Softbait Set-ups 2021-2022 season

Not so long ago, six soft-bait setups arrived at NZ Fishing News’ headquarters ready to be reviewed, and immediately we hatched all sorts of plans for where we were going to put them through their paces. Bad weather, busy schedules and an impending lockdown, however, made actually casting these rods a more difficult task than we’d hoped. So, it was Ethan Neville who took it upon himself to head to the Far North and brave less than ideal conditions to give these rods an honest test – some people have it tough. He confirmed what we all suspected in the office: the future of our soft-baiting tackle is in good hands. The rods tested range from light to heavy, intermediate to high-end, and sensitive to powerful, but each has a place in the full family of soft-bait gear. As we head into the best lure fishing months of the year, these reviews should provide you with a range of options for your next purchase.

BLACK MAGIC

The Black Magic Gladius SW Spin rod fits into my “just right” category – not too long or too short, nor too light or too heavy. It was also, however, the rod my mate got to first on a cold winter morning’s soft-baiting session in the Hauraki Gulf. We started the day with a few casts in the shallows, which resulted in a two or three modest-sized snapper. The birds gathering in the distance were our next destination, and that’s when things started heating up considerably. Jonny, using the Gladius, hooked up quickly to one of the bigger john dory I’ve ever seen, and my first thought was that this was a powerful rod. As you will see in the photos, the rod has a moderate to fast action that the john dory barely tested. Jonny, a respectable soft-baiter in his own right, commented exactly that as he was fighting the fish – this is a blank that has a lot of grunt just waiting to be applied on a bigger fish. Unfortunately, my own protracted fight with a kingfish saw the rest of the morning wasted as far as the Gladius setup was concerned. Aside from a couple more pannies that the Black Magic rod again dealt to comfortably, there was little more action to report.

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And then lockdown hit. All of my plans to take this rod either up north or out wider in the Hauraki Gulf were thwarted, so as soon as it was announced that beach fishing was allowed, I made my way to the Orewa estuary with the Gladius in hand. The moment I released the bail arm and let the lure fly for the first time, I realised some of my thoughts on this rod were misplaced. The tip was surprisingly flexible and I was pleasantly surprised with the accuracy and distance of my cast. Over the next two hours, I probably cast well over 100 times and it never felt laborious. Aiding this, of course, was the Black Magic 12lb Hyperglide braid. I reviewed this braid in the previous issue of this magazine so won’t report my thoughts here again in detail, but after fishing with a lot of different braids over the last few months, I can confirm that this is the best casting braid I’ve used. With 12 Japanese fibres woven around one central thread, this braid is fine in diameter and effortlessly glides out of the rod and into the distance.

The estuary, unfortunately, was empty of anything that’d eat a soft-bait, so I will admit I’m yet to fight a fish myself on this setup. However, after my mate’s recommendation, along with my own experience casting it, I am confident enough to conclude that this is a powerful, and surprisingly sensitive soft-bait rod – and it’s definitely one that I’m planning to put to good use as soon as this lockdown is over.

Rod: Black Magic Tackle GLADIUS® SW Spin 2.21m rod

Line Weight: 12-20lb

Lure Weight: 30-100g

RRP: $219

Braid: Black Magic 12lb Hyperglide 13x Braid

RRP: from $59.99

Experienced soft-baiter Jonny Allison was impressed with the Gladius' pulling power.

Experienced soft-baiter Jonny Allison was impressed with the Gladius' pulling power.

PENN & ABU GARCIA

When I saw the price tag of this combo, I was immediately intrigued. It is, by a $100 or so, the cheapest combo we tested as part of this series. For someone in their twenties living in Auckland with a mortgage – say, someone like me – this price tag was quite appealing. However, I’ve bought my fair share of cheap-ish fishing gear over the years, only to regret it a few months later when it’s frozen up or the dodgy drag has cost me a solid fish, so I was very keen to put this setup through its paces and see if it would be a worthy purchase.

