April 12, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
When I was a young boy learning how to fish for bass under the watchful eye of my late father Bill, there was nothing in the world that screamed "Fishing Trip!" to my young mind like opening up a bag of brand new soft-plastic worms.
As I recall, prior to a Saturday trip, Dad would stop by a local tackle shop Friday evening and come home with a bag or two of vintage soft plastics made by the likes of Crème, Mister Twister and others.
And if the brown paper shopping bag contained a bag of Tom Mann’s Jelly Worms, well, it would be hard to go to sleep that night as the fishing anticipation built in my young angler’s heart, mind, and soul. In fact, so powerful and enticing was that smell, that in my humble opinion, the very odor of a strawberry or grape Jelly Worm should be inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame!
Today, even five years after my dad left this side of eternity, such father-and-son angling trips near our homes in western Tennessee, southeastern Louisiana, and North Texas, remain among the most powerful memories I have in my 50-plus years of life. And in large part, they are an integral part of the career path that I’ve chosen to follow.
Back then, only a few tackle companies made soft-plastic lures, which may have contributed to my fascination with them since they seemed like rare and expensive angling treasures. But today, as any walk into a store that sells fishing tackle and angling supplies will tell you, soft-plastic baits are as common as can be. The love for, and effectiveness of, soft-plastic lures has brought about a trend among do-it-yourself lure makers.
Some anglers love the idea of turning out their own custom made soft-plastic lures of various shapes, colors, and sizes. Because in the end, while it may or may not be less expensive than store-bought varieties in these tough economic times, it can be extra rewarding and satisfying when you hold up a lunker caught on a lure you’ve made yourself.
What You'll Need
If making plastic lures is a Backyard Ready project you’d like to try, the first thing you’ll need (before thinking about lure molds and the like) is a ventilated and dedicated workbench that is tucked away in the corner of your backyard deck, workshop, or garage. If you already have such a workspace, great. And if not, a visit to a local home building supply store or an online visit to Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist should get you in the game.
You’ll also need some protective gear, including a respirator (for the fumes of dealing with molten plastic and various other materials), leather gloves to protect your hands from scalding hot liquid, and a heavy Carhartt-style jacket or hoodie that is thick enough to protect you and your body from any potential splashes or spills as you work with extremely hot materials.
In that same line of thought, you’ll need some work supplies, including glass mixing bowls, metal spoons for stirring, shop towels, and other tools and products dedicated to this lure-making task. These can be repurposed items or you can go all out and purchase a variety of brand new tools and gear from tackle suppliers like Jan’s Netcraft, Barlow’s Tackle, and Mud Hole, to name a few.
You’ll also want/need an old microwave dedicated to the task of heating up liquid plastic material and turning into the molten substance to pour into a mold. For that, head to your local retail store, a local thrift shop, or even pull one from the shop or storage shed out back.
Next, comes the actual soft-plastic molds. While some DIY types craft their own molds from plaster or resin, you can also purchase commercially made molds for a variety of different style lures— everything from Senkos to finesse worms to regular style Texas-rigged plastic worms to ribbon-tail worms to beaver-tail bugs to crawfish style baits and even crappie jig bodies.
How good are these molds? Well, you might be surprised at just how close you can actually get in custom soft plastic lure making to what you'd find at an outdoors big box store or a local retailer.
In fact, in one example, Do-It Molds actually teamed up with Senko creator Gary Yamamoto to make a DIY Senko mold based on the specifications of one of fishing history's all-time greatest lures. That's exact specifications--in 4-inch, 5-inch, and 6-inch sizes--all the way down to the exact length, width, and placement of ribs on the bait.
If you purchase a Senko mold (available: Barlow’s Tackle or Tackle Warehouse) will you get similar results like the legendary Hall of Fame bass fisherman and lure maker from Texas does? Who knows, but it might be fun to try, right?
Once you’ve got all of your workspace figured out and all of your tools and molds in hand, it’s now time to actually heat up some liquid plastic and start making a few lures. To do that, you can purchase a lure-making kit from Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s.
You don’t have to go the kit route, however, since some DIY lure makers will want to experiment with different types of liquid plastic material—materials like X-SOL’s Plastisol plastic rubber material, available at various retailers mentioned above or even on Amazon—to achieve the desired level of lure action and bait durability.
More Than a Hobby
An important thing to consider is the up-front costs of making your own soft plastics. From a heat source to molds, injectors, liquid plastic and more, costs will run into the hundreds. Think of this as a hobby more than a way to cut costs.
When turning out a Backyard Ready lure-making station, it pays to start off with a good set of how-to-do-it instructions, such as this YouTube video from Jan’s Netcraft. You also can find great info with a Google search. After mastering the basic steps to turning out a finished plastic worm, and as you get more comfortable with the process, then you can start experimenting with different Plastisol materials to achieve better action, more durability, or a combination of both.
The same idea applies to the colorization and customization of your Backyard Ready soft-plastic lures too—stick with the basics first, get used to the lure making process, and then start branching out—through the use of various lure coloring products, glitter, and even scents that give your home made soft plastics a fish catching attraction that even a professional lure making scientist would be proud of.
When it’s all said and done, and once you assemble the right tools and materials, and gain a little bit of experience, the sky is certainly the limit in the soft plastic lure making game, even if it’s in your own backyard.
And with a little bit of experience, some fisherman’s good luck, and a bit of creativity, maybe you’ll create a few soft plastic lures in a start-to-finish process that will give you or someone you love dearly a set of smell-induced memories that will last throughout an angling lifetime.