Softbaits - fishing the drop (Pt II)

I have always incorporated aspects of 'dragging' in my soft-plastic fishing repertoire, but initially I didn't know it.

Don't know what dragging is? Well, for the purpose of this article it's any time a soft-plastic lure is dropped down and left to its own devices, with whatever the boat happens to be doing at the time providing the lure's movement.

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In the early days this meant leaving an outfit trailing a soft-plastic lure in the rod-holder while anchored and actively fishing natural baits with another outfit in the Upper Waitemata Harbour. And although the number of fish caught in comparison to those taken on bait was rather modest, it was always worth doing, because these few fish tended to be bigger - often the best of the session.

However, as my brain is of modest size and many of its neurones don't link up successfully any more, I didn't progress beyond this very rudimentary technique for quite some time. At least a year in fact, at which point I finally became sufficiently confident in the fish-catching ability of soft-plastic lures to leave all bait behind so I could use them exclusively.

Even so, my buddy Paul Shirley and I largely spent the day developing our budding casting-and-retrieving soft-plastic techniques (achieving a remarkably varied and interesting catch in the process), so it wasn't until the trip's end that 'dragging' got a chance to show its potential. By this time we were slowly drifting down the North Channel and I was filleting the catch, so I'd dropped a Gulp! Sand Eel to the bottom and then placed the rod in the holder.

Perhaps ten minutes elapsed before I looked up from my work, just in time to see a couple of sharp jerks registering on my rod tip. In a flash I had the rod out, and it only took a couple of little jiggles for everything to abruptly come up solid.

A lively fight ensued, and while the 5.5kg snapper that eventually flopped about on the surface is not the biggest I've ever caught dragging, it was the first taken this way on the drift, and served to set a whole new train of chugging thoughts in motion. As a consequence, the seemingly artless technique of 'dragging' has continued to develop to a level I ever believed possible.

A real drag

As mentioned earlier, dragging essentially involves dropping a soft-plastic lure down to or near the bottom, and then largely leaving it to its own devices.

The only action given to the lure is provided by the sea conditions and the strength of the wind at the time. As a fixed part of the boat, the rod-holder transfers all the sea's joggles, jerks and rocking through to the rod, which in turn causes the attached lure to continually and erratically lift and drop. As for the tidal flow, this determines the trailing lure's speed.

However, those who know me will tell you that leaving my fishing fate in the metallic embrace of the rod-holder is not my style - especially if bites are few and far between, as I don't like missing chances. Consequently, I largely resisted experimenting further with the idea until late last summer in the Rangitoto Channel, when struggling to catch snapper using more conventional methods. Then, fuelled by a mixture of boredom and desperation, I started dragging my soft-plastic lures along the sea floor - and, to my surprise, the bites started to come. Even better, the owners of these nibbling teeth often turned out to be respectable snapper, which were persuaded to take up residence in the fish bin on a surprisingly regular basis afterwards.

This has since become a common strategy to employ whenever things are really slow - but be aware it can be costly in chewed tails if wrasse and leatherjacket are present, especially at certain times of the year.

Be the rod-holder!

While I do realise this method is not the most exciting way to fish soft-plastics, the technique does have its own little intricacies and challenges to work out, and besides, you can't argue with success. I would far rather have my rod buckled over with the reel squealing than continue casting and retrieving for little or no reward.

What initially intrigued me was how that bloody rod-holder could attract more bites than my carefully considered manual manipulations! After all, I pride myself on providing soft-plastics with very lifelike movements - movements that suggest the bait is injured or dying. Such actions are well proven for provoking a predatory response and usually effective - but not always, I've found, for whatever reason.

Adding to my chagrin, unless a particularly aggressive fish grabbed the lure and ran, its own weight and momentum hooking it in the process, usually all I had to show for the rod-holder's bite-attracting effectiveness was a hard thump or two on my rod and/or a well munched or destroyed soft-plastic tail.

