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Terminator Tuning Tips

Every lure you buy should be tuned by you the first time you run it and checked frequently, especially after catching a fish. A lure may run good out of the box but usually it can be made to run even better. The following instructions apply to Terminator lures. They may also work on other manufacturers' lures but be careful with the ones made from softwoods (like cedar, balsa, and pine) because they might rip apart.

You've probably noticed some lure manufacturers claim their lures are "individually hand tuned". I will not insult your intelligence by making that claim about Terminators. The only truly hand tuned lures I am aware of were the old balsa wood Rapalas. They were tuned in a flow tank by little Finnish elves. The other manufacturers who say their lures are "hand tuned" are lying to you. If you want to believe them it's fine with me. If you want to catch muskies read on.

I want your Terminators to be the most productive muskie lures you have ever used. Here is how to get the most out of them.

Ideally Terminators should run with a very hard vibration and most importantly an erratic wandering, darting action. Muskies (and Pike) are notorious for following a bait, but not always striking. If the "prey" is just swimming along in a straight uniform line with no apparent reaction to the muskie, the muskie will often loose interest and quit following. In the real world preyfish are damn scared of muskies and try their best to get away. Your lure needs to imitate the escape tactics of the prey.

Escaping preyfish don't swim slowly, they kick it into high gear and swim fast. To swim fast they pump their tail hard, and the muskie can feel the vibrations. The more vibration your lure makes the better it imitates a fleeing preyfish. You control three things that affect lure vibration; speed, self-dampening, and tracking. Speed is the boat throttle; it's not lure tuning so there is no point discussing it here.

Self-dampening is tuning. When you get a new Terminator you might notice the screws that hold the hooks on aren't screwed in all the way. The tail seems a little unscrewed also. Well, that's not sloppiness in the Terminator Lure Factory. Terminators are made that way on purpose. When the hooks and tail hit the body they dampen the vibration. Screw them in tight and you will deaden the action. Ideally the hook screws should be 2-4 turns out from flush and the tail should hang down at more than a 60-degree angle. The tail should not be hitting the body when the lure is running. Incidentally, this is why some plastic jointed crankbaits like Believers work better when they get older. The tail and body joint wears and loosens up and the lure vibrates harder. Anyways, back to Terminators. Keep the tail and body hooks screwed out like they were when you got the lure. As long as threads aren't showing you will have full strength of the screws and the wood is so damn hard the screws can't possibly pull out anyways!

You might want to bend the body hooks to point the two upper barbs somewhat towards the lower barb. This helps to prevent wear against the body, but it also decreases the hook's bite radius so then you need to bend them out a little too. I sort of take the middle road with just a small bend of the upper barbs. Regardless of if you bend the hooks or not, keep them sharp. I do not recommend you add splitrings, because they are just another thing that can go wrong, ("potential failure mode" in rocket scientist terms). However, if you feel the need to add split rings I recommend the triple wound stainless steel ones from Wolverine Tackle. They don't seem to affect the action if you put them on.

Tracking is how the bait pulls behind the boat. Let the bait back about 30 feet at trolling speed and watch it. Does it consistently pull to the right or left? If it does it's not tracking straight. If it's not tracking straight it's not going to wander and it will not have maximum vibration. You adjust tracking by bending the nose screw in the direction the lure needs to go to track straight. Use smooth jaw pliers or vise-grips to do this and just bend it a little bit at a time. Bend it, check it, bend it, check it and keep doing this until you get it just right. Your last bend will be so small you won't even be able to see it. The better you make this adjustment the better the lure will run. A properly tuned Terminator will run so good it will stay down right in the propwash, right behind (like ten feet) the boat. It will also pull very hard. Some people (who don't listen to the Rocketman) like to turn the screw instead of bending it. If you catch a fish and the screw gets turned you will need to completely re-tune the lure. If you had bent the screw to tune the lure, all you would need to do to re-tune is turn the screw straight up again. When your Terminator is tracking straight you will notice two things; it will pull harder and it will wander from right to left in a random pattern, i.e. left-left-center-left-right-right-left etc. With thirty feet of line out it should wander at least a couple feet each side of dead straight. It will pretty much be running in one position then it will dart over 2-4 feet and run there for a few seconds. Every time it does this it is doing a great imitation of a preyfish trying to escape. A following muskie sees this and it's screaming drag time!

If you are truly obsessive/compulsive you can get into some serious re-tuning. This is not something that you need to do to make your lures catch fish. In fact, I do not recommend you even try this stuff at all unless you have a lot of trolling experience. However, knowledge is power so here goes...

You can significantly change Terminators' action by screwing the nose screw in or out a turn or two and/or by bending it up or down slightly. Adjusting the nose screw out and/or up increases the lures' stability and reduces wandering and makes it easier to adjust tracking. This is sometimes useful especially with SS/E's (straights) if you want to run them at high speeds. It might also fix that pile of crap Brand-X bait you have that you could never get to run right.

Adjusting the nose screw in and/or down makes Terminators run more radically, with a wider wandering pattern and even harder vibration. I know a very good fisherman who re-tunes his Terminators so radically that they wander so much they sometimes come up on top. He catches a lot of big muskies and swears by this little trick. I catch a lot of big muskies too and I usually don't bother with it. On Lake St. Clair there are often floating weeds and when a lure comes up it gets weeded and then you have to pull it in and clean it. I don't need the extra hassle and as long as the basic tuning is OK the lures work just fine.

People have asked me about various modifications to customize their lures. Some of the more popular ones are adding splitrings, changing the hook size, and changing to screw-on hook hangers. Different size hooks or different brands are OK also but since Terminators are pretty heavy watch out going too big or you might turn them into sinkers. One of my customers discovered this with a T2 that he put size 5/0s on. Too bad the lure wasn't attached to his line when it fell in! Hook hangers or bigger screweyes can ruin your lure if you don't pre-drill the holes first. Terminators are pressure sealed after all machining and the wood is exceptionally hard. If you just try to put in new or bigger screws without pre-drilling the holes first the screws can break off, the heads can strip, or the wood can crack. This is a user caused problem and is not covered by warranty.


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