Plas­ter ’Em with Plas­tic

Tai­lor your soft-plas­tic lures and tech­niques to the tar­get species and fish­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Contents - GE­ORGE POVEROMO

Tai­lor your soft-plas­tic lures and tech­niques to the tar­get species and fish­ing sit­u­a­tion

“Soft plas­tics work ev­ery time striped bass are ac­tively chas­ing bait,” said Mary­land-based Capt. Pete “Wall­eye” Dahlberg. No mat­ter how rav­en­ous the feed­ing blitz, how­ever, the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay light-tackle lure-fish­ing au­thor­ity quickly added that plenty of know-how is still re­quired to trick them — and other in­shore game fish — into eat­ing plas­tic.

Lead or Fol­low:

Scor­ing with soft baits de­pends 10 per­cent on lure selec­tion and 90 per­cent on an­gler skill; the per­son on the rod is re­spon­si­ble for breath­ing life into a sim­ple piece of plas­tic to evoke strikes.

For sur­face for­ag­ing stripers, Pete Dahlberg goes er­ratic. “Short, sharp twitches make the lure stand out in bait schools be­ing preyed upon,” Dahlberg says. “It ap­pears as if it’s fran­ti­cally try­ing to keep up with the main group. Striped bass sim­ply de­vour it.”

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Capt. Benny Florentino shares a sim­i­lar ap­proach for cal­ico bass. “It’s about mim­ick­ing the bait­fish,” he says. “If a bait­fish isn’t swim­ming crazily, it’s not afraid. So, our soft plas­tics must move with pur­pose and ap­pear pan­icked. We also strive to fish them near, but not within, large bait schools, where cal­i­cos eas­ily sin­gle them out.”

For bot­tom-hold­ing fish, Dahlberg and Florentino cur­tail re­trieval pace. “If we’re mark­ing striped bass over oys­ter shells in 20 feet of wa­ter, they’re now di­al­ing in on small crabs, May worms and the likes,” Dahlberg says. “I se­lect the light­est jig head that’ll take my soft plas­tic down to them, cast, close the bail, and reel up just enough line to stay taut to my lure. As the soft plas­tic sinks, I’ll soften its land­ing, feel the en­vi­ron­ment it’s work­ing through, and de­tect any sub­tle strikes. The gen­tle land­ing mim­ics bot­tom for­age scur­ry­ing about; it’s a more nat­u­ral sound to bot­tom feed­ing stripers. I’ll keep a taut line and twitch the lure in 2- and 3-foot in­cre­ments.”

When search­ing for hal­ibut and cal­ico and spot­ted bay bass around rocks and docks in Long Beach and L.A. har­bors, Florentino makes a long cast and be­gins a slow-paced re­trieve, drop­ping and lift­ing the rod. “It’s low and slow,” Florentino says, “much like a crab or shrimp.” How­ever, when fish­ing grass flats, he’ll imi­tate an an­chovy or smelt with a steady, straight and slow re­trieve right above bot­tom.

One Inch at a Time: See Fig­ure 3.

Capt. Jim Will­cox is a wizard at catch­ing snook, tar­pon, red­fish and seatrout in the Florida Keys back­coun­try. “I tell clients not to be afraid of work­ing a soft plas­tic too slowly,” Will­cox says. “Dur­ing our win­ter cold snaps and hot sum­mer days, fish be­come slug­gish. It’s dif­fer­ent in the morn­ing and evening, but for most of the day, they’re lazy. There­fore, the bait has to re­main in that lazy zone longer.”

Af­ter a long cast, Will­cox lets his lure set­tle, aims the rod tip at the wa­ter, and then drags it along bot­tom. “I may twitch it an inch or so oc­ca­sion­ally,” Will­cox says. “The an­gler’s job is to keep in touch with the lure, and de­tect its mo­tion and any soft strikes. In short, he needs to pay at­ten­tion.”

3-by-3 Re­trieve: See Fig­ure 4.

Chris Vec­sey ex­cels at fish­ing Alabama’s coastal waters. “The beauty of fish­ing soft plas­tics is they can be rigged to do any­thing,” Vec­sey says. He con­curs that speed is often a dis­ad­van­tage. “We have such va­ri­ety here, it dic­tates how a soft plas­tic is re­trieved,” he adds. “An­glers seek­ing red­fish and trout will in­stead catch la­dy­fish, mack­erel and blue­fish if they re­trieve their lures too quickly.”

To con­sis­tently catch trout, red­fish and floun­der, Vec­sey of­fers up his 3-by-3 re­trieve tech­nique. Over grass beds, he casts a fluke-style soft plas­tic, lets it sink, twitches the bait three times, then lets it fall for three sec­onds. He just re­peats that ac­tion, all the way back to the boat. “The three twitches and the three-sec­ond falls hold the re­trieval speed to a min­i­mum, keep­ing the lure right above bot­tom, where red­fish, trout and floun­der roam,” he says.

Color Me a Fish

Vec­sey’s color selec­tion hinges on whether he’s fish­ing clear wa­ter off Or­ange Beach or the mud-hued wa­ter around Gulf Shores. For the lat­ter, he se­lects lighter lure col­ors, some with char­treuse, some with fleck, as well as smoke and even black, cre­at­ing vis­i­ble sil­hou­ettes for game fish to key on. In clear wa­ter, he fa­vors more neu­tral hues, such as wa­ter­melon.

“Peo­ple freak out when­ever a tackle shop is out of their fa­vorite color,” he says. “Switch it up oc­ca­sion­ally. The fish get tired of see­ing the same color lures too.”

Rig Right: See Fig­ure 5.

Af­ter match­ing a soft plas­tic to the ap­pro­pri­ate jig head, se­lect the light­est leader you can get away with. Leader di­am­e­ter often dic­tates strikes, or lack thereof. For pulling snook out of man­groves, 40-pound fluoro­car­bon is a good com­pro­mise be­tween stealth and strength. For red­fish and seatrout, it’s 30- and 20-pound-test, re­spec­tively. If strikes are slow in com­ing, drop down in leader size. Also, at­tach the lure to the line with a loop knot, which al­lows max­i­mum ac­tion.

Long casts in shal­low wa­ter negate the pres­ence of the boat, but when the sonar re­veals struc­ture or fish be­low, try drop­ping the soft plas­tic straight down and work it ver­ti­cal-jig­ging style. Af­ter a se­ries of long and fruit­ful casts near struc­ture in only 10 feet of wa­ter, Will­cox and I did just that dur­ing a re­cent trip and scored even more fish, in­clud­ing cobia.

You’re the one re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing th­ese col­or­ful bait­fish and crus­tacean repli­cas come to life. Take a page from the book of th­ese sea­soned pros and you’ll be amazed at just how pro­duc­tive soft plas­tics can be. Who needs live bait?

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