When the fish are holed up in their lairs where no crankbait or jighead would fear to tread, enter the Texas rig.
I had fished the outer branches of the snag quite thoroughly, alternating between a small minnow and a spinnerbait.
Two fair-sized bass had been pulled off it and quickly released. It seemed that it was time to move down the bank in search of some more likely-looking structure but there was still plenty of water covered with branches that could hold a fish or two.
The problem was to get a lure in there – and fish it back out. I put my rod down and had a quick scratch through my tackle bag.
I dug out my plastic worm box and proceeded to rig a 2” Atomic Fat Grub weedless on a No 1 Gamakatsu worm hook. I secured a small bullet weight to my line with a strand of rubber and, after a cursory check to make sure the little grub was rigged straight, I flicked it right into the middle of the tangle of branches.
I worked the little combo up and over a tree limb and swam it quickly to the next branch. I let it sit on the branch and then fall down the other side.
As it swam down I saw my line flick, lifted the rod quickly and came up tight on what felt like a good fish. It immediately tried to bury me in the timber but I managed to keep its head up and wrestle it away into the safety of deeper water.
The bass went 43cm and was my biggest for the morning’s session. The fact that I had caught it off a snag that I was ready to discard as fished-out made it all the more satisfying.
With the start of Summer the water warms up and most fish that hide in snags will start to feed. All that means is quite a few of us will be donating many of our favourite minnows to the waters we enjoy fishing so much.
Yes, there are Tackle Backs and lure retrievers but they don’t always work. There is another option, though, and that is to fish a Texas-rigged soft plastic.
I have been fishing soft plastics for about 20 years and the last 10 were spent chasing largemouth black bass in South Africa. As many of you will know, to say that these fish are structure-orientated would be putting it mildly. I learnt quite a few techniques for fishing soft plastics in and through structure while fishing for largemouth.
I have read many local articles written about SPs and jigheads but unfortunately the use of these rigs is limited to open water or, at the very least, the edges of snags. You can fish jigs through snags but when they get stuck you have to break off or go in and retrieve them. That normally means motoring up to the snag and disturbing whatever you were trying to catch.
I would like to illustrate a few successful techniques in this article. They may be old news to some but maybe I will able to show a few fishos some new tricks
The main aim of fishing soft plastics in or through dangerous country is to make them as snagproof as possible. I do this by Texas-rigging them, which means you have to fish them on hooks specifically designed for SPs.
There are quite a few on the market: Mustad Wide Gaps and G-locks, Gamakatsu Worm EWGs and the Tru Turns. My favourite is the Gamakatsu because of the thin gauge of the hooks.
If the SPs are going to be fished in deeper water or you want them to fall vertically into the structure, they need to be fished behind a small bullet weight. These weights have nice recesses in them and fit snugly up against the plastic. They can be fished with the weight sliding or secured to the main line.
One of the most important things when fishing this method is to make sure that your hook point does not protrude much from the lure. If it does, it will pick up bits of weed and lose its natural appearance or get snagged on the first bit of structure you pull it against.
You must also always make sure that the plastic swims straight. If it is rigged incorrectly, it will spiral or twist in the water. I always swim my SPs next to the boat before I fish them to make sure. If your line begins to show signs of twisting then it is also a good indication of an incorrectly rigged SP.
There is a method I use to make sure that my plastic is hooked right first time. I take the SP and, after hooking it through the head, I lay the hook down the length of it as if it were rigged. I take note of where the bend of the hook lies and then stick it through that exact spot. It normally works spot-on each time.
Once the hook is through I make sure it sits flush with the plastic’s body or even lightly ‘skins’ hook the tip.
Once the SPs are rigged correctly you will be amazed at the rugged country that you can work them through. The secret here is to use very soft hands when fishing them.
An ideal example of this occurred on a trip for bass up the Tweed River a few weeks ago. I had cast my lure into a snag and begun to work it back through the timber. Lifting my rod, I felt the little Atomic grub come up hard against something.
The initial reaction would be to try and yank it loose but I gave a bit of slack in the braid and gave the rod tip a few light jiggles.
The Atomic came loose and dropped back. I managed, after three attempts, to get it over the bit of structure and let it swim down the other side. A 40cm bass ate the little grub on the drop and I managed to wrestle it out of the snag to the boat. It was a really special fish for me because if I had gone into the snag to fetch my lure, I would not have caught it.
The idea is to try to visualise what your rig is doing under the water and give it as lifelike an action as possible.
The Texas-rigged soft plastic is not only limited to fishing in timber; it works excellently when fished through weed as well.
A normal jighead will constantly pick up weeds and get snagged, whereas a Texas-rigged SP can be worked through it.
If the bullet weight is secured with the rubber it can be placed up or down the line and when fishing heavily-weeded areas, I always try to position it about 30cm or further up the line.
Most of the modern SPs are buoyant and when rigged on one of the light wire Gamakatsu worm hooks they still have a tendency to rise up off the bottom. If you position the weight a bit ahead of the SP then you have a scenario where the weight is burrowing through the grass and the lure is following off the bottom in plain sight of the fish.
An afternoon trip up the Tweed to chase flathead and bream on artificials illustrates this technique.
I had been working the fringes of a large flat on the last of the run-out tide. I was flicking SPs on jigheads into the shallows and had caught a few flatties, mostly around 40cm to 50cm.
The tide eventually turned and started to run in. I noticed that as the weedy flat got more water on it, the bait started to move into the shallows and was quite visibly being harassed.
