Soft plastic lures – or “baits” – are some of the most popular, versatile and effective artificial lures for a wide variety of freshwater fish, and many saltwater species as well. They are usually crafted from soft, liquid plastic that is molded into a vast array of solid shapes and sizes. The finished product feels more like supple rubber, hence the term “soft plastic.”
Plastic baits have been extremely popular with anglers since the day they were introduced, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, these baits are highly effective on many of the popular game fish species: black, white and striped bass, crappie and walleye in fresh water; snook, tarpon, redfish, and several others in salt water. Even fish that are not commonly caught on soft plastics, or artificials of any kind, will occasionally strike a plastic bait that looks natural to them.
Compared to live bait, anglers are attracted to the durability and price of most soft plastics. These baits don’t require a bait bucket or insulated package, and can often be used repeatedly until wear and tear dictates a replacement, often at a modest cost (however, a bag of plastic baits costs nearly as much as an average “hard bait.”).
Game fish are attracted to the subtle, often natural-looking movements of plastic baits, and are known to hold onto them longer than other artificial lures, allowing the angler more time to set the hook following a bite.
The first plastic lures are thought to be small, narrow strips of old rubber tire tubes attached to a hook and used for fooling largemouth bass in the early 20th century. American Nick Creme created the first mass-produced soft plastic lure – the Creme worm – around 1950. When introduced in Texas, the state temporarily banned the use of plastic worms because they were so effective.
Since then, soft plastics have grown to widespread popularity among fishermen of several species in addition to largemouth bass. There are now soft plastic baits designed to mimic nearly everything living in or around the water that a game fish might feed on, as well as some that don’t resemble anything found in nature.
How They Are Made
Most plastic baits are manufactured from liquid plastic that is heated, colored with dyes, poured into molds and allowed to cool prior to removal. The result is a soft, pliable form that takes on the exact shape of the mold.
A majority of the plastic baits manufactured today are made to resemble worms, but more styles, varieties and sizes are developed each year. New colors and color combinations are also continually developed.
Since the early 1980s and into the present, many lure companies and lure-making enthusiasts have introduced scent additives into the molds designed to appeal to the fish’s olfactory senses. In some cases, actual fish oils or parts are used in this process, in addition to other organic matter.
How to Fish Soft Plastics
There are almost as many ways to fish with soft plastics as there are shapes and styles of baits. They can be fished year round, in shallow or deep water and anywhere in between, in open water, around structure, and in light or heavy cover:
Jigging – Jigging with soft plastic lures is perhaps the most common method. Here, the plastic body is threaded onto a one-piece combination of a molded head and hook (a leadhead). These can be cast, trolled or even fished under a float. When casting or trolling, the angler must deliver action to a soft plastic bait by raising and lowering the rod tip and reeling in slack line (if necessary) or “swimming” the bait at a specific depth.
Grubs are the most common plastic bait used for jigging, but leadhead jigs can also be used with worms, lizards, minnow imitations, crayfish and attractor plastics.
Common techniques: Vertically jigging small tube baits or grubs for panfish in deep water; casting a plastic crayfish on a leadhead for bass on a rocky bluff; trolling curly-tail grubs for walleye along the face of a dam.
Weedless/Snagless – One of the great qualities of soft plastic baits is their ability to be rigged with the hook point embedded into the body. This allows them to be fished in, through and around heavy cover like thick weeds, large rocks and flooded timber without the hook getting hung up in the cover.
Perhaps the most common weedless (snagless) rig is the Texas rig, used mostly with plastic worms, lizards, tube baits and some larger grubs. In most cases, the hook point is inserted just below the head, pulled down so the eye of the hook sticks out the head of the bait, after which the point is turned, embedded and secured into the bait’s body.
The sinker most commonly used on the Texas rig is a cone-shaped (“bullet”) weight with a large hole running through the center. This large hole allows the bullet weight to freely slide up and down the line, and when a fish strikes the plastic lure, it feels no resistance as it pulls slack line through the sinker. However, Texas-rigged plastic baits can be fished without any sinker at all, especially in very shallow water.
There are several other ways to rig a plastic bait for weedless performance, but most are variations of the basic Texas rig.
Common techniques: Casting a Texas-rigged plastic worm or lizard for bass in flooded timber; casting a weedless minnow imitation to schooling striped bass; drifting a weedless grub through deep weeds for crappie.
Open-Hook – Soft plastic baits can also be rigged in a variety of ways in which the hook point is fully exposed. Such rigs are usually only used when underwater obstructions are at a minimum. Here, the bait is threaded onto a single hook or multiple hooks to maximize hook penetration when snag resistance is not required.Common techniques:
Trolling a plastic leech on open flats for walleye, casting a weightless worm for bass holding at the edge of cover, using a twitching minnow imitation over submerged vegetation for bass or northern pike.