There they are on the fishing shop wall, resplendent in all their slimy, pongy, clammy glory – a massive variety of soft-baits in shapes, colours and sizes to suit every situation, technique and species of fish. Well, almost!
So how do you choose the right one from amongst them all? Why a curly tail rather than a paddle tail or a jerk bait – and what the hell is a jerk bait, anyway? Also, why choose four inches when surely six inches must be better? And as for those tails in ultra-bright, outrageous (almost offensive) colours, how could fish possibly prefer them over the more natural and fishy looking offerings? (“Ooohhh – and how about those almost-alive shrimp, cray, squid and sea worm replicas – they’d have to be the go on snapper! But they stink of garlic! I HATE garlic – so maybe the fish do, too!”)
Yep, it can be a mission, but hopefully, by the end of this article, things will have become clearer.
The shape and size of the soft-bait tail you use will have a big bearing on the amount of success (or frustration) you experience.
For example, a large, bulky soft-plastic will descend more slowly through the water column than a smaller, slimmer tail on the same sized lead-head, especially in a current. But such a quality may suit you. Perhaps you want to target big snapper by casting a reasonably substantial offering out into the reefy shallows, its bulky form holding it up clear of the weed for longer. Or maybe the fish are taking lures on the way down, so the longer they remain suspended, the more likely they will be taken – ideal for schooling season or when probing beneath baitfish work-ups.
However, sometimes smaller and slimmer is preferable, as such attributes enable the lure to cut through the water more efficiently and get down deeper more quickly. No point having that monster ‘Nuclear Chicken’ tail if it’s not reaching the fish!
Also, when given a jiggling motion with the rod, the slimmer profile tails rise and fall more quickly, creating a more erratic motion that sometimes proves more attractive to sly old snapper than something larger but more ponderous.
Personally, I’m a big fan of Gulp! Sand Eels, despite the fact they seemed a rather unlikely candidate at first – after all, I’ve never seen a sand eel in New Zealand and they don’t possess a nice, wriggly tail like some of the others. But when I tried them out one day, without much optimism, they really brought home the bacon. In fact, they just about got me the whole pig – and have regularly been winners ever since.
I believe much of this is due to their shape and length. The very slim, ‘piper-ish’ profile allows them to quickly slip down through the water and get to wherever the fish are feeding efficiently, and because they’re six inches long rather than the usual five inches in the same Gulp! price range, they tend to attract larger fish on average. Also, six to the packet makes them top value!
The only disadvantage of such tails is their narrow diameter, which makes them a little more susceptible to ripping when chomped on, and being bitten through by those mongrel leatherjackets. At times these little nibblers seem to be in plague proportions no matter how far and wide you go. (Who would have thought such odd, slowly trundling fish could become the bane of many soft-plastic anglers’ lives?) When leatherjackets attack, it pays to swap over to the thicker ‘Pogey’ type soft-baits with a paddle-style tail, as they are more resistant to the assorted reef ooglies’ attentions.
Despite the success of that crime against nature, the ‘Nuclear Chicken,’ I suspect that some of its success simply comes from the number of people using it, perhaps won over initially by the very catchy name and spurred on by the notion of tricking a fish into biting something so unnatural and garish.
Having said that, the brighter, more fluorescent colour schemes typified by the dear old ‘Nuked Chook’ really do press the right buttons at times (whether this is aggression, predatory instinct or a mix of both, I don’t know), triggering thumping strikes and chomps, especially when fishing amongst the roiling whitewash or in slightly murky water.
However, at other times the more subdued and natural hues come to the fore; for example, I often seem to do well with such tails first thing in the morning when casting out over clear but reefy shallows – particularly with those in the Sapphire Shine (blue) colouration, as well as with the unlikely looking and sounding ‘Pumkinseed’.
As for luminous tails, there are definite advantages to be gained by using them in low-light conditions, such as prior to sun-up and after sunset, or when fishing very deep water. For example, the luminous Gulp! Lugworm has often produced well for me, even in near darkness, perhaps helped by the fact it also looks like a squid tentacle. And although in a very different league size-wise, a monstrous lumo Bozo ‘Grub’ tail, reeking of garlic and rigged on an eight-ounce lead-head, resulted in several tasty gemfish to 10kg in 150 metres of water, while the lumo-blue version undid a tough, 18kg kingfish chasing the bait schools a little later in the morning.
I must admit that I’m a fan of smell in my soft-baits – and to a certain extent I don’t really care what it is, as long as it disguises the relatively unappealing scent of freshly-processed rubber/plastic (even though the smell of freshly-made plastic often isn’t enough to prevent fish from biting!).
The tail’s scent might be the result of a complex protein infusion gleaned from the ovaries of Bulgarian lumpfish or simply from soaking in fish oil, aniseed or garlic – they all seem to work.
Indeed, some soft-plastic tails are so chock-full of goodies that most species will treat them as they would a piece of fish bait, nibbling and biting until either they get hooked or manage to remove the tail from the hook altogether.
On the face of things this would be a good attribute to have, but as time goes on, I can’t help wondering about the thousands of pieces bitten from my various types and brands of soft-bait tails – especially after friends cut open a leatherjacket and found an intestine full of colourful synthetic chunks
I want to know what happens to the petroleum-based products when ingested? Do they: simply pass through the fish’s colon and anal vent intact (as presumably happens to any bits of shell and bone eventually); remain in the gut to provide the fish with that happily-full, Jenny Craig feeling; or perhaps they get sick eventually? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
No matter what the outcome though, I urge all anglers to keep soft-plastic detritus on board – even those that are supposed to be ‘biodegradable’; I would hate to see us go down the same road as overseas, where some of the more popular lakes have a high-tide ‘weedline’ of discarded soft-plastic tails and empty packets...