5 Go To Plastics That Work

By Ben Leal

Last month Todd Reed discussed some killer soft baits used for bass. I wanted to expand on his useful info and talk about five soft baits that I like to use for a variety of fish and go into depth on each one of those plastics.

When it comes to fishing for our favorite quarry, whether its panfish like bluegill, crappie, white bass; or we’re chasing after big bass and maybe even trying to fool that trophy walleye in to taking our offerings…plastics have become one of the most versatile baits we use.
These plastic or artificial baits come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. I’d even include some of the biodegradable line of baits such as Berkley’s ™Gulp Alive! We’ll get a bit more in to that line of baits a bit later, but they also come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Soft plastics found their origins in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with small worms and grubs being molded from hard rubber. The stiff rubber used, as well as the basic shapes produced, did not allow the flexible action and effectiveness of modern soft plastics to be observed. In 1972, lure manufacturer Mister Twister patented the Curly Tail concept, utilizing the flexibility of silicone-based plastic to create a rubber lure with a more lifelike action and vastly improved fish-catching effectiveness. By the early to mid-1980s, high sales volumes of Mister Twister lures prompted many new entrants into the market, with competition soon leading to a broad and diverse selection of soft plastic lures being made available in a range of shapes, colors and sizes.

From then on the manufacture of plastics has grown to a multimillion dollar industry. Each year companies like Berkley, Abu Garcia, Rapala, Strike King, and a large number of unknowns in the industry produce new plastic baits with the promise of bigger and better catches. There is no doubt soft plastic baits have become a part of every angler’s arsenal when it comes to fishing. So let’s take a look at some of the most popular plastic baits we use today.

The plastic worm – this soft plastic bait is without a doubt in every bass anglers tackle box, and not just a few but a variety of colors and sizes. The plastic worm was the very first bait I used when I was introduced to bass fishing. It was easy to rig up and once I got the hang of moving the bait through the water I had success. To this day I always have a rod with a Texas rigged plastic worm and my go to colors are Tequila Sunrise and Red Shad.

The plastic worm is incredibly versatile and can be rigged in any number of ways. As I’ve already alluded to the Texas rig is probably one of the top rigs in bass fishing. Following closely would be the Carolina rig. This is a great way to work a plastic worm through cover where bass may be suspended off the bottom a foot or two. A recent addition to fishing plastic worms for bass has been the wacky worm. This worm is usually more of a straight type plastic and will have the hook either penetrating through the center of the worm weightless or with a weedless hook that is held in place by a rubber ring. Great rig for finicky fish.

Mr. Twister – also known as a grub and curly tail. I’d have to say that this bait will run a very close second to the aforementioned plastic worm when it comes to baits in your tackle box. This is probably most widespread among panfish anglers. I’ve carried a number of these curly tails in my tackle box, tackle bag, fishing vest…you name it I probably have several of these handy.

The plastic grub is great minnow imitation bait, add a jig head to the grub that matches the forage that’s around the lake you’re fishing and you’ll find success. Some colors at times won’t even come close to natural colors, for instance a pink jig head. I’ve rigged this up with some great success and in one afternoon of fishing for white bass, the pink and white grub combination netted over 200 fish for the day. There were two of us fishing by the way.

These plastic baits will come in sizes ranges from 1 inch all the way up to 6 inches. They are also great trailer material for spinner baits and even bass jigs. Add a black grub to a blue/black lead headed jig and you’ve got a bit more action when it moves through the water. I’ve added the six inch grub to my large musky spinners to add additional visibility and action. Bluegill, crappie, bass, walleye, northern pike, musky…they all can be caught on the extremely species versatile plastic grub.

Tube jigs – These also come in a variety of sizes and colors and can also be used for panfish. For panfish nothing beats the Strike King Mr. Crappie Tube. I use a very small tube jig that I slide in to the body of the tube, pushing the eye of the jig through the top then tying off. I like to rig two of these in tandem when I’m fishing for crappie. It’s a great way to figure out what colors the fish are keying on and if they are particularly aggressive, you can catch two at a time.

