April 23, 2012
Ever since the first fisherman impaled a prankster's worm on a hook, bass have been striking soft plastics. In contrast, today's soft plastics baits are no joke. The variety of soft plastic lures, array of sinkers and other "bling" designed for rigging them is so incredible that anglers have difficulty deciding which soft plastics to use for the conditions at their favorite lake.
April is a top month for using soft plastic baits for bass, with bass heading into their spawning season. Bass at this time are aggressive and attack many different styles of soft plastics fished with different presentations.
When selecting a softie, the most important considerations are the buoyancy of the lure, the depth at which it will be fished and the type of cover. While almost any soft plastic can be rigged to make it work for different conditions, selecting the correct lure makes presenting it properly much easier.
There are three basic buoyancy levels for soft plastic baits. They are those that float, those that sink and those with neutral buoyancy that are able to sink slowly and suspend at a desired depth.
Floating styles include worms, flukes, frogs and their variations. These lures are effective for fishing areas with floating or emergent vegetation such as weed, pad and grass beds, or woody cover, such as live brush, standing timber, deadfalls and logjams. The fact that these soft plastics float allows them to slither through tight places and skip over potential snags that would stick other types of lures.
Of all the soft plastic baits, floating worms slide most easily through thick cover. To allow them to float, they are rigged with a light wire hook that has a spring-wire weed guard or are rigged with an offset hook with the point buried in the body of the worm in a rig known as "Texas" style.
The best rigging technique buries the hook eye and knot inside the nose of the worm, too. This prevents plant material from collecting on the nose of the worm and also stops twigs and stems from pulling the worm down the hook as the lure rides over and through them. Such snags can curl a soft lure along the hook shank and impair its action. A drop of Cyanoacrylate glue, such as Super Glue, on the hook of a floating worm, or any soft plastic, can prevent its tendency to slip down the hook.
Some soft frogs are pre-rigged with hooks, while others, especially the softies in bulk packs, are left to the angler's imagination for rigging. Frogs require larger hooks with wider bends than are needed for worms. The advantage of frog-type lures is that they are designed to hop or skip, rather than slither.
The angler can impart more action to a soft frog than a worm by twitching the rod, making the lure more detectable in dense cover. The increased vibration and surface disturbance attracts bass from greater distances and the angler often sees surface vegetation moving before the bass torpedoes the lure.
Flukes can be rigged Texas style, but they may also be rigged on a special hook with a separate nose holder that resembles a tiny corkscrew. This hooking arrangement allows greater movement, making the fluke a good bet for fishing in open water conditions. It is one of the best lures for twitching across an area where bass are bedding in open pockets, or for casting to surface-feeding schools. Another trick with a fluke is tying it to the line with a loop knot to provide freer movement.
The best water conditions for fishing surface softies are clear and warm. Visibility plays a key role in bass being able to home in on a lure slipping and skipping over heavy cover or flipping across the surface. Bass are hesitant to strike surface softies in cold water, but most waters warm up enough for surface action at some point in April. If baitfish, insects and bass are showing signs of surface activity, it's time to toss a topwater soft bait.
Floating soft plastics do not have the advantages of clattering blades and heavy rattles to help make their presence known. Visibility is therefore a major component for success. Color selection should be on the light side, with yellow, green and white patterns for good visibility against a sky-lit background.
At the opposite end of soft plastic presentations, the sinking soft plastics perform the heavy work under the most difficult conditions. They are at their best for probing the roots and trunks of standing trees, submerged rock ledges, humps and channels, or stair stepping down steeply angled rocky points.
Worm patterns are the standby soft plastic baits for deep-water fishing. However, many anglers choose something with added visual attraction, such as a crawfish or lizard pattern. Any extra movement created by extra appendages helps increase their attractiveness to bass. Other options for attracting attention include burying a rattle chamber inside the lure body, using a rattle or clattering sinker arrangement, and dipping the lure in scent or using a salt- or scent-impregnated bait.
Most anglers rig soft plastics for deep fishing by using a Carolina rig, which has many variations. The basic rig is an egg or bullet sinker sliding on the line above a swivel, stopper or bead. The soft plastic bait is rigged below the sinker, usually with a weedless hook or with the hook point buried in the lure, Texas style.
