Soft-baits have formed a large part of Rob Fort’s kayak fishing arsenal during the last thirteen years. He believes that the concept, once grasped, will open the mind to many other possibilities as well as produce some epic battles.
In Part One we looked at the potential for using soft-baits in shallow water and some of the techniques needed to successfully fish this method. Now it’s time to choose our weapon and take aim.
This can be mind boggling, especially with so many varieties, sizes and colours available. As with any fishing, the best chance of success is by matching your offering to the food source already available to your target predatory fish in each location. When choosing, consider factors like depth and terrain because every soft-bait has its own way of swimming. This further depends on the way it is worked by an angler, with upward lifting and flicking the main technique used here in NZ.
As a general guide, shapes that offer more action will be most effective because of their ability to provide movement and vibrations. This equates to a soft-bait that does a much better job of attracting the attention of fish. Shapes such as grub tails, jerk shads and Gulp! Crazy Legs can offer this and are available in a number of sizes. I generally favour smaller grub, minnow and jerk shad type soft-baits, with larger sizes also used occasionally.
Twin tail soft-baits are excellent for extra attraction and snapper can't resist.
Colours are also important, and as a starting point any natural shades will cover the bases. In shallow water, fish are more likely to see a soft-bait before or around the same time they sense it, so colour can be important. Using combinations that provide shade changes from light and dark colours are excellent. Dark colours are also worth utilising at certain times, often making the difference in murky water.
One of my favourite ways to catch fish with soft-baits is from a kayak. It has encouraged me to prospect areas most boat users would never consider. Shallow water is an environment that many anglers underestimate, and it is especially suited to kayak fishing. While boats can be noisy, the kayak fisher has the ability to be quiet on the water which unlocks the soft-bait’s potential in shallow areas.
The kayak is the ultimate shallow water soft-bait fishing platform.
Certain fish, like snapper, are quite sensitive to noise and can easily be disturbed, which causes them to be much less willing to feed. It’s a good idea to keep any noise from movement to a minimum. This not only ensures fish are more willing to go about their business but also benefits the angler as the soft-bait can be presented without hindrance, and in a more natural way. Move into a location you are planning to fish quietly and drift up the coast with as little excess movement as possible.
In Part One, we discussed how slow sink rates are one of the most important factors in successfully soft-baiting the shallows. Keeping in touch with the soft-bait as it moves through the water column is also important and requires further awareness in order to detect the slightest bit of interest. Fishing blind is something a good number of soft-bait anglers do because they have little idea what’s happening until they work the soft-bait. In shallow water this equates to constant snagging because the soft-bait has been allowed to make contact with foul ground for extended periods. This is the reason many anglers avoid the shallow areas. But this is not the only reason why keeping contact is important.
Fish will more often grab a soft-bait as it is sinking; however, the way they make contact can be different on any given day. Having the ability to understand the soft-bait’s depth and any attention shown from fish is key prior to working the soft-bait back in. The whole process starts once you have successfully set the vessel up to allow a slow drift across an area. Casting around in all directions, particularly in front of the drift line, is ideal as it allows the angler to prospect. When staying in touch, it is important to keep the braid line slightly taut, which is best done by lowering the rod tip close to the water’s surface. Keeping the tip down will also allow the line to lay on the surface which allows you to watch it closely.
Sometimes you may need to wind line onto the reel in order to prevent too much slack line forming but this will depend on the speed and direction of the vessel as well as the water movement. This is a key way to recognise the interests of a fish as the soft-bait sinks down. Look for any changes in the behaviour of the line including sudden movements like twitches or tightening. When fish are keen to feed they will usually grab and run which causes tightening; twitches usually occur if fish are mouthing the soft-bait gently. Both are good indicators that it is time to strike, but this does not guarantee a solid hook up.
More positive hook penetrations seem to happen when fish are in the mood to feed because the hook is taken well inside the mouth area. When fish are picky the opposite occurs, with hooks often just attached by the smallest amount of skin on the lips. In this situation, if your drag is set too high you risk pulling the hook and losing the fish. As well as recognising the attention of fish during the soft-bait’s descent, we also need to be aware of how close to the sea floor it is. There are different ways of achieving this. Counting is the easiest but using a method that measures seconds is best. As most jighead packs have details on their sink rate, it should be easy to work out!
This diagram shows how a soft-bait swims lifting and twitching your rod.
Once you have found the ideal combination of jighead and soft-bait, cast in the desired direction. Your senses should be alert from the moment it hits the surface of the water. From here, the search for an enquiry from a fish begins and where shallow water is concerned, having an ultra-slow sink rate will encourage this.
Small soft-baits like three-inch minnows are an easy snack for snapper resting up in the shallows.
Getting the balance can be tricky and current is one factor that can change how long it takes to get down. The sounder will give you depth so you can have a good idea of when the soft-bait will hit the sea floor. After a few casts you will have a better idea of when you’re on the bottom, and counting can also sure up any uncertainty. Slack line increasing along the surface and looping towards you indicates the soft-bait is resting. The amount of time you allow this to happen will determine bottom time, so quick reaction helps avoid snags.
If nothing happens on the way down to the sea floor, it’s time to work the soft-bait. There are no hard and fast rules here as there are a number of techniques that work well. Obviously, presenting a soft-bait so it looks as close to the real thing as possible is paramount in order to deceive a fish to strike.
The style most commonly used involves a series of flicks as the rod tip is lifted, quickly followed by the winding of the reel as the rod drops down for another lift. You can also try moving the rod differently with side to side and upward flicking motions of the rod tip, which causes the soft-bait to dart around in different directions. The same can be said of the soft-baiting technique which involves the soft-bait being retrieved at a fast erratic pace. This technique takes some practice and requires winding the reel handle at the same time as the rod is flicked in all manner of directions. With this technique, the soft-bait should only sink until it is one to two metres deep before the winding action begins. It is really effective in clear waters of three to four metres.
Another technique to use is to move the soft-bait as it sinks. This can help the soft-bait get extra attention, especially when things are quiet. Allowing a soft-bait to sit on the sea floor can also be effective on certain days as it gives the fish time to pick it up. There is always the risk of snags but the results can make it worthwhile.
Of course, part of the fun is trying to land that one large fish that happens to be on the prowl in the vicinity. They play dirty every time and more battles are lost than won at times, but that’s part of the challenge with fishing soft-baits. There is certainly merit in staying dedicated to the cause and putting the time in. As you find success, your confidence will grow, and so will your motivation for further soft-bait exploration of shallow-water coastlines.
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