to a faulty product.  Do not buy the egg shaped extended split rings, under pressure a Steelhead will open them up and escape with your hook, factoid!   Buy the older style like on the Luhr Jensen Hot Shots. 

Wiggle Warts 

Wiggle Warts and Hot "N" Tots are crank baits made by the Storm Lure Company which was recently purchased by the Normark Corporation, makes of the Rapala.  Let's talk about the Warts first, they come in 3 sizes or at least used too.  The smallest of the Wart family is the Wee Wart.  I used to use a lot of Wee's back when we had low water periods at Tippy Dam about 10 years ago.  

Now, I mainly use the Wiggle Wart during March, April or during periods of High Water on the Big Manistee River.  The Wiggles will handle a heavy current or water speed approaching 5 mph.  The Wiggle Warts have an internal rattle and come in a huge variety of fish producing colors.  My best colors in the Warts are red and gold, rainbow trout, green gold-red bill (called the pirate), pink shrimp and metallic green crawfish. 

Draw Backs to Warts

The major problems that have faced my using Warts is the lack of quality that went into the manufacturing process of this bait.  First, they leak from a lousy glue job when they piece the 2 halves together after they come out of the plastic construction mold.  Also, Warts need to be tuned meticulously to run true and this is a major pain because of the tiny eyelet on the bill.  

Up until just recently, they came with number 6 trebles installed which are way to small for large game fish such as Steelhead.  Now they come with number 5 wire round bend hooks which is quite an improvement over the poor number 6's.

Magic Marker Tips

Magic Markers have long been used by knowledgeable fisherman.  Carrying these in all the colors is a cheap way to insure success if you don't happen to have the exact same color the fish are chewing on.  This is a way to make sure you do.  As you can see by the above photos I've doctored the Willies with a black bill and added more red to the green gold Willies Worm.  I first came by this tip in 1977 from Doug Steinhoff, First Mate aboard the "Sea Dog" that runs out of Leland, Michigan and is Captained by Steve Otterbien.  Make sure when purchasing the Magic Markers their the permanent kind.  In a pinch a color change can be accomplished with Magic Markers, so be sure to have every color marker on hand.

Reading Likely Water

Reading likely water just requires common sense and a little judgment.  The current will always flow in the line of least resistance and will follow the outside bends of the river, and you can bet anywhere there's a strong current it will be deeper there (in most cases).  Because the current keeps the flow channels washed out, slower water will fill in with sand and sediment.  Snags and underwater log jams will cause turbulent swirling water tipping you off before your plugs get hung up.  Plus, watch out for vee's heading downstream, they'll show you where a deadhead is.  

All fish will hold in and around log jams because of the cover, a hiding area and a natural ambush point for prey.  Keep in mind, if it's Steelhead you're after they can be found anywhere's if they're migrating.

Steelhead will spawn in late winter into May and that when they'll be gravel orientated, or working the redds as it's referred to.  Salmon will be doing the same thing in the fall months.  These species do this to bury their eggs under the gravel where a fairly strong river flow will (hopefully) keep the eggs oxygenated.

Hot "N" Tots

When I started this article in December of 2000, I would have said you tune a "Tot" by bending the attachment clevis in the opposite direction if it wasn't running true or straight down.  Since began this explanation, Normark the Rapala people have bought out the Storm Company who made the Wart and Tots.  The new Tot barely resemble the older metal lip job and now has a more streamlined body and a plastic bill.

I haven't fished with the new 2002 model and I'm as much in the dark about them as you are.  This I can say with confidence, when the water temperature falls below 38 degree the half ounce Tot has killed numerous Steelhead in medium to high water conditions.

Plug Plucking

Buy a plug plucker, it's two 5 foot pieces of aluminum tube that twist lock together.  It has a cork screw tip thing and will generally pay for itself the second day you use it.  When, not if your plug becomes snagged in the bottom, simply run this un-snagger down your line and poke around, most of the time you'll be able to free up your 5 buck bait and save mucho $$$$$$$.

12/1/00 Michigan Sportsman & Capt. John King Copyrightę2000