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Artificials A to Z: Soft Plastics
  |  First Published: June 2007



Now that winter is here, it’s a great time to look at the different types of soft plastics available. If you are wondering what a change in the season has to do with the types of soft plastic lure available, then keep on reading!

Soft plastics represent different types of food that fish feed on. As the seasons change, so do the types of food available to fish. By using a soft plastic which most closely represents the available food sources for fish, you stand the best chance of catching them.

There are many different types of soft plastics on our shelves today, which means that newcomers can be easily daunted. If you go into your local tackle store you will see brand names such as Berkley, Squidgy, Ecogear, River2Sea and Slider, just to name a few.

Within these brands you will see soft plastics between 1 and 10 inches (and maybe even bigger!) in styles such as grubs, minnows, worms and creature bait plastics with paddle tails, twist tails – the list goes on!

To make life easier, try to think of soft plastics as representing different food sources for fish. If you try to work out what your target fish will be eating at the time you plan to target them, selecting the right plastic is then simply a case of picking one that looks roughly like the chosen food source.

The easiest way to introduce some of the different soft plastics on the market is to break down the different food types out there and look at which of these foods different plastics are modelled to imitate.

Baitfish

There are truckloads of soft plastics available that are designed to imitate baitfish. The stickbait variety of plastic is very popular and their shape is pretty much like a stick (without the leaves!). They may have split tails, but essentially the shape of the whole soft plastic is very similar to that of a stick.

Popular stickbait soft plastics include the legendary Berkley PowerBait Bass Minnow, Berkley Gulp Jerkshads, the Squidgy Flickbait and the Juro Firebait range. These soft plastics are designed to dart and weave in the water when retrieved. Their action can be enhanced with a jerky retrieve but even with a regular retrieve, they already look a lot like a wounded baitfish. These lures are great for instigating reaction bites when fish are not necessarily that hungry.

Paddle-tail baitfish imitations are a type of soft plastic that are beginning to gain favour with a lot of anglers. These lures look exactly like a baitfish but come equipped with a paddle tail that lies perpendicular to the body of the plastic. The tail is designed to vibrate in the water when the plastic is retrieved and therefore looks and sounds just like a baitfish should!

These plastics are easy to use, and in many cases a slow consistent retrieve is all that is required to catch fish. These lures and this retrieve are becoming increasingly popular with anglers targeting big impoundment barramundi. Popular paddle-tail baitfish imitations include the Berkley Gulp Pogeys, Berkley PowerBait Mullets and Squidgy Slickrigs.

The trick when selecting baitfish imitation soft plastics is to choose those which will imitate the size of the baitfish the fish will most likely be feeding on. The size of local baitfish typically changes in response to the seasons. As the water temperature changes, the migration of different sized baitfish in and out of a waterway occurs. By matching the size of the soft plastic you intend to throw with baitfish that are prevalent at the same time, you stand the best chance of catching some good fish. If in doubt, 3-inch plastics are a good place to start, as this size will typically imitate baitfish populations that can be found in most situations.

Prawns and Shrimp

Prawns and shrimp are a favoured food source of pretty much everything! Fish spend much of their time chasing these tasty morsels when they show up in local waterways. Therefore, you will find a huge range of soft plastics that imitate prawns or shrimp.

The majority of soft plastics that are designed to imitate prawns and shrimp are developed in the 2-3” size. Some of these plastics look exactly like a prawn or shrimp, while others come equipped with either paddle tails or twist tails and occur in a range of colours.

Paddle-tail soft plastics that are used by anglers to imitate prawns and shrimp include Ecogear Grass Minnows and Sliders.

Twist-tail soft plastics are often referred to as grubs and good examples of these are Berkley Gulp Minnow Grubs, Berkley PowerBait Grubs, Squidgy Wrigglers and Atomic Grubs.

Soft plastics that look exactly like a prawn or shrimp are also great – try the Berkley Gulp Shrimp, Berkley PowerBait Shrimp or the DOA Shrimp. Although not strictly a soft plastic, another fantastic prawn-imitation lure is the Prawnstar.