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Unfortunately, this dream was temporarily put on hold when Sophia, one of my guests on our soft-baiting trip to the Far North, decided to claim it as hers. With other gear to test, I happily handed it over and then watched her pull in the first snapper of the trip. Whenever the bite was slow, this setup seemed to still attract a few bites. Of course, there are too many variables here (not least soft-bait type) for me to conclude that this was entirely down to the rod, but it did seem that the Veritas’ flexible tip enabled Sophia to feel even the slightest nibble, and that same flexible tip probably encouraged a more natural movement of the lure. From what I could see when it bent over, the rod had a slower action than some of the other setups, which can be a great help when subtlety is required. Thankfully, the guessing stopped a couple days later when I took the boat out by myself on a particularly stormy Doubtless Bay morning.

After setting up a long drift over some foul ground, I only had to wait three or four casts to hook up. As expected, the bite on the drop was transmitted clearly through the blank and I was able to set the hook immediately. I thought it was just a baby snap at first, but when it suddenly woke up halfway through the fight, I got to see the reel in action as well. The fish screamed off in 10m of water, but with a smooth drag and a good bend in the rod, I never felt out of control. The carbon fibre drag system, 8+1 stainless steel bearings and the Hydrophobic line roller bearing all come together to create a reel that comfortably competes with some of its more expensive counterparts. And then, of course, there’s Penn’s famous durability. The newly engineered clutch armour system means no saltwater is touching any important components, and the CNC gear technology is designed to deliver long term performance.

At the end of this day, and after another day’s fishing in the Hauraki, I can safely say this combo punches above its weight – and it’s certainly not a combo a young Auckland angler with a mortgage would regret purchasing.

Rod: Abu Garcia Veritas 4 7’6” 2 Piece

Line Weight: 4-8kg

RRP: $169.99

Reel: PENN Clash II 3000 High Speed

RRP: $359.99

Braid: Berkley Prospec 8 Carrier Blue Camo

RRP: $39.99

The Penn Clash II/Abu Garcia Veritas 4 combo is cost-effective and reliable.

The Penn Clash II/Abu Garcia Veritas 4 combo is cost-effective and reliable. 

OKUMA

Iwas a little disappointed after not landing any fish on this combo on my soft-baiting trip in the Far North (my mate landed a few pannies, but nothing of any significance by the Far North’s standards), so this meant it was the first rod I reached for when I was back fishing in my home patch. As I was fishing ten minutes from my local ramp in August in the Hauraki Gulf, I didn’t expect to catch anything that would truly put this combo through its paces, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As mentioned in the Black Magic Gladius review above, the day started as expected. My first cast in under 15m of water just off Motuora Island produced a nice kelpy snapper that was perfect eating size. Another pannie soon followed, but then my mate Jonny and I spent the next hour or so casting at very attractive sign for absolutely no result. My first impression at this stage was that this was a very responsive setup. By that I mean that the Kotare Dropshot rod transmitted the bites effectively, allowing me to set the hook quickly – which is exactly how I landed my first fish of the day. Despite the 6-10kg rating (high for a soft-bait rod), it was one of the lighter rods I used. This can be put down to the ultra-high-modulus 46t carbon fibre blank and the ALPS carbon fibre reel seat that Okuma use to make this powerful but incredibly light rod. The reel was also smooth, compact and shockingly quiet.

Once we knew the dawn bite was well and truly over, Jonny and I made our way just beyond Motuora to where I’d seen plenty of bait and dolphins holding recently. Despite the presence of gannets, terns and dolphins, it took a fair bit of cruising around to find the actual bait schools – but when we did, it was well worth the patience. The sounder went from empty to absolutely brick red in an instant. For a brief moment, the bait school was so thick that the depth actually showed as 6m, despite us fishing in 20m over sand. You can imagine the rush to cast our soft-baits, and then the disappointment when we pulled up with nothing. Thankfully, Jonny hooked a john dory next cast and it was then we realised that the snapper might not be around this school – but we were seeing marks that looked suspiciously like another species we’d like to catch. Sure enough, my next cast produced a hook up, and after the first screaming run, our theory was confirmed – this was no snapper. Flash forward thirty minutes, a whole lot of driving from Jonny and a few groans from the angler, and a 93cm kingfish was being pulled on board by its tail.

