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Part III: Picking plastics
  |  First Published: June 2015



In the final installment of his three part series on the basics of fishing with soft plastic lures, I will take a look at the subject of picking the ‘right’ plastic to use on the day.

Lots of anglers seem challenged when it comes to selecting that first soft plastic to tie on at a new location, or even to start a new day’s fishing at a well-known spot. I’m surprised how daunted some people are by the thought of making that initial choice. They open their tackle box, scan its contents with a confused, worried expression, sit in a silent agony of tangled indecision for several minutes, then turn desperately to look for someone to direct their burning question to: “What should I use?”

My advice is simple: if you truly have no idea where to start, take the plunge and make a guess! Tie something on, give it a swim and see if the fish show any interest. If they don’t, then change your lure and try again.

In truth, your approach rarely needs to be quite that experimental. You should at least have an idea of what lives in the waterway and what some of the most important food sources are likely to be. This basic knowledge is a big help in fine-tuning your initial selection. If it’s a stocked barra dam renowned for producing metre-plus bruisers and boiling with hand-sized bony bream, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to kick off with a 5cm worm or grub imitation! Conversely, if it’s a gin clear alpine trout stream with a good population of aquatic insect nymphs, it will most likely be counterproductive to tie on a 15-20cm fish-shaped plastic swim-bait!

Engage your basic common sense and begin by pruning down at least the size selection process. If you’re chasing big fish that you suspect are eating big things, then choose a biggish lure. If you’re after smaller fish that you think are eating tiny food, pick a little lure… It’s not rocket science!

While you’re at it, at least have a think about roughly matching the shape, colour and swimming action of those likely food items. Fly fishers call this thought process ‘matching the hatch’ and it’s one of the most important steps in successful lure selection.

Be willing to accept that you might be wrong in your initial selection… It happens! Just occasionally those big barra, surrounded by all of those chunky bony bream and beefy mullet might actually be dining on a prolific year class of juvenile rainbow fish half the size of your little finger. Or the larger trout in that high country stream may actually be cannibalising their smaller cousins. That’s okay. You’ll find this out when they ignore your first choice!

If no obvious food sources are present and you’re not sure what the fish are actually eating, look at the water itself. Is it clear or dirty? And if it’s somewhere in between those extremes, is it green-tinged, brownish or tannin-stained? Whatever it is, the little critters living in it are likely to be wearing a roughly similar hue. So if it’s greenish, go for a green lure. If it’s tea-like, choose a red or brown plastic. Again, this is just a starting point. The tick of approval (or otherwise) will come from the true experts on this issue: the fish themselves. In other words, if your first choice draws a blank, try something else.

What I’m trying to tell you is that nothing and no one can give you better feedback on your lure choices than the fish themselves. Let them tell you what they want and, when they do, make damn sure you’re listening!

As a final word on the vexing issue of colour selection, there’s a rule of thumb I’ve used for many years that usually stands me in pretty good stead. It goes something like this: If the water is gin clear, start with very subdued, natural, transparent tones. If it’s a bit dirtier, choose something a little brighter. If it’s very discoloured, go for vivid, fluorescent tones. If it’s absolutely filthy, try black or purple… or bait… or go home! And finally, if your mate’s catching fish and you’re not, then use exactly what he’s using!

1

Natural baitfish shapes and colours make a great starting point, especially in clearer water. This spangled emperor smacked a soft shad.

2

Whiting eat worms, yabbies and other small, natural-coloured prey. It makes sense that a plastic capable of imitating these food sources will catch the odd whiting.

3

No matter where they live, bream generally prefer relatively small, subtle offerings.

4

If you don’t like the colour of your plastic, grab some marker pens and change it!

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