Another excellent way to rig a softie for deep fishing is by fishing it on a jig. Using a jig with a rubber, natural hair or fiber skirt is great way to increase its visibility to fish in deep water, broken cover or shaded areas. Rigging it on a jig also prevents snags that can occur because of the long leader length between the sinker and soft plastic lure when it is on a Carolina rig.
Before casting a deep-rigged soft plastic, the angler should have an idea as to the maximum water depth he will be fishing. Bottom-bouncing a lure in 5 to 10 feet of water requires a much lighter sinker or jig head than a lure fished at 15 to 20 feet of water. Other considerations include current and wind, which can create slack in the line, requiring the use of heavier sinker weights.
The lure must be rigged with an adequate amount of sinker weight to strike the bottom and maintain contact so the angler can differentiate between the lure's movements through cover and fish strikes. A hopping or drag-and-reel retrieve is best for probing deeper areas and this is among the best of all methods for fishing cool conditions or weather fronts that make the fish lethargic or under muddy water conditions where water disturbance and vibration are primary attractants that draw strikes.
The best colors for deeper presentations are usually darker shades, including brown, purple, blue and black. These colors contrast against typical bottom colors and maintain visibility where the light penetration is poor because of water depth or shade.
Anglers depend upon soft plastic baits because of their versatility. While they are effective when fished on top or along the bottom, it is between the surface and the bottom most bass are concentrated, so that is where most anglers make their presentations.
Whenever a soft plastic is fished on the top or the bottom, the angler imparts most of the action into the lure. But when it is allowed to drift slowly down through the water, the action of the lure is what attracts the attention of fish. Soft plastics can be rigged to sink slowly or they may be internally weighted to suspend at specific depths. Some are buoyancy neutral and others are designed for sinking swiftly. The inherent buoyancy of any soft plastic depends first upon the molded-in density of the plastic and second, upon how the angler rigs it.
Starting at the top, rigging a floating worm with a split shot pinched on the line allows it to slide across a lily pad, then fall slowly from the edge. Its tantalizing undulations are irresistible to bass.
To draw harder strikes, an angler can switch to a ripple tail or curly tail worm. When the fish are very aggressive, a soft plastic craw, lizard or other critter with twisty claws and other appendages offer greater visual attraction and can draw viscous strikes. Other ways to sink a slow-going worm or critter softie include rigging it on a pre-weighted hook or lightweight jig. In deeper waters, a small bullet sinker or egg sinker allows a Carolina-rigged soft plastic to drift slowly enough to stay in front of a fish's nose for a few seconds as it falls.
A floating worm can even be rigged to float with the sinker resting on the bottom. The height at which the worm floats above the bottom can be adjusted by sliding the sinker up the line and pegging it in place with a toothpick or knotted rubber band.
As with soft plastics used for bottom bumping, adding scent or using a scent- or salt-impregnated lure for slow-sinking or suspending rigs increases their attractiveness. The best colors for mid-depth fishing are neutral or medium shades, such as gray, tan, orange or green.
While the trick with a slow-sinking presentation is waiting out the drop and letting the lure do the work, swimming soft plastics are tailor-made for impatient fishermen. Anglers should use a soft plastic swimbait or jig rigged with a shad-tail or curly tail grub trailer as a crankbait. The lure can be cast and reeled steadily, with a varying retrieve, or with a stop-and-go retrieve that allows the lure to suspend once it reaches the proper depth and location.
Pre-rigged swimbaits with internal weights have taken the fishing world by storm because swimbaits have the look and feel of the real McCoy and are more durable than typical bulk-packaged worms, craws and shad-tails. Once a bass strikes, it is more likely to hold on to a soft bait than a hard plastic lure, allowing the angler the opportunity to make a good hook-set under difficult conditions such as current, depth or wind that creates slack in the line.
A swimbait or scent-impregnated jig-and-trailer is a great lure for ripping along riprap and rocks, or probing bridges, docks and standing timber. But open water fishing is where they earned their reputation. Whenever an angler spies suspended fish on his depthfinder screen or sees bass chasing baitfish on top, it's time to rear back and let her rip with a fast moving soft plastic bait.