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Understanding Lures: Soft Plastics

THIS month’s Fishing School could possibly be one of the most challenging in this “Understanding Lures” series. Soft plastic lures come in so many variations and suit such a wide range of fishing applications that the few words I will be able to put forward here will only barely scratch the surface. Arguably, however, soft plastics created the greatest surge in product sales, use and experimentation this country has ever seen and therefore warrant coverage.

Despite what you may believe, soft plastic lures have been around for decades. US anglers on the Pro Bass circuit were (and still are) keen advocates for soft plastics. As a junior angler, I used to use soft plastics called Mr Twisters and Vibrotails for flathead.

So, what are they? As the same suggests, they are made from various plastics or rubbers that are moulded to form a “tail”. These tails come in the widest range of sizes, shapes, styles and colours imaginable in the fishing world. The soft, “rubbery” texture gives them a very life-like appearance in the water. Exactly what that appearance is depends on the shape of the tail. Here are some basic descriptions of what are probably the three most popular patterns in Australia.

Curl Tail

This lure has a flat rubber curl in the tail at the end of a body. When it moves under water the tail stretches out and wiggles vigorously. Because the curl tail is very thin and soft it takes very little movement to create some action. This means that the tail can still be working when the lure is just sinking and not being retrieved at all.

Paddle Tail

The paddle tail is a broad disc shape that is at opposite angles to the shape of the body.  It is attached to the very end of the tail of the lure via a thin rubbery wrist. It works because the disc provides resistance causing it to wobble from side to side. The size of the disc together with the rigidity and diameter of the wrist determine the rate and range of movement of the paddle.

Jerk Bait

This tail is a little difficult to define as it actually goes under several titles, depending on the manufacturer. It is a long, slender body that is deeper in the mid-section and slims down to a narrow wrist then forms a small forked tail.  The big difference with this tail over
the other two is that this one has virtually no in-built action. The action has to be imparted by the angler. As the name suggests, this is often done by introducing a series of short, sharp jerks.

There are, of course, many, many more tail patterns out there that range from replicas of fish, amphibians, crayfish through to creations that look nothing like anything!

The reasons why they work come down to a few key principles. Firstly, you can fish soft plastics anywhere through the water column, i.e. from the surface right to the bottom (even in deep water).  Secondly, when rigged correctly, you can fish them very slowly. This slow retrieve can often be the undoing of even the wiliest of fish. Then, they are soft to feel and therefore feel more like prey when taken into the fish’s mouth. Finally, many soft plastics are impregnated with strike enhancing scents. In some respects, these soft plastics are a kind of hybrid between baits and lures.

Crucial to the success of the tail is the jig head, mainly because it has the hook attached to it, but also because the head provides the weight to cast but more importantly to present your lure at your chosen depth. Jig heads are often made of lead but lighter versions can also be found that are made of resin. Many soft plastics come with what is known as an “integrated” jig head. This means that the weight and the hook are imbedded in the tail and cannot be varied. These lures are fine if you know they will suit your desired purpose or if you are just starting out. Others just come as tails and heads that are often sold separately. This allows you to vary the size and weight of the head itself and also the size and gauge of the hook. These subtle variations can become a critical ingredient to success. A mistake often made by newcomers to soft plastics is that they choose their jig head on the basis of having enough weight to cast. The weight of your jig head should always be determined by the presentation you want to make. Over-weighted tails will plummet through the water. You want your tail to “swim”. For this reason, tiny jig heads of only a couple of grams might be the most appropriate when fishing small tails in shallow water. In some cases, you may not want any weight and a hook alone will suffice. Just remember, it’s all about the presentation.

The reason why your head choice is so important is because it is usually when your lure is “swimming down” or sinking during the retrieve that it will get taken. For this reason you should always be paying close attention to what your lure is doing while sinking. If you see or feel any sudden sharp movements, strike. There is quite a bit of footage available online or on DVDs that explains this and these are well worth studying. They also often explain the many different retrieves that can be used with soft plastics.  Speaking of which, there are many product specific instructional DVDs promoting soft plastics. Some of these are excellent. However, the techniques explained and demonstrated will actually apply to all similar soft plastics so don’t get too caught up on specific brands.

On the upside, soft plastics are an incredibly versatile lure that can be used internationally for just about any fish that eats.

They come in the widest range of patterns, sizes and colours to ensure that something will suit your needs. 

On the downside, they are highly expendable in that it doesn’t take too many bites (one often from a toothy fish) for your tail to be rendered useless. While each tail isn’t necessarily expensive (say, $1.00 to $1.50 per tail), if you go through a couple of packets in a session (a highly likely scenario) it starts to add up. 

Are they worth it, though?

Yes, they are!

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