I set my bow-mount electric as shallow as it could go and, after tilting up the outboard, I worked my way onto the flat.
The small jigheads I was throwing kept snagging in the weed as there was only about 40cm of water covering it. I scratched in my box of tricks and rigged up a small Atomic Jerk Minnow on a 2/0 worm hook. I pinched a split shot about 30cm in front of it and flicked it out.
The split shot would sink into the weed and when I jerked it free, the lure would dart off to one side, imitating a wounded baitfish. On my third cast the little Atomic disappeared in a large swirl on the surface and after a good tussle I netted a 58cm flathead.
I caught a few more like that and once again went home with a big smile on my face, having got one over on the fish for a change.
Another very popular way to fish snaggy structure is with soft plastic jerkbaits. These must once again be rigged on large worm hooks.
They are generally fished weightless, relying on the weight of the hook to get the SP into the strike zone. Some jerkbait examples are Atomic Jerk Minnows, Slug-Gos, Berkley minnows and Mann’s Assassins, to name a few.
They can be fished over the top of structure with a twitching retrieve. If this doesn’t draw a strike, allow them to sink right down into the thick stuff and lie still for a while. If there are any fish in there, they will grab the lure on the next twitch or even while it is lying motionless.
This is a technique called dead-sticking and used to be very popular on the heavily-fished waters back home.
The logic behind this is that when the cast is made, the splash of the lure actually spooks the fish. The lure is left in the strike zone for sometimes up to three minutes, giving a fish a chance to return to its snag. It then comes to investigate the lure and when it moves, it attacks it.
The most important rule here is never to fish a smallish hook on these lures. If in doubt, always go bigger. I very seldom use anything smaller than a 5/0 unless targeting species like bass or bream. The reason for the bigger hook is simple – you will land more fish on them.
When the fish eats the SP you have to pull the hook through the lure and into the fish’s mouth. If your hook doesn’t have a wide enough gape then the plastic ‘chokes’ it and you don’t get a deep enough penetration.
If you want to speed up the sink rate of the jerkbait then a small bullet weight can be secured to the line with the same method as before. I carry a small box of split shot and a few pieces of flat lead. I cut the flat lead into little slivers and change the lure’s sink rate by sticking a piece of flat lead into the plastic or by pinching a split shot a few centimetres up the line.
These two different methods alter the action of the jerkbait in a subtle way. The shot makes it dive head-first with a spiralling action while the lead lets it sink horizontally. Some days one technique will outfish the other so it pays to play around.
There is also more than one way to rig these jerkbaits. You don’t have to necessarily hook them upright.
You are fishing them with an erratic action to imitate a wounded or fleeing baitfish, so try hooking the plastic through the side to form a ‘wacky rig’. This means you only have to jam the hook through the width of the lure instead of the height .
I haven’t seen much glass rattles locally. I use them extensively in my SPs. Once I have rigged the plastic, I take a rattle and push it into the lure’s tail or even in between the bend of the hook and the eye.
They give off a very enticing noise under the water and I am a strong believer that the noisier I can make my lure, the easier the fish can find it.
Hopefully some of this will make sense and will help a few of you through the Summer and maybe even into next Winter. I have been using these techniques with a great deal of success and they have helped me turn some frustrating days on the water into pleasurable ones. I can probably go on about slight alterations to these techniques for days but these are the basics that I always come back to. You could always give me a call on 0432 040 256.
If I am going to fish heavy structure I always ‘peg’ my weight. This just helps it to travel through the structure better. If it is sliding you sometimes end up with your weight on one side of a branch and the plastic on the other.
There are two basic ways to peg a worm weight. The first is to simply jam a sharp toothpick into the back of it and then break off the protruding end. This is a quick and simple way to do it but if you are fishing with light line then you stand the chance of damaging it.
I mostly use a thin piece of rubber and pull it back through the weight. It sounds a bit complicated but I will explain myself better.
I use a little tool with thin, looped wire that is used by fly-tiers to thread their cotton. I think they call them bobbin threaders and they can be obtained from most tackle stores.
I push the threader loop through the back of the weight (as per pictures) place a strand of rubber between the little wires and gently pull it back through the weight. Trim off the loose ends of rubber and by wetting your line, the weight can be positioned anywhere on the main line or snugly up against the lure.
When I started rigging them this way in South Africa I would use my old spinnerbait skirts – until I found something better. We called it mojo rubber and it came in little sheets. These sheets could be unravelled into whatever thickness I wanted.
I have not looked for this rubber in Australia yet as I still have heaps, but I am sure the right stuff could be sourced. Or you could just keep robbing pieces off your spinnerbait skirts!
A selection of Texas-rigged soft plastics.
A few wide gap Gamakatsu worm hooks and appropriate weights. The smaller sizes down to No 4 are used on the grubs and the larger ones, up to 6/0 or larger, on jerkbaits.
A fly-tier’s bobbin-threading tool is very effective for threading small pieces of rubber through worm weights.
Step one: Thread the wire loop through the worm weight from the back and then place the rubber in the wire and pull it through the weight.
Step 2: Trim off the pieces of rubber and pull the weight down the line until it butts up against the lure.
The weight can then be positioned wherever the angler wants.
This fish was pulled from the middle of a snag on a Texas-rigged lizard.
This method of rigging soft plastics is invaluable when fishing snags like this!
Bass don’t mind fairly large lures. A slight hesitation is needed when striking to allow the fish a chance to inhale the bigger presentation.