Get your Mojo working

The Mojo leadhead jig, weighing up to 5 pounds, is a heavy lure needed to troll deeply for winter stripers off the N.C. coast.

Two years ago, in a meeting room at a motel near the banks of Buggs Island Lake, I watched incredulously as Dewey Edwards, a striper guide from Clarksville, Va., picked up and admired what appeared to be a bucktail jig that had gotten a rather large injection of steroids from Jose Canseco’s medicine chest. Dewey is no small guy, but the big jighead appeared almost too big for his hands, with a huge hook more suited to bluewater fish like yellowfin tuna, wahoo or marlin than the 10- to 15-pound stripers that were his bread and butter at Buggs Island.

And I was right, at least partly so. Someone had brought the lure to Dewey, who liked to occasionally sneak away from Buggs Island during the winter and head to Nags Head to take a friend’s boat out to troll for the giant ocean stripers that feed up and down the beaches of the Outer Banks from December through February.

The enormous leadhead weighed about 2 pounds and was standard gear for veteran fishermen who pursue stripers outside Oregon Inlet. Clark couldn’t find them around Clarksville, so some enterprising soul had brought him a couple.

Now, I learn that 2 pounds is nothing compared to some of the enormous leadheads charterboat captains troll for stripers during the winter. Think mega-leadhead. Think 4 or 5 pounds. Then think 40-pound stripers.

The big leadheads, which are sold under a number of different names, including Swede’s Mojos or Bug ’em Bait’s Thunderbugs, are the building block for the “Mojo rigs” that catch thousands of stripers a year at the Chesapeake Bay and along the N.C. coast.

They’re dressed with mylar or bucktail and look not so much like a trolling weight as a huge sea witch with a hook attached behind the head.

According to Devin Cage, a striper-fishing expert who runs the Poacher charterboat out of Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, the Mojo rig is fairly simple.

It consists of the running line tied to a 3-way swivel, with a short leader tied to the heavy lead lure, and a longer leader tied to another lure — either a parachute lure, a swimming plug, an umbrella rig or a spoon.

The jig serves two purposes: it helps sink the entire rig well below the surface as it’s trolled, and it’s there to entice strikes from big stripers.

“I think it was developed at the Chesapeake Bay,” said Cage (252-473-6108). “You have to use a lot of lead to get a lure down deep, and somebody figured, if you were gonna have a piece of lead down there, it might has well have a hook in it.”

Cage said he typically trolled a half-dozen Mojo rigs behind his boat at a time, and most of the lures are 48- or 60-ounce models. That’s what it takes, he said, to get the lures down deep in the heavy current that Outer Banks fishermen often encounter. And fishing something that heavy takes heavy tackle, of which he’s got plenty.

“We’re using big gear — 50-pound tackle, 180-pound Power Pro (monofilament) — gear that’s big enough to handle that type of rig,” he said.

“Somebody coming down here, your typical fishermen with an outboard (motor), wouldn’t normally have the tackle to use it, but they can use the smaller version, the 1-pound lures. You scale it down to suit your needs.”

When Cage fishes a big Mojo lure, he normally threads on a 12-inch shad tail. That makes for a lure that’s almost 16 inches long — a bait that’s plenty big enough to draw strikes from 35- and 40-pound stripers.

He’ll often drop a 1-pound Mojo lure and rig back well behind the boat.

He likes whites and chartreuses, going to the whites in clear water and chartreuses in dirtier water.

“I think it’s the whole rig that works,” Cage said. “A big rig like that helps you cover more of the water column, more of the area. If I’ve got six of them out there, I’m cutting a big path out there, and you can get a bite doing that.”

Cage trolls at between 4 and 5 knots, working around schools of baitfish and stripers he finds with his electronics and by watching birds work.

“I look at my speed the whole time; if you’re going faster than 5 (knots), that’s too fast,” he said. “If you’re slower than 2 knots, you’re not moving. With my motor idled all the way down, I’m trolling about 4.2 knots.”

The beauty of the big lures is that not only do they serve their main purpose — getting typical striper baits deep — but they also draw a lot of strikes.

Cage said he typically catches his biggest fish on the lures.

“They bite it all the time, especially bigger fish; they bite it a lot,” he said. “When it comes to stripers in the ocean, there’s something to the thing about ‘bigger bait, bigger fish.’

“The bigger your bait is, the better off you are, and the later you get in the winter, the better off you are.

“If I see a school of stripers and pull through them the right way, I’ll catch one on every hook.”

Carolyn Brown proved Cage’s theory Jan. 24, 2004, when aboard the Fishateer, a 30-foot Osprey out of Virginia Beach, she landed the state-record Virginia striper, a 63-pounder. The fish smashed a 32-ounce Mojo dressed with a 9-inch Storm soft shad trailer.

Cage said it’s important for weekend fishermen who head to Oregon Inlet to experiment with different trolling speeds and different rigs, finding the combination what works best behind their boat. He suggested the 1-pound lures in combination with long trolling plug.

“A 1-pound lure will do the same thing that our 48- or 60-ounce lures will do — you just have to troll slow and drop it back a little further,” Cage said. “If you’re hitting bottom, you’ve got it too deep. It’s not bad for it to touch bottom, but if you’re touching too much, you’ve got it too deep. You need to troll a little faster and bring it up more.”

For information about Swede’s Mojo lures call OuterBanks Outfitters (877-690-0004) or TW’s Tackle in Nags Head (252-453-3339); for Thunderbugs, call Bug ’Em Bait Co. (800-242-2493).

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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