For bass these are larger and will range from two and half inches up to four inches in most cases. Some of the most popular baits of this variety are Strike Kings Coffee Tube bait, Bass Pro Shops Bass Teaser in white and Zoom Salty Super Tube in green / motor oil color. Manufactures will produce these baits with scent built in and in the case of the salty baits you’ll find them saturated with salt in the bag when purchased.

Tube jigs can be fished along the bottom of the lake, or in a swimming motion. These are great during the bass spawn, walk a tube jig through a spawning bed and watch that big bass pick it up in an attempt to move it off. Set the hook quickly, they’re not hungry just protecting the nest.
Paddle tail swimbaits – One of the newcomers to the market in relative terms. And like those plastics we’ve already discussed there are quite a number of varieties of these baits. You can pick these up in sizes ranging from 3 to 10 inches, hollow bodied or solid. I’ve used the hollow bodied variety with some decent success fishing for bass and northern pike. Though the baits are hardy, large pike tend decrease the life span significantly. There are two basic rigs; weedless or with a jighead (best for open water and slow rolling presentations).

Weedless presentation work well when bass are suspended in weedbeds actively feeding on baitfish that are schooling in the weeds. Use a wide gap hook that has a belly weight that will help with proper swimming action as you retrieve the bait.

For open water presentation us a jighead large enough to fit the bait you’re using. Make sure the hook is straight and match the weight and speed and depth of retrieve. Another option is to rig a solid bodied paddle tail with a hook threaded through the nose of the bait and weightless. This is a great way to mimic a wounded baitfish. Use spinning gear and a sensitive rod. Lower your rod tip and twitch the bait through the water. Pause long enough for the paddle tail to start sinking a bit and then twitch again. Be sure to watch your line and keep a finger on the line if you can. In most cases the take will occur as you pause and the bait is sinking or completing forward motion. You’ll see the line twitch or feel a thump…reel in the slack line and set the hook!

You can also add these baits to skirted jigs, creating a swimming bait. Also available are paddle tail baits called line-thru swim baits. These have a tube for passing a line through the belly of the bait and a hook can be tied to the line, usually a treble hook.

Creature baits – these are great fish catching baits and will help you catch big fish. I started using these types of baits several years ago when introduced to them attached to a swim-bait. It didn’t take me long to realize that these are versatile and can be used alone or added to your favorite jig.

A common way to rig this bait is with a straight shank wide gap hook, Texas style. The large profile body will move the weeds and cover and makes for a highly visibly bait. These typically will imitate crawfish; however can also mimic large baitfish if you use lighter colored baits. I’ve also added these to large skirted jigs to give them more bulk and action. Great for stained or low visibility water conditions. Strike King Rage Tail, Berkley Havoc ® Pit Boss and Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver are a few creature baits to name a few.

Whats Next
Biodegradable baits – Soft plastic baits, such as worms, craws, lizards, tubes, frogs, etc., are commonly lost while fishing, either getting pulled off the hooks or jigs and ingested by fish during the catch, or falling off while fishing structure and various underwater cover to later tantalize fish and other wildlife and waterbirds and be eaten then. NEVER throw used plastic baits into the water!

More and more companies are making bio-soft molded lures that are biodegradable, and many anglers are moving to using them for their scent advantages. Berkley Gulp! and Gulp! Alive, FoodSource Lures, Big Bite Bait’s BioBaits, and FishBites are common choices for freshwater and saltwater anglers.

Soft plastic baits have certainly come a long way since the 1950’s and the introduction of the Mr. Twister curly tail in 1972. Where will the industry takes us as fishing equipment, baits and techniques improve? Technology certainly has given us all an edge in chasing after our favorite table fare, or just at a chance at landing a fish of a lifetime.

Remember to take care of the resources we have here in Iowa…leave them in better condition than you found them and pass the passion on to the next generation…Tight Lines All!