Soft plastics have certainly made an impact on the way we fish. They’ve provided exciting opportunities for anglers to explore new techniques for a range of species. For years now, I’ve enjoyed bait fishing, casting bibbed lures and flyfishing for trout in the southwest of Victoria. More recently though, I’ve taken to the ‘plastic fantastics’ for trout and had some amazing results.
When searching for browns and rainbows, I like to use minnow style patterns such as 3” Berkley Power Bait bass minnows. These resemble baitfish such as galaxias & smelt, which make up a considerable dietary component of southwest trout. This high protein diet plays a big part in producing so many exceptional trout. If you’ve ever seen a galaxias minnow before, then you’ll know that these plastics are a great match.
The texture of soft plastic lures is more realistic that bibbed lures. Fish can grab on to them and hold on. During a few polaroiding sessions earlier this year, I watched good browns eat the plastic. Somehow, I managed to refrain from striking, just to see what they did with it and how long they’d hold on. On a couple of occasions I had 2kg browns chewing the plastic for 5 seconds or more, although it seemed a lot longer watching! I firmly believe that if you miss a fish with a plastic, it’s far more likely to come back for a second go than when fishing with a bibbed lure.
The main reason I select a soft plastic for ‘trout-searching’ is their versatility. I can match up a bass minnow to my light spinning outfit and fish it over a variety of depths quickly. I can use a bass minnow in Lake Purrumbete, where the depth can reach 50 metres or I can use the same plastic in shallow weedy margins, dropping the lure into gaps in the weed holes and jigging it across flooded edges.
The scenario for rivers is similar. Plastics can be cast down runs or fished in open deep pools. Put simply, they are an active and efficient way of targeting trout in a variety of situations.
Your local knowledge is the most important factor to put you amongst the fish. When it comes to fooling the fish it’s not often that a brownie will turn its nose up at a plastic. And the big ones don’t usually miss! I’d say that more than 75% of good trout (2kg+) inhale the plastic so far down their throat that you can’t see it until you look in! A much smaller proportion is hooked in the scissors of their jaw.
Plastics work well in both bright sun and low light conditions. I‘ve taken good browns after dark and in bright midday sun at depths of 10m. When fishing on dusk and after dark, reduce the weight of your jig head or remove the weight completely. And slow down your retrieve - you would be surprised how well a brown can see in low light conditions. The longer you stay in the strike zone, the more likely you are at drawing a hit!
Probably the biggest factor affecting the use of plastics is water clarity. Sure, there are various levels of discoloured water, and sometimes a bit of colour can enhance your catch, however it’s in these conditions that I often go back to a bibbed lure to get a bit more vibration.
Just how important are forage fish to the diet of trout? On many occasions, I’ve landed trout that have subsequently regurgitated recently eaten minnows. I think to myself “no wonder he slammed my plastic, it looks exactly like what they’re feeding on.”
In lakes such as Bullen Merri, I‘ve analysed stomach contents and found up to 40 galaxias in just one trout of a 1kg rainbow. These large lakes are baitfish factories! If you calculated that the 30,000 trout and salmon stocked in Bullen Merri every year each ate 40 galaxias a day, then they‘d consume a combined total of 438 million galaxias each year. And this estimate doesn’t even include the bass or other year classes of stocked trout! To speculate further, at an average weight of half a gram, there’s 219 tonnes of galaxias annually! Something to think about isn’t it?
The range of soft plastics on the market now is mind blowing and it would appear that many brands catch more anglers than fish. You can certainly buy some rubbish and it’s difficult to know how well something will work without using it. The ‘power scale’ patterns also impart a bit of extra flash that can be beneficial in some situations, adding to the lifelike appearance of the lure.
Berkley Power Baits in the minnow patterns and Squidgy Flick Baits are good options - both have colours that match various baitfish. The smelt are usually transparent and the galaxias have an olive upper body. Go for the natural colours - pearl/olive is good and is also an effective estuary pattern for bream.
Just about everything comes with some funky smell these days, but for visually searching for trout in clear water, scents are not essential. An increasing range of soft plastic lures come in sealed bags and are even manufactured with a built-in scent. Other additives, such as salts and sparkles, are added making for a very impressive baitfish imitation.
And for those of us with a tackle box of older style plastics, there’s always the scent paste from a tube. Popular for many years, there’s still many inland anglers who swear by the stuff!
Galaxias and smelt will rarely grow more than 10cm. The smelt more commonly average 4cm to 5cm in length, while the galaxias reach lengths of between 7cm and 10cm. Anything that resembles a minnow in the 3” size is a good option. It doesn’t hurt to use something bigger such as a 4” or 5” plastic in dirty water or when fishing the trophy lakes, particularly when you are searching. I’ve had 500g rainbows totally engulf a 4” Power Bait but they’re not shy of much at the best of times!
In the lakes, I prefer to use a light spin outfit, with a good drag system, loaded with 10lb braid and a 12lb leader. I know it’s a slightly heavier outfit than you might ordinarily fish in a river but in many southwest waters a double figure fish is a real possibility. For me, I’ll save the sport fishing until I’ve got a few good ones to the boat.
For the rivers, you can afford to fish a bit lighter and 2kg braid or mono is sufficient. Remember that braid is good but mono has the benefit of some stretch – a particularly favourable attribute when you are fishing in fast water for big fish.
Make sure you keep a packet of 5 second superglue in you tackle box. A $2 tube from the discount store is all you’ll need. If you’re running low on plastics in a hot session, then the glue can temporarily ‘mend’ the plastic or glue it onto the jig for extra durability!
Chase trout with plastics anywhere that galaxias and smelt are on the menu! Lake Purrumbete, Lake Bullen Merri, Lake Elingamite, West Barwon Reservoir, Wurdibuloc Reservoir, Lake Modewarre (when it recovers), Gellibrand River, Aire River, Hopkins River, Merri River and Mt Emu Creek are all options for trout on plastics, depending on the season.Reads: 5848