By Paul LeFebvre | 04/23/2013

I find myself prepping gear and converting the jet boat in a state of frenzy as improving reports of spring salmon echo throughout Oregon. Whether you live in Eugene and fish the Willamette, in Portland and fish the Columbia, or perhaps near the Southern Oregon coastline where the Rogue can be one of your go-to streams – spring salmon fever is in the air!


Checking gear and laying things out for upcoming trips I’m reminded of our huge success last year, and that over the last few decades “plug cut” fishing has become a popular salmon fishing technique here on the Southern Oregon Coastline and the entire Pacific Northwest. The technique is employed widely trolling in the ocean, estuaries and rivers for kings and silvers. Cut plug fishing is also effective sitting anchor in current having speeds between 1.5 and 3mph.

Plug cutting baits imparts a lifelike “wounded” baitfish characteristic to the bait while simultaneously allowing a heavy stream of scent to permeate through the water column. Fish are both attracted to the action and the scent.

In my opinion, little has been done over the last decade to refine the basic technique.  Article, after article, and video, after video, have been published on the “art” and the “basics” of cut plug fishing. As a reader you may want to search Google or YouTube to learn the general basics as we will not discuss too many of those details here.

On the other hand, we will discuss two things that have happened over the last two years, both have changed my thinking about cut plug fishing and provided us with further options for this technique.

First, color can be added to the bait using Pautzke Fire Brine. Second a new fishing innovation called “Sure Spin” hit the market that greatly improved spin consistency and bait longevity by introducing a helmet that solves many of the observed problems with cut plug fishing. These are the two changes that for me constitute “A Marriage Made in Heaven”. By combining Fire Brine and Sure Spin together I seem to catch more fish. In addition, I am now able to use cut plug fishing on anchor without having the bait degrade in the first 10 minutes.

One partner of the Marriage is Pautzke’ Fire Brine

Typical cut plug rigging, as such, usually employs a double hook rig, sometimes called a mooching rig, where the hooks are either fixed or sliding. (Again I encourage more reading on the subject) The front hook is located through the cut part of the bait at the say 1 o’clock position on the long side. The trailing hook often penetrates the tail. Various options abound on where the top hook should go, but suffice it to say that different locations impart a wider or narrow cone angle to the spin.

While everything appears happy at this juncture the baits do not last well! After trolling the bait for some time the hooks wear and enlarge the holes in the bait. Often the skin and meat at the top of the cut portion of the bait folds backward even though there is a vent cut near the anus for water to go through. Shortly after running the cut plug rig the spin is no longer what we thought it would be and the bait has torn, probably without our knowledge. At least in my mind, this lessens my confidence in the rig and for a long time I would go back to whole herring or anchovies to eliminate the uncertainty.



Fire Brine is effective at helping the problem of bait degradation by toughening the bait. If we just wish to toughen and not add color we can improve their performance by brining baits in Natural Fire Brine. It has been my observation that Fire Brined cut plug baits hold their spin for far longer time periods than un-brined baits. Additionally, Fire Brine is available in a multitude of colors. I prefer Blue, Chartreuse, Green, and sometimes Red. As we have reported in a previous blog, the use of Fire Brine to add color has been an effective tool for us, particularly in the ocean.



Sure Spin is a product that came on the fishing scene about a year ago. The product was re-engineered and reintroduced by Steve Lumsden of Angler Innovations.  Sure Spin solves the problem of wearing out the cut face of the bait and provides a constant angle that assures the same spin for longer periods of time if not indefinitely. The use of the sure spin helmet allows the bait to be presented with no impingement of hooks into the bait and therefore no extra holes to wear during presentation. The Sure Spin helmets are available in a range of sizes, and colors, therefore baits not previously considered, such as small anchovies, can be used with the “cut plug” technique.

Spin can be adjusted by rigging through various holes in the face of the Sure Spin and flow can be improved by drilling a small hole in the face of the Sure Spin Helmet. This allows water to flow through the cavity of the bait and to exit through the vent. As the bait loses its initial scent… the baits’ chest cavity can be refilled through the Sure Spin helmet having the effect of re-charging the bait and utilizing the cavity of the bait as a scent reservoir!! Additional rigging options are available at the website referenced above. In addition, there is no need to be precise on cutting the angle of the bait because it is the Sure Spin helmet that is setting the spin and the resulting cone angle of the bait.

The Marriage Made in Heaven

Ah yes the marriage!! We have had very good success fishing in the in the ocean and the estuaries of the Southern Oregon coast by combining the properties of Pautzke’s Fire Brine and Sure Spin. Using the color options we can match up the Sure Spin helmet color closely to the dye in the bait. Rigging the hooks with a dental rubber keeps them close to the bait and allows the bait to be free of any penetrations.


Dressed up for the Wedding…..

I brine my baits for a minimum of 24 hours and often longer. I have found that the color “saturation” is effected by the brine time. Saturation can vary from just a hint of the color on the fins and tail after a few hours to the whole body dyed to a deep color if the baits are left in the brine for a day or so.  Below is an example of final “Married” bait rigs for three color combinations after brining for 24 hours.


Fire Brine and Sure Spin, three baits brined 24 hour each. Left = clear… Center = Chartreuse…Right = Red

Last year was a great salmon fishing year for us as we were often referred to as the “River Rats” in the ocean. No kidding, 20 fish days were common and later in the year the fish were quite large. I know that the “Marriage Made in Heaven” was responsible for improving our time in the water with effective bait action and variations in color schemes kept the fish off balance and attracted to our offerings. At times the baits would last so long that we just changed them because it made sense. I recommend that you try this combination as a part of what you have in your salmon fishing arsenal. While there is no set answer to fishing techniques this refinement of the basic cut plug technique can, and does, pay off.


Tight lines from the Southern Oregon Coastline.