Softbaits and Soft-plastics - FAQ's

With more and more anglers switching over to soft-plastics, we often get asked a lot of questions (even by long-term converts) about how to rig and fish the various soft-plastics now available.

In our busy charter schedule we are noticing a lot of anglers stepping aboard with all the flash gear and trinkets that have caught their eye or been encouraged to buy, but with little knowledge of the basic fundamentals. Here I can dispel some myths and shed some light on this growing facet of our sport with some of our most frequently asked questions.

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Q: Is a lead jig head or weighted worm-hook rig better?

A: Jig heads have the hook fixed in the weight. This can lead to missed hook-ups, foul hooking and, on some of the cheaper models, even hook failure. We find that worm hooks run beneath a ball sinker work better. Want the best of both worlds? Try a Jig Star jig head with a split-ring behind the head. They come in lumo, too.

Q: Should I use fluorocarbon or mono as trace line?

A: Fluorocarbon is well known for its hard, abrasion-resistant nature and its low visability in the water, making it perfect for fishing in close to rocks and the shallow areas around the drop-offs. The ability to 'hide' yourself - even just a bit - when fishing like this, can make a huge difference. But most of us are not seriously into wash fishing and are more likely to be found drifting over reefs, in channels or out over the sand in school season. Mono trace material works fine for most soft-bait fishing, and a rod length of Black Magic, Moimoi or other leading brand trace will suffice.

Q: What weight leader or trace should I run?

A: This depends on the size fish you are targeting or expect to catch. Fishing in 40-50m in the Hauraki Gulf and along the coast we use a 10kg leader, keeping a close eye on the wear area on the hook and all the usual battle scars along the hook end of the leader. If it's getting worn quickly, try bumping it up to 20kg instead.

Q: What colours work best?

A: This is probably the most frequently asked question and also the most open-ended. What worked well yesterday may not work well today, and colours play a major part in soft-plastic fishing, especially with non-scented baits.

We find the proven colours include: chartreuse (basically a bright, lime-green); red with just about any other colour; green and orange (such as a Gulp! Lime Tiger); and any colour that looks like a fish (e.g. with grey/blue pillie colours and flecks of black or black dots). So don't leave home without a decent selection of colours.

Q: Can you show me how to tie my leader on, and what knots should I use for my hook or jig head?

A: The key thing to remember is to make sure you double your braid before attaching the leader. A single strand of braid has significant cutting ability; doubling it creates a wider wear area on the leader, increasing the knot strength. The Bimini Twist is great for this, and once practiced can be tied easily, but for those wanting a faster, more easily-tied knot, go for a seven-turn Spider Hitch. I have never had one fail and I use soft-plastics almost daily!

Connecting the leader to the doubled braid can be achieved in a number of ways, including the popular Uni to Uni joining knot. This is a strong knot - more accurately, two knots snubbed up together - but I find it can bind in the top guide when the leader gets shortened due to abrasion and retying. For this reason we have adopted the 18-turn Yucatan knot. Simple and easy to tie, it forms a long, slim barrel that flies through the guides effortlessly and is also very strong - as the cuts to my hands when testing it prove!

Connecting the hook or jig head is easy too. Lefty's loop, the Uni knot, Blood knot and the Palomar knot are all good, strong options.

Q: Can I use my fibreglass snapper rod instead of a graphite soft-plastic rod?

A: The two main reasons we use graphite-based material for soft-plastic fishing are for the improved sensitivity provided, and in order to impart lure action more efficiently. A lot of soft-plastic lures are designed to be fished on the move. Lures like Basstrix, Catch, Lunker City and most of the other unscented baits rely on movement to attract the bite, and giving the rod tip a twitch here and there gives them the action they need.

Graphite rods have an action suitable for this style of fishing and are light enough to enable twitching and dropping all day long. The sensitivity and action of a graphite rod allows the detection of the smallest bite possesses and the power to deliver your capture to the surface, but I guess if you want to miss the subtle bites and have little or no action in your baits, then go for your life!

Q: There's nylon under my braid! I've been ripped off!

A: This is called a 'top shot'.

It is more economical and easier to replace 100m of braid than 300m, so they (manufacturers and tackle retailers) part-fill the spool with mono, then connect the braid to the mono and fill the spool. This is great for fishing in depths up to about 30m, but if constantly fishing deeper than that, I would suggest a full spool of braid.

Q: I haven't had any luck with soft-plastic lures. What am I doing wrong?

A: You're probably not doing anything wrong, other than that you're not doing enough of it. I always ask what gear is being used, where the fishing has been done, and what soft-plastic lures were being used. Most replies are based on a "We tried it for 20 minutes the other day using a pack I got for Christmas" response. It's like anything worth doing - you need to put some time in to succeed.

Don't expect miracles on your first cast; rather get a selection of baits, borrow or buy a soft-plastic set up, and try and put yourself where there are some fish.

Q: Can I throw my used soft-plastics in the ocean? It says on the pack that they are biodegradable.

 A: Just about everything is biodegradable! It's just a matter of how long it takes for things to 'biodegrade'. We don't want the country's coastline to be littered with pieces of wrecked rubber, so put them in the bin. Try reshaping a tail-nipped bait with your scissors to get another bite out of it, or keep the broken baits in the packet they came in for use on ledger rigs. This can work really well.

Q: Do soft-plastics work on other rigs, too?

A: Sure do! A ledger rig with a 4-inch 'Swimming Mullet' or a 'Peeler Crab' on each hook works a treat on school and reef fish, while a 'drop shot' rig works well in deeper water (basically a one-hook ledger rig with a longer dropper loop or snood coming off the main dropper line). We have had a lot of success with the latter rig in the cooler winter months over deepwater reefs around the Outer Gulf. There is a range of different deepwater rigs available that incorporates a short length of wire running through a heavy sinker or is attached to a split-ring off a swivelled sinker - and these also work well, too.?

 This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News

June 2008 - written by Damian Clayton


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