IN THIS final instalment of my two-part soft plastics feature I’ll discuss how to target bream, reefies, kingfish, surface-feeding pelagics and tarpon on soft plastics, as well as some productive ways to fish plastics at night.
Bream are a well-known plastic munching family! Small T-tails, shads, crawfish, skirted grubs, single curl tail grubs and many others are bream candy. Popular colours are natural hues like pumpkin, earthworm (blue/purple – similar to muscadine and pro blue), motor oil and avocados (green), as well as the glow-in-the dark and the fantastic two-coloured lures with bright orange or pink tails.
For something different, try your soft plastic candies rigged below a snap-on Bett’s weighted float. These floats are great for dangling and dancing your salt- and scent-enhanced plastic offering over the top of a snag pile where fish are holding. The floats also great for when you’re working mini jigs around structures like pontoons or mangrove-lined banks where the current flow can drift your float and plastic along, keeping the lure in the strike zone. The other great thing about floats is that the extra weight means that you can cast mini jigs on your baitcasters!
Over and beside shallow reefs in low light situations you can really have some hot action using jerkbait style retrieves – snappy upward lifts of the rod tip to work the lure just under the surface, followed by a pause to let the lure flutter down. Ideal lures are 4” and 5” soft plastic jerkbaits. These are also known as flukes and sometimes minnows.
In deep water, 3” and 4” single-tailed and double-tailed grubs (I like the super lumo glow in the dark versions from the Candy Bait stable) catch the full range of offshore reef fish when used on the same rigs as the standard paternoster bottom basher. Glow in the dark plastics are rumoured to be one of the secrets to this technique, but I’ve seen good fish taken on pearls and most of the other common colours.
Soft plastics are great for night fishing around structure, such as river reefs for squire, bridge pylons for mulloway and even quality bream on T-tailed grubs.
Jigging retrieves work well beside pylons, as do ‘swimming’ retrieves with larger shads – especially when you crawl a gamefish/aniseed scented lure across the bottom. When fishing around bridge pylons that have lights, you may opt to cast into the darkness and bring the lure back into the light (if you’re standing on the pylon), pausing the lure once it reaches the outside rim of the light band. Often mulloway feed around the light band cast on the water from the overhead lights.
Be sure to retrieve the lure right to the pylon and then let it freefall. I’ve found that when the current is really flowing, the fish often hold in tight to the structure. When the water slows as it comes to slack tide the fish start to move out from the structure and patrol in the hunt for baitfish.
The colours that I’ve had the most success on at night have been white, pearl and glo-in-the-dark varieties.
Kingfish are renowned for being the lovers of structure, so the soft splashdown and natural presentation of the soft plastics are ideal for these streamlined pelagics. Scott Lyons loves to fish for kingies with unweighted soft plastics around structure, and has been doing it for years.
“The first cast is very important,” Scott says, “and should land as close as possible to the structure you are fishing – pylons, bridges, jetties, and navigational/channel markers or even around the rocky washes of the coastline.
“For kingies, I use four retrieves. The first is to skip the soft plastic along the top, which represents a fleeing baitfish. The second retrieve is a slow wind with short, sharp twitches of the rod tip to give the soft plastic a wounded baitfish look..
“The third retrieve is to allow the soft plastic to sink down beside the structure,” Scott continues. “This retrieve works really well around marker poles and jetty pylons because they’re usually situated in deeper water, so I opt for a slow, twitching wind or a quick retrieve to the surface.
“The last option is to fish the plastics around berley when you have spotted kings coming up the trail,” Scott explains. “Just allow the soft plastic to drift down into the trail before starting a slow or fast retrieve. This trick works on the kings just about every time when they’re around the berley trail.”
Unlike the high-speed retrieves associated with spinning metal slugs and poppers into schools of surface feeding pelagics, soft plastics offer a whole new world of steady paced spinning opportunities. When using soft lures, simply cast into the feeding frenzy and commence a slow retrieve of the lure back to the boat. Texas, Florida, Texposed and lead-headed rigs work fine with straight tails, split tails, curly tails and T-tails when you’re chasing fish like schooling tuna and trevally.
If you can’t find the tarpon rolling on the surface or see the air bubbles, keep an eye glued to the sounder screen as you drive slowly through known tarpon reaches of the river. Tarpon generally move around pretty quickly and leave good slashes on the sounder.
Tarpon feeding on bottom-dwelling prawns will still show themselves on the surface, but they don't hang around the surface layers for as long and are therefore not as easily enticed by a surface skipping lure. This is where soft plastics really shine. The Slider 3" grub, for example, has a tail that vibrates, even on freefall through the water. When letting your grub sink to the bottom it often gets nailed on the drop, so it’s wise to keep an eye on your line where it enters the water. Many successful anglers who use this technique tune their jighead weight to the lure to ensure that the head weight makes the tail flutter on freefall.
A basic medium/fast retrieve commenced soon after the lure hits the bottom will have your rod bending over if the tarpon are in the mood. When the strike comes, don't stop winding or jerk the rod to set the hook. Just keep winding the curve into the rod until the drag starts slipping and then keep the pressure on with the rod tip down on the water to reduce the chance of the tarpon jumping and throwing the hook.
Once you've had the thrill of the initial runs and the silver pocket rocket is near the boat, feel free to raise your rod tip and let the tarpon jump. Nine times out of 10 the hook will be thrown, saving you the hassle of handling the fish to release it.
First, of course, you need to locate the fish. This means looking for fish-holding structure for shallower fish, or using a sounder to locate deep fish. The golden rule is find the structure and habitat (such a good snag near deep water), then find the bait (or food source) and you should find the fish.
Secondly, determine (often by trial and error) your retrieve, based on the mood of the fish. Most anglers start off fishing fast so that they can cover more ground. If they don’t have any luck they then slow down until they start catching.
Thirdly, work out how to position your boat so as not to spook the fish, and a presentation to keep the lure in the strike zone for longer.
One example might be casting to weed-side structure, where you can opt for a light 1/8oz or 1/4oz jighead. Cast the small soft plastic to the face of the weeds and let it freefall for a few seconds. Commence the retrieve with a quick flick of the rod tip to bring the lure out of the weeds, then hop it over the submerged greenery, letting it sink in the clear zones or ‘alleyways’ in the weedbeds. This is a great way to target fish ambushing prey amongst weed.
A second example is casting to semi-shallow fish and using the ‘burn and kill’ retrieve. This retrieve involves casting out, letting the lure sink and then cranking the reel handle a few times to bring the lure up off the bottom. After that, let the lure freefall back down – either to the bottom or through the school of fish – and then give another few cranks of the reel handle.
There are so many options with plastics, but the fun comes with experimenting. Check them out and see what works for you.
1) The author had cast a Prawnstar to another fish when this Bundaberg pikey bream zoomed out and intercepted the offering.
2) Mike Connelly used the jerkbaiting technique to tempt this squire on a ‘fluke’. The fish came from a Moreton Bay reef in the early morning glow of a typical Winter’s day.Reads: 7117