Shads: How big will you go?
  |  First Published: February 2009

Last winter my Aussie crew and I decided we wanted to see ‘how big was too big’ when it comes to soft plastic lures for snapper and other species.

The results were a little inconclusive, and by that I mean the snapper ate the bigger lures so readily that not much else had the chance to sample them. Still, we had some surprising results.


When the snapper on soft plastic shad experience started earlier this decade, it was 4” straight tails all the way. Popular opinion had it that you couldn’t go much bigger and still get the hook-ups because the snapper couldn’t get the whole thing in its ‘little’ mouth.

However, while a snapper’s mouth was obviously smaller than, say, a barramundi’s, people started to wonder whether bigger lures would still work. Absolutely they worked, and by the 2008 season 7” plastics were pretty much the norm. Nowadays, the whole ‘lure in the mouth’ deal had been written off as a fallacy.

So what to try next? Well, we decided to spend about half a dozen trips in a row fishing 5” and 7” shads alongside 9” shads and bigger across the 2008 winter and spring fishing. We used Big Lunker City Slug-Go soft plastic lures and 10” Fin-S shads, with 12” (30cm) and even up to 45cm Belly Strips representing the bigger extremes. They all got solid hook-ups with the 10” and 12” lures being very productive. We did hook a monster something on the 18” Belly Strip, with the lure just wafting out the back deadsticking behind the drift, but we never stopped the fish on 80lb braid. Our second attempt at catching something on the 18” belly strip resulted in being bitten off by what Dad thinks was a Spanish mackerel in excess of 50lb.

Interestingly, these trials have been replicated in the Atlantic Ocean in the past season and quite a few very big XOS tuna and others have been the result.


Obviously, this has resulted in sending us back to the drawing board with tackle and tactics. The rods, we think, need to be even more fighting action parabolic style and with longer rear grips so that you can tuck the butt under your armpit for extra power – GT fighting style (if you like it that way). Some modified blanks have been trialled and some new blanks are on the way.

I’m sorry to say this but we found the best performance with these large lures and casting heavier lines from some older actioned rods that are no longer trendy; hence I’m sure there’ll be some misunderstandings until the full benefits of the new versions of old trusties are understood, and fish are caught. Much the same way as it is with bend-through-to-the-butt fighting-actioned jig sticks, which are the ultimate fish fighting tool.

Alas, many people who haven’t ‘been there done that’ might end up being convinced that a stiffer rod is the go. A fast taper may feel great when you’re bending it in a tackle store or fighting a 20lb kingfish, but when you’re connected to a 100lb Sampson down deep in the blue it’s a totally different story. Rods that lock up anywhere from the halfway mark to the tip are just not suited to such brutal or hard-pulling fish.

The reels are generally OK maybe a size or two bigger than the 560 Penn Slammers that are normal for soft plastic snappering up to 30 or 40lb braid. I’ve gone up to a 760 Penn Slammer.

Our line of choice has gone up to 60-65lb braid. With leaders we have gone up to 80lb for hoodlums, and we’ve caught snapper on this heavy-handed approach. However, as always, try to fish as light as you can when targeting suspended snapper in daylight hours. Of course, this you puts you back into the 40lb leader / 30lb braid spin rod situation, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Snapper love the big lures.

Until now we’d been pretty much spin rod focused with our offshore soft plastics, but overhead barrel reel double handed baitcaster outfits will make a comeback as the footlong shads evolve. Unfortunately for now the big baitcaster reel I liked best got discontinued, and the reel we used as an alternative broke after a few fish. As a result, the family and friends are still working on this one.

One supplier told me that barrel baitcasters were finished, unpopular, out of fashion… so I’m hoping they’ll come back into fashion. I’m reminded of the boom in small spin reels when the bream boom fired up Australians circa 2000 – this was a time when manufacturers had to rush the high-end little spin reels back into their ranges for little lures. Maybe big shads will have the same impact on big barrel baitcasters. For now, if you find one on the shelf, snap it up.

As far as tactics go – the two main methods of casting ahead of the drift (with the spin outfits) and deadsticking behind the drift of the boat with double-handed baitcaster outfits, have both been working well for us thus far.

Additionally, these lures have also been working well for us on the troll.

From the rigging point of view, super large hooked jigheads with up to 10/0 hooks and weedless rigging using 8/0 Mustad Power Bite hooks have worked fine. A word of warning – you can expect to get a lot of hook breakages if you use suspect hooks and lots of drag pressure with 65lb braid. This factor will multiply when the fish you encounter get bigger.

Quite often we have elected to use jigheads rather than my preference of a separate hook and weight (a few marlin and billfish have been encountered and they are more likely to throw a weighty jighead than a free running rig – although at this stage this is another evolving story). Probably the main reason for going towards the jighead initially has been that we have found large heavy-duty hooked jigheads to be more readily available, such as those made for use with very large twin tails in the 30cm bracket.

Options for free running rigs and even other alternatives do exist, and more and more of them are becoming available on the market as lure companies complete their testing. And don’t just think USA either, this big shad movement has a worldwide subculture.


Species-wise it has been pretty much a big snapper affair; so far we haven’t caught a fish under 75cm on the big shads. We have also caught a few other seriola, kingfish, cobia and amberjack, and lost numerous big unstoppables.

I’m sure that further international trials and the 2009 winter to spring season in Australia will shed even more light on these big plastics. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, if any readers dig up some good experiences with the bigger shads, let me know. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, too.

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