Plastic Surgery
  |  First Published: November 2006

Soft plastics are awesome lures that catch plenty of fish. Tackle store walls are decorated with many different styles, colours and sizes. Usually anglers can find exactly what they are after on the shelf. When you can’t find it, or if you’re nowhere near a shop, it could be time to consider some plastic surgery.

Plastics can be modified in many ways. Reshaping, gluing, melting and impregnating scents can create the exact presentation that you’re after. To some anglers, this might sound like too much work; others will enjoy the challenge of giving soft plastics a makeover. Attention to detail is the key to successful fishing. Over the coming months, we’ll explore a variety of ways to change your soft plastics.

Shads and paddle-tails

Shads and paddle-tailed plastics, or T-tails, work on lots of species in both fresh and saltwater. There are plenty of models available from brands including PowerBait, Gulp, Atomic, Ecogear and Squidgy. They are characterised by a thinner section just before the tail. The offset angle of the tail gives it a side-to-side motion when the lure is moving. Shads have deeper, fish-shaped bodies while standard paddle-tails have a round, grub-shaped body.

Tail Action

Different plastics have different actions in the tail section. An ultra-thin section before the tail creates a fast action tail that wiggles with the slightest movement. A thicker tail section requires more speed to start the tail paddling but adds some body roll to the whole plastic. These thicker tails are ideal for targeting fish that are rough on plastics or have sharp teeth. Fish can prefer one style or the other, depending on their mood. It’s not really possible to make tails thicker but they can be thinned to make them beat faster, and less movement is required to get them pumping.

Changing Tail Actions
Hot Tip

If the wrist of a plastic’s tail is thick and too stiff, it can be made more flexible by heating it with a flame. Hold the wrist of the tail over the flame of a lighter or match. You’ll see the tail start to droop as the plastic starts to heat up. Roll the plastic in your fingers to distribute the heat evenly around the thinnest section. This process takes around 5-10 seconds.

After this stage, you can stretch the tail to make the plastic longer and the tail section thinner – or leave it as it is. The plastic’s tail will be hot so either let it cool naturally or submerge it in water. Be sure to keep the tail straight when you do this, to avoid having it set with a bend in it. Once the plastic has returned to normal temperature, it will be far more flexible – even if you haven’t made it thinner when it was hot.

Under the Scalpel

To get more action out of thicker tails, they can be trimmed to make the wrist of the tail section thinner. Using braid scissors is a safe and neat way to go about this process. Bend the tail over on itself and trim out a piece of plastic, to remove a V from the side. This can be repeated on both sides a number of times until the desired action is achieved. You may have seen plastics that come direct from the packet with such V’s in the tail. Check out the pictures for further explanation.


Removing the head of a plastic can have a couple of positives. When fish are hitting the tail but not hooking up, moving the hook closer to the tail can make the difference. Shortening plastics is also a good idea if predators are feeding on smaller baitfish.

You can shorten larger plastics and keep their more aggressive tail action without having the increase in length. This isn’t just the case with shads and paddle-tails but a whole range of plastic styles.

Some of the detailed jigheads that are available fit plastics better if they are shaped to suit. If you’re using a painted shad head with eyes, it looks better if you remove the head and eyes on the plastic and trim it to fit snugly against the jighead.

Braid scissors are handy for plastic trimming. If you can’t find your scissors, try biting the plastic into shape. I wouldn’t recommend throwing the extra bits into the water!

Step 1

A Berkley 3” Mullet straight from the pack is a tough plastic with a thick tail section. These and other similar lures are great for faster retrieves and can be modified to change the tail action for slower presentations.

Step 2-3

Fold the plastic over on itself and take a thin slice from the tail with a pair of braid scissors. You can do this 2-3 times on each side. Try to space the cuts evenly and make the sides match.

The idea is to make 2-3 thin sections in the tail to make it more flexible.

Step 4

To give the tail even more action, you can remove some plastic from the underside. A neat slice around 4mm deep and 20mm long is ample for a 3” plastic.

Step 5

The finished product! With less than a minute of surgery, the desired result is achieved. The new tail is far more flexible and will paddle even with the slightest movement.

Head Removal

Braid scissors can be used to take the head off of any plastic. In this case I’ve used the doctored Berkley 3” Mullet. It can then be rigged on heavier jigheads and the result is a more realistic offering. If light jigheads are used, head removal may not be necessary.


With the head removed and the tail made more flexible, the end result is a fish catching machine. These 3” Berkley Mullets have been rigged on Nitro 5/8oz painted jigheads. The coloured heads match the body of the plastics to create a natural looking baitfish. It’s time to put them to the test.

Place pics next to appropriate steps.

EHRLICH – Plastic Head

Braid scissors can be used to take the head off of any plastic.

EHRLICH – Plastic Rig

These 3” Berkley Mullets have been rigged on Nitro 5/8oz painted jigheads. The coloured heads match the body of the plastics to create a natural looking baitfish.

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