In frustration, I tried imitating a rod-holder to see if I could trick the snapper into biting and then strike quickly in response. But no go. So I watched the movements imparted by the rod-holder more closely, as well as my own, and eventually noticed that the rod-holder's movements were much jerkier - even the small, more subtle ones. I, on the other hand, tended to naturally compensate for the boat's motion, making the jiggling movements a little smoother.

So I stayed as still and stiff as possible - despite the jibes of my chortling friends and the threat of landing seagulls - and the bites started coming. Quite a few of them in fact, and as theorized, I could respond instantly, so a good proportion became hook-ups.

How weird! But I didn't care about the whys and wherefores; instead I rigged up a second outfit, this time with a weighted worm hook and a different coloured tail. Then, like Wyatt Earp, I was armed with both hands. Wow! Double the bites and double the hook-ups - although there was always a dicey period immediately after any successful hook-up as I tried to keep the pressure on one rod and secure the other in a rod-holder!

I also liked the idea that, unlike a rod-holder, I could regularly adjust the lure's depth so that it hopped and skimmed along just above the sea floor. When suspended like this, the snapper tend to bite them much harder and more confidently - very different to the generally tentative nibbles and chews inflicted on my bottom-grubbing and slithering soft-plastics.

For this reason, it is worth making sure any 'un-bit' rod is placed securely in a sufficiently angled rod-holder (or that the line is angling far enough away from the boat's stern) to prevent the rod point-loading and possibly snapping should a powerful fish nail the lure while unattended. Graphite rods, although strong under normal circumstances, are more susceptible to severe loading angles than those made from fibreglass.

When worm-hook rigs shine

Obviously this technique is better used over light foul or sandy areas, as rugged foul soon proves costly, both in terms of tackle and in the amount of time spent re-rigging. However, it is still possible to fish quite weedy places by using a weighted worm-hook rig, especially if the leading sinker and trailing tail are quite streamlined, with the worm-hook's point perhaps lightly pricked back into the soft-plastic tail to make snagging less likely. And don't worry; the crushing jaws of the snapper will usually smash the point free so it can be struck home afterwards.

I also like to use weighted worm-hook rigs in the channels or when dragging in areas with some depth and/or current. Often, simply getting down to the bottom is all it takes to achieve success - lots of it - and that's where worm hooks have it all over lead-heads. Unfortunately, the hooks of most lead-head-jig brands tend to increase in proportion to the weight, and as I like mine equipped with high quality 3/0 hooks (a size usually covered by the mouths of above-legal-minimum snapper and able to be efficiently nailed home by anglers), I am restricted to just 1oz in weight. However, by using the much more versatile worm-hook instead, I can place one- to two-ounce ball or bean sinkers directly on top of the hook so the soft-plastic gets down deeper more quickly.

Some anglers believe these free-sliding sinkers affect the lure's action and attractiveness (especially to big snapper), so they use the end of a toothpick or one of the specialized rubber stoppers put out by Soft Bait City to keep the sinker(s) firmly in place. Having said this though, I personally don't bother most of the time.

But I do try to make my rigs as streamlined as possible, so they sink quicker, are less likely to snag on the bottom and look more natural. This means selecting an appropriate-sized oval (egg/bean) sinker if I have one, or placing two sinkers one on top of the other, rather than using a single large sinker. Better still, bullet-shaped weights made from tungsten are now available, and as this material is heavier than lead, these are two-thirds smaller in size than an equivalent model made of lead. As a result they sink more efficiently, snag up less and are not as obvious - another useful accessory from Soft Bait City.

Nor should I neglect the Genie Link Clips available from Tackle Tactics in Foxton. I often tie one on the end of my line so I can change worm-hook sizes quickly, and as these simple devices also allow the trailing tail to have greater freedom of movement, snapper find them more attractive.

So there you have it - and while dragging will never be the first line of offence, it often shines when the more attractive and well-proven techniques are dismally failing. ?


 This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News
September 2008 - written by Mark Kitteridge

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