So how’d the gear perform? The reel punched above its weight. A 90cm+ kingfish is really on the limits of what soft-baiting gear is built to handle, but the drag remained stutter-free throughout the fight. The handle was comfortable to use, which is important in extended fights, and never once did the reel feel anything but compact and durable. This, however, is to be expected considering its constructed of rigid C-40X long strand carbon fibre. According to the manufacturer, the C-40X process is 25% stronger than standard graphite reels, and this sounds about right. The rod performed well, and certainly made the fight enjoyable. It’s hard to critique a rod that’s just dealt with a solid kingfish, but I personally would have liked to feel a bit more power through the bottom half of the blank. However, as soft-bait rods aren’t specifically built to tackle kingfish, this is a very minor critique, and will be largely redundant on the vast majority of fish anglers will hook on this gear. Overall, it was an extremely fun setup to fish with, and I’m not that happy about having to return it to Okuma!

Rod: Kotare 2pc 7’ 6” Dropshot

Line Weight: 6-10kg

Lure Weight: 8-35g

RRP: $399.99

Reel: ITX 4000

RRP: $299.99

Braid: Platypus X8 15lb

RRP: $79.99

The ITX 4000/Kotare combo makes for a powerful, yet surprisingly light setup.

The ITX 4000/Kotare combo makes for a powerful, yet surprisingly light setup.

DAIWA

The Daiwa Exceler Oceana/Saltist 4000D combo was a pleasure to use. My personal soft-bait setups don’t go over the 3000-size range as I find they provide more than enough line capacity and grunt to deal with the terrain and snapper found in the Gulf. This means that when I pick up a 4000-size reel, it usually takes me a minute or two to get used to the extra weight. However, what I’ve been finding recently is that 4000 reels aren’t much heavier or bulkier than what 3000 size reels were only a few years ago. The Saltist MQ 4000D continues this trend.

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It has the line capacity and drag of a 4000 reel, but remains light and compact. This is largely down to its Monocoque Body (MQ) design, a feature Daiwa has brought down from its larger premier models. MQ design makes use of a one-piece frame and reel body, so you won’t find a screw in this reel. The result: less weight and better water resistance. I have also read that the MQ design allows for a larger gear to fit inside of the reel, which further increases its power and longevity. It is, in other words, ideally suited to take on the supercharged Far North snapper that are so often found over patches of foul and reef. And as luck would have it, that’s exactly where I took this reel.

My first experience of this setup was watching it deal to a couple of solid Far North pannies – so just under 10lb a piece. My mate had chosen it as his weapon of choice and quickly went about pulling in two fish from 20m. Line whipped off the reel smoothly when the fish ran, and it had more than enough drag to put the brakes on the fish before they got to reef.

The rod, of course, was a massive help in this process. At 7”1, the Exceler Oceano is a balanced soft-baiting rod with a moderate action. There is plenty of power in its lower half, which enabled my mate to turn the fish’s head, but this didn’t come at the cost of bite sensitivity or casting distance, as it so often does. When I used the setup myself the next day, I was impressed with how far I could cast considering the rod’s length and action.

This setup is definitely on the heavier end of the soft-baiting scale and the rod may be a touch agricultural for some of the more technical Hauraki Gulf soft-bait anglers, but this didn’t bother me at all. I would happily use this setup to fish in the Hauraki, and particularly when casting in the shallows or fishing over deeper pins where bigger fish are likely to be encountered. And if you’ve got a Far North or big snapper trip planned, look no further than this combo.

Rod: Exceler Oceano 7102MFS

Line Weight: 4-8kg

Lure Weight: 7-21g

Length: 7”10’

RRP:$159.99

Reel: 21 Saltist MQ 4000D-XH

RRP:$519.99

Braid: J-Braid X8 20lb Multicolour

RRP: $59.99

The Daiwa setup was very effective in the Far North.

The Daiwa setup was very effective in the Far North.

SHIMANO

When all of the soft-bait setups reviewed here showed up at our office, I have to admit that it was the Twin Power I was most excited to use. I grew up watching Matt Watson religiously, so my first reel was of course the now infamous 6500B Baitrunner, followed closely by my ol’ faithful Torium, which I still use today to target Hauraki kings. While I’ve diversified my purchasing since then, the child in me reached for the Twin Power first when we arrived at our first soft-baiting spot in the Far North.

I was hooked after the first cast. Not literally, of course, as it took us a good half an hour of prospecting new grounds to find the bait, but the quality of the reel was evident in every component. At 4000-size, the reel was shockingly light. It’s built with Shimano’s exclusive C14+ material, which is, I’m told, created by the inter-fusion of carbon and polyamide. It also houses 9+1 bearings, so is wonderfully smooth on the retrieve.

