Plastic Fantastic – Dan Bowater – Oct 15

Earlier this year, I outlined some functional storage solutions for blue water soft plastic lures. After a recent trip to the west coast of Queensland, the effectiveness of these jelly-textured morsels was shown once more. In more pressured fisheries (like those near bigger NQ towns) breaking into a successful routine with soft plastics is a feat the majority of anglers don’t seem to accomplish for a range of reasons.

The most common issue that I see involves choosing an ineffective size and style of plastic for the scenario. The other common problem is simply the technique being used. Sound a bit boring? Well so is standing there for hours like a dimwit while fish cruise past on the sounder. Often just using that slight bit of lateral thinking combined with a bit of resilience is the missing ingredient. Chucking out bait is easier but not necessarily as satisfying or effective. I know what I prefer!


The Significance of Style

You only need to look at the walls of any tackle shop to see the range of sizes available in soft plastic lures, so it is hardly surprising that size becomes a confusing conundrum. Just when the status quo bottom fishing sizes of 7 and 5 inch become widely accepted, someone will claim that ultra small 4” profiles or mega 8” lures are inherently better. However, contrary to some trains of thought, size in itself isn’t a standalone criterion for soft plastic success. The style of plastic also has a massive bearing on variables like sink rates and self-generating actions (and lack thereof). In a past edition, I described my penchant for jerk shad style plastics thanks to their ‘action-less’ properties. It seems crazy to prefer a lure that does little to nothing, but in the right hands it quickly transforms into a deadly attractor.  For me, that’s what makes using jerk shads such an awesome choice. They dance to the exact movement of your rod tip, freefall at lightning speed and waft enticingly when matched with the right jig head.

Working on Your Weight

On the point of jig heads I have noticed a lot of new soft plastic users think they are ahead of the game if they buy pre-rigged lures to avoid selecting jig heads separately. Wrong! In some cases the pre-rigged style of lure is a worthy choice such as for impoundment use or shallow reef casting. In deeper tidally influenced water, being able to change jig head weights becomes a huge game changer. In my opinion you would be crazy to deny yourself success by using one inbuilt weight. Apart from the fact pre-rigged lures usually have no option for weight alteration, they are generally also the same style of paddle tail shad. This means the lure will always swim as it sinks. In shallow water a constant swimming action is an excellent asset but oppositely a definite disadvantage in waters exceeding ten metres. A streamlined lure (like a jerk shad) will be down in the action quicker than Donald Trump could jump on stage to announce presidential candidacy. Likewise this simple lure design can demand plenty of attention from a finned audience. To make things more complicated, lures that sport a combination of features give a bit of compromise. Ideally it would be great to use only one type of plastic, utilising a combined platter of attracting qualities. Although to me that’s a bit like the age old belief that one ‘all-round’ rod and reel could satisfactorily cover everything from black bream to black marlin (a convenient notion that one!).


Cape York Soft Plastic Combat

On my recent Cape York plastic session, we motored six nautical miles to a well-known haunt (at least locally!) in twenty metres of water. Past experience said the trusty Gulp jerk shads in 7” would produce the goods and I repeatedly stressed this point to my three slightly cynical mates. They even came out with a quote that went something like “put on a proper hard body lure!” The only attentive listener was conveniently also in my boat while the other two lads fished nearby in their tinny. However, my close comrade still went too light with a 30lb leader on his outfit and got continually snapped off Shane Webcke being pulled out of a steakhouse. My heavier 80lb fluorocarbon leader was barely heavy enough to turn fish from the bottom…not to mention through the sharks waiting in mid water. Interestingly, the other lads had enthusiastically changed to soft plastics upon seeing this action but were still coming up empty handed.

Doing the Deepwater Dance

The reason was not the lure choice, jig head choice or boat positioning, it was much simpler. They kept casting behind their line of drift to stop their line disappearing under the boat hull. It’s an all too common mistake applied to deepwater plastics that require a freefalling motion. After five minutes, one of them actually gave up and fell asleep on the floor! Conversely, in my boat, seven packs of soft plastics were destroyed in what I could only describe as a plastic massacre. The exact same strategy is one of my favourites to use on the inshore grounds off Mourilyan. I carefully position the boat so it drifts directly over a significant area of broken bottom structure. The plastics are cast with reasonable accuracy around twenty metres ahead of the line of drift. The combination of sinking lure and forward momentum causes a belly of braid which twitches upon contacting bottom. Once your ‘SP’ arrives in ‘the zone,’ your lure should become positioned more vertically, leaving you to impart a few crucial sharp/erratic jigs and freefalls. Then finally when the boat starts drifting over your braid, the drift is finished, as your lure can no longer fall naturally. Reposition the boat and repeat! Being armed to the teeth with plastics and jig heads is helpful but not enough, they’ve gotta’ be dancin’ on the dance floor!

Make a Plastic Pact!

At the end of the day, soft plastic lures are probably the least inspiring in appearance and their simplicity can be the catalyst for negative thoughts. At times I reckon you almost have to make a pact to ignore your own sense of self doubt! It sounds crazy but I have had mates in Cairns use deepwater plastics for only a couple of minutes before changing to bait or giving up altogether. In my boat there was even a ‘one cast only’ incident a few months ago (angler will remain anonymous)! My take is that I’d rather pursue a different activity than expect a divine miracle and funnily enough, most of the good soft plastic anglers I have met share that same determination. Successful plastic anglers make it look easy but in reality, it’s often quite a mentally draining exercise. Maybe the gripping nature of manipulating soft plastics to appear so realistic is part of the appeal? Personally, I reckon so. The qualities of high concentration, perceptiveness and general attention to detail are all essential if joining in this caper. It also helps to reject perfect notions of easily-won softie bliss and accept a more grounded reality prior to embarking from terra firma. Like any specific technique, it takes a bit longer to master than cooking two-minute noodles. Once you have it sussed I can however promise you will be dining on some higher quality cuisine. If fishing were always easy, it would be a pretty uninteresting activity. Embrace the challenge…and choose your soft plastics wisely!