When fishing surface retrieves for fish, I like to use paddle-tail offerings such as the Ecogear Grass Minnow. The twist-tail soft plastics and prawn-replica soft plastics are my favoured prawn imitations when fishing sub-surface retrieves.

Worms

Fish rarely refuse a well-presented worm. At the moment there are not as many soft plastic worms on the market as you would expect. However, when presented well to fish, the soft plastic worm is a proven fish taker.

One of the most popular worm imitations on the market is the Berkley Gulp 6’ Ragworm in natural and camo colours. There are several other worm imitations in the Berkley stable and they all catch fish.

Creature Baits

There are many other types of creatures that fish feed on, such as yabbies, crabs, squid, lizards and frogs. Because some of these are either very hard to catch or illegal to use as livebait, the next best way to catch fish that want to eat these creatures is to imitate them using soft plastics.

There are loads of creature bait imitations on tackle store shelves that will imitate most types of creature. Companies such as Berkley, Ecogear and Gene Larew specialise in developing soft plastics that imitate most of our popular creatures.

The Sense in Scents

It is becoming increasingly common to see scented soft plastics on our tackle store shelves. The reason manufacturers apply scent is to disguise the smell of the plastic and to make the lure taste like something worth eating.

When slower retrieves are used, fish have more time to mouth a plastic and then reject it before the angler has time to respond and hook the fish. In instances such as this, a scented lure will encourage fish to hold on to the plastic, and assist anglers in hooking more fish. I am not suggesting unscented lures will not catch fish, simply that some retrieves are better suited to soft plastics that contain scent.

Another alternative to using unscented soft plastics is to apply scent. There are many varied scents on the market and lots of them seem to work. My advice is to experiment until you find a scent that works for you!

Quality of Plastic

Soft plastics manufacturers spend a lot of money developing plastics that are durable yet soft enough to feel realistic. When you are purchasing soft plastics, keep this in mind. Test the subtlety of soft plastics you intend to purchase. If they don’t feel like the food source you are trying to imitate (for example, they may be too hard or soft) then chances are the fish will reject them as well.

Darren’s Progress

Darren is a beginner to the lure fishing game and has become our ‘Back to Basics’ guinea pig. The aim of using Darren is to show you how an absolute novice uses the information described in these columns.

This month we introduced Darren to the variety of soft plastics available for purchase. To say he was a bit confused would be an understatement. However, the idea of matching soft plastics to the food source you are trying to imitate made sense to Darren.

There are plenty of prawns in the Noosa River at present and we spent an afternoon casting 2” soft plastic grubs. Several quality bream and flathead readily ate these lures as they were hopped up and down off the bottom. The fact that some of these fish spat up prawns in the boat as they were unhooked suggests we were trying the right approach.

The bottom line is that now when Darren goes to the tackle store to buy some plastics, he does so with purpose. The purpose with which he purchases and now uses various soft plastics is catching him fish as we speak!

I enjoy seeing how many kids are getting into the sport of casting soft plastics. I recently ran a seminar on fishing soft plastics on the reef at the Hooked Angling Store in Tewantin. The front row was occupied by kids who I now see whenever I am on the river.

I bumped into an eager and budding soft plastics angler in Gladstone recently. Kevin’s enthusiasm ensured he was the recipient of a bag of goodies care of Berkley that I know he will put to good use!

Presentation

Soft plastics will continue to catch fish because they look, feel and often taste like the real thing. The ability of an angler to catch lots of fish will always lie in the art of presenting a soft plastic to a fish so that they believe they are the real thing.

Remember to cast the soft plastic to an area where fish would expect to see the food source you are trying to imitate. Weight the soft plastic so that it sinks or swims on the surface just as the real item would. Also, retrieve the soft plastic so that it looks just like the real item. For example, if the food source is found on the bottom, apply small hops up off the bottom before letting the plastic sink and settle. If you are fishing with a stickbait, look around at baitfish in the water and see how they swim. Make your lure does the same thing!

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