Battered & Crumbed Hard Facts on Soft Plastics!
By Dave Donald
Just about every fisho these days has a few soft plastics stashed in their tackle box. In many cases, the softies only hit the water when all else has failed, a practice that hardly encourages confidence in their ability to produce. The only way to ramp up this ability is to rig them first and try a variety of retrieve styles. Assume the mindset that plastics are more like bait than a lure and you’re on the right track.
In my years as a guide, I’ve rummaged through the lure selections of hundreds of clients in search of the premium fish catchers and therefore feel qualified to offer the observation that a large majority of soft plastics purchased by relative newcomers fall into two main categories – the ‘el cheepo’ mixed bucket/throw out bin models or those that are pre-weighted. Now, I’ve seen both types catch fish, particularly the higher quality, fishing-ready offerings like Reidy’s Rubbers and Squidgies. As a matter of fact, I routinely carry a swag of the Rubbers myself, for the simple reason that they have worked a treat when the right situations present themselves.
However, the use of pre-weighted plastics definitely has limitations – fast currents, deep water for instance – so a more versatile approach needs an appropriate selection of the necessary ammunition. Soft plastics can be used in virtually every sphere of fishing, from creeks and dams to offshore reefs. Lures that catch a barra when rigged on a 1/4ounce jig head can be just as attractive to a big red when mated with a 1.5 – 3 ounce heavyweight. Getting more from your softies can be as simple as carrying a wide range of heads and hook sizes.
I’ve been a fan of the TT jighead range for many years. Their stuff is top quality and the different variations and styles cover just about any situation in either fresh or salt water. Gareth and the crew behind the TT line up are all very experienced fishers who make a point of being at the cutting edge when it comes to the latest developments in soft plastic technique. For all these reasons and probably a few more, most of the jig heads in my box are stamped with the TT label.
These days, techniques based around ‘finesse’ fishing are hot on the competition front, particularly when it comes to bass and bream. The philosophy behind this style is the need to present your lure as naturally as possible, a requirement that would seem to be perfectly applicable to many of the current range of quality soft plastics. What is interesting is that natural presentation has been the goal of more experienced fishers for a long time (a couple of centuries in trout fly fishing) so it’s far from new.
Whatever the history or the connotation, if you want to get the best out of soft plastics, they should be rigged according to the prevailing conditions with the aim of being presented in the strike zone as naturally as possible. This may mean that a couple of different heads will have to be tried to find the weight that covers the water best or head size may need to be changed as the tidal run varies. For instance, if the plastic is coming to the surface or the hook picks up weed because it’s grubbing the bottom, then the head needs changing.
Of course, all this depends on whether your retrieve speed is correct. My advice here is that, if in doubt, go slower. Soft plastics usually catch more fish when they are worked dead slow with a few pauses for good measure. Most fishers used to retrieving hard bodied lures work plastics much too fast. In fact, a lot of them move the former too quickly, as well!
When fishing plastics on offshore reefs, it’s also important to keep the head weight as light as possible. If there’s little current or wind then it may be possible to go down as light as 0.5 ounce even in depths of 20 metres but get 15 knots of wind and a strong current and 1.5 ounces may not even be heavy enough. The other thing to remember is that a soft plastic fished when drifting usually has more than enough action to attract interest, which means that rod movement should be minimal. Sharp lifts of the rod tip are not necessary with many style of plastic (paddle and curl tails especially).
While some soft plastic ‘bites’ will just about rip the rod out of your hands, most are much more subtle and require a bit of patience to consistently get results. Again, if you think of a softie as more bait than lure and let the fish move off before striking firmly, more hook-ups will come your way.
On the reef, watch the rod tip. A bite is usually signalled by the rod tip giving a couple of nods. Strike then and the fish will almost certainly be missed! The best move is to drop the rod tip slowly and wait for the fish’s weight to pull it down further. Then it’s a simple move to lift the rod firmly to sink the hook – and hang on. The first lunges of a big reefie are the worst, so apply as much pressure as possible in those early stages.
Barra are a sucker for soft plastics and in my experience, a rubber will often work when hard bodied lures are ignored. My technique for old pink eyes is very simple – just a slow, straight retrieve with the rod tip held horizontal. When it comes, the bite is a distinctive double tap, but strike immediately and the fish will almost certainly miss the hook. It’s best to just keep retrieving and wait for the weight to come on the line then just lift the rod up high to strike. It really is that simple!
One of the real drawbacks of fishing with lead heads, particularly with aerial fish like barra and tarpon, is the number of fish that ‘jump off’. This is partly caused by the lead weight at the end of the hook acting like a pendulum when the inevitable head shakes occur, often with the result that the hook point comes free. While there are ‘tricks’ to making the hooks stick better, even the most experienced of us have our bad days.
The boys at TT have recently developed a head that goes a long way towards solving that problem, a jig that features a weight that is separate the hook section. The Snake Head proved very resistant to the pendulum effect during testing late last year at the Wenlock River on one of the hardest species to keep hooked, the saratoga. My score of three ‘toga from three strikes was just about unprecedented when the usual expectation would probably be one from three.
Fishing soft plastics can be a whole lot of fun, for both beginners and old hands. To get the most out of it, tailor your jig head and lure selection to cover the types of fish you’re most likely to catch. Treat your softie like a bait, dab on a bit of sweetener for best results and the results may surprise.
March 1: All sorts of reefies will grab a soft plastic. Scott Kampe with a nice trout and the author with a hefty cod.
March2: The plastic has come off during the fight, but big, hard running goldies like this just love ‘em!
March3: One of the west coasts heavyweight queenfish taken on a paddle tail plastic. Gary, a former USA bass champ, was stoked with this one’s performance.