The rod was equally impressive. It’s not easy to find a long, light soft-baiting rod that still has enough power through the blank to take on bigger fish. Casting distance and accuracy is essential with most soft-baiting applications, and this is one area where the shorter, more powerful rods usually suffer. At 8”, a flick of my wrist saw this rod propel my soft-bait as far as I wanted it to go. I actually took a second to marvel at the distance of my first cast, wrongfully giving the credit to the angler as opposed to the gear. Again, one of the secrets is Ci4+. Shimano use this material to make the reel seat, and it definitely shows. When combined with the Fuji Torzid guides and the spiral X-core blank, you’ve got yourself a rod with the flexibility and sensitivity you need to cast far and feel bites on the drop, as well as the power you need to drag fish from the rough stuff.

My biggest fish on this setup came in at just under the 10lb mark, and as you’d expect with this gear, I was able to fight the fish on my own terms. I got stuck in to the fight at first, actively using the bend in the rod to turn the snapper’s head and bully it away from the foul ground we were fishing over. But when I realised there was no rush – the hook was set, the drag was smooth, and the rod was dealing well enough with the fish without me ripping into it – I just enjoyed listening to the line race off the reel and took my time manipulating the fish to the boat. After a few more smaller fish, my initial child-like anticipation was confirmed as being completely reasonable – this is a setup you should get excited about. Yes, it has a high price tag, but not one of those dollars is wasted. Well done, Shimano.

Rod: Lunamis 8’0” 2pc Medium Spin Rod

Line Weight: PE0.8-2

Lure Weight: 7-35g

RRP: $699.99

Reel: Twin Power XD 4000XG A Spin

RRP: $729.99

Braid: Sufix 832 Braid Neon Lime 300M 15lb

RRP: from $39.99

The Lunamis/Twin Power combo is well-balanced and a joy to use.

The Lunamis/Twin Power combo is well-balanced and a joy to use.

CATCH

I was already very familiar with this Catch soft-baiting setup before it turned up at our office. In the August issue, I wrote a review on the Catch Black Label Livies soft-baits – and this involved fishing out of Houhora with Catch owner John Donald. While I spent most of my time with the Catch IRT 200’s little brother (the Catch SP3000 Spin Reel), John did give me a shot with the higher spec’d American made model as well. It was immediately clear that this reel is simply of a different calibre than most off the shelf reels you’ll find in NZ – and I mean no disrespect here to other brands. It’s just a simple matter of “you get what you pay for” and at $949, this reel had to do a lot to live up to its price tag. After using it up north again on my own more recent trip, I can confidently say that, yes, it does exactly that.

Let’s start with the drag. The Catch IRT 200 has 14kgs of it. I’m not sure I need to say much more? 14kg is the most drag I’ve ever seen on a small soft-bait reel, and some would say that’s about 5kg more than you’ll ever need considering the line weights most anglers use to soft-bait. I would have agreed until I watched John spool his reel with what looked like 20lb+ braid, use an FG knot to tie on 30lb fluorocarbon and then catch multiple fish over 15lb. I should also add that the drag is very smooth. Using what the manufacturer has called ‘Dual Drag technology’, Catch has produced a reel that is powerful yet not at all clunky. In short, it was a pleasure to use, and not a dollar would be wasted if you chose to make this reel your big fishing purchase this year.

The rod is, admittedly, not as flashy as it’s American counterpart, but the Catch Pro Series 2 pc Spin rod’s premium Japanese Toray blank more than gets the job done. At 7’3” and rated for 4-8 kg, it is on the shorter and heavier side of soft-bait combos, but that extra power was regularly drawn upon in the Far North. It’s moderate action still allows for sensitivity through the blank, and while not the best casting rod in the world in regard to distance, it does encourage accuracy. After catching a few fish around the 6-7lb mark, I can confidently recommend this combo to anyone who is looking for a premier soft-bait setup.

Rod: Catch Pro Series
2 pc Spin 7’3”

Line Weight: 4-8kg

Lure Weight: up to 80g

RRP: $229

Reel: Catch IRT200 Spinning 

RRP: $949

The Catch combo is a great option for anglers looking to take their soft-baiting to the next level.

The Catch combo is a great option for anglers looking to take their soft-baiting to the next level.


October 2021 - Ethan Neville
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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