How to fish with soft plastic fishing lures in New Zealand – by Kilwell’s Graham Andrews
Although I have yet to take a tarakihi on one, soft plastic baits will take all of the other species and many, many more. It has always amazed me that soft plastic lures and other artificials are not used to greater effect by our saltwater anglers. We seem to have a fixation with using live or cut baits in saltwater on medium to heavy gear. By doing so we miss out on maximising our fishing enjoyment, and catch rate, and the chance to use light tackle to best effect. To say that John Dory love soft plastic shads is akin to saying kids like candy.
A slow walk down a lighted pier in the evening with a plastic shad running close to the piles can produce a bunch of JDs. While their colour preference is usually blue black and pearl belly, they are not that fussy, as it is the enticing lifelike action of the lure that turns on their tastebuds. Nothing changes in open water, and particularly when fishing on the drift or in a berley trail moved by a good current flow, the lure is working for you all the time.
Many saltwater anglers seem to equate fishing any sort of lure to having to it cast it out and reel it back to the boat in a hell for-leather fashion. Do that with soft plastics and you might get the odd savage strike, but in reality you are minimising your opportunities.
Fishing soft plastics correctly is a subtle technique. It involves knowing how the lure is performing at any given moment until it returns to the rod tip, and how to impart life and movement to it to attract fish.
Some of you will have seen soft plastic lures moving around a display tank of water on a continuous belt at tournaments or in sports shops. If you looked closely you would have seen that each style of shad, curl tail, twin tail, tube squid etc, has a unique action for the speed the tank’s motor has been governed for.
Some have quivering tails and bodies that shimmer from side to side, others undulate behind them like a waving flag, and some like the tube squids imitate exactly that. What you would not have seen however, was what happens when the speed the lures move through the water is altered.
Several years ago Walter Simpson and I anchored up by the big slip at the back of Whale Island on a fine summer’s morning. More in hope than anything else, we put over the berley pot and cast our pilchard baits into the clear water. I had with me some 7.5cm soft plastic shads with red backs, a red inner core and an outer clear body with silver fleck.
To while away the time between bites we rigged these up on medium action spin rods and reels spoiled with 6kg line. We cast these out away from the boat and because the lures only weighed around 10 grams, left the bail arms on the reels open to allow the lures to free fall to the bottom.
The first lure had been in the water about 15 seconds when the line started to peel off the reel spool. Once the bail was quickly closed the fight with an obviously good fish commenced. After a stern battle the unmistakable golden flash of a snapper came to the boat and was followed soon after by another from the other rod. This action continued for nearly an hour with the soft plastics heading off the baited rods by around 5 to l. We put this down to wave action wafting the lures slowly through the water column as they sank naturally to the sea bed.
On other occasions fish-shaped shads and curly tails fished mid water, while on the drift have been very effective, as have lures dropped down a berley trail behind the boat and left to work in the current.
Soft plastic lures come in a wide range of sizes, colours and weights. Tiny 2 gram 3 centimetre curl tails that trout munch up have taken trevally and a host of tropical lagoon species, while hapuka, bluenose and gemfish have been landed on monster 23 centimetre shad tails rigged on a 225 gram jighead. At least 10 yellowfin tuna that I know of have been deceived by trolled shads, and in the Hauraki Gulf near Waiheke Island , an Auckland angler landed a striped marlin.
On the days when finding live baits is near impossible, a 15cm long shad with a 112 gram jighead has accounted for kingfish as it was retrieved slowly past a reef.
One of the secrets of soft plastics is that they are soft bodied. When a fish hits them they feel natural. The fish holds on that fraction longer and you have a better chance of firmly setting the hook. These amazingly versatile lures can be cast, jigged, drifted and trolled.
Another bonus is that they are relatively inexpensive and although tails and bodies can get chewed or chopped quickly, a bag of replacements for most saltwater sizes will give you change from a $20 note.
The art of correctly rigging a soft plastic shad can be learned very quickly. If the lure you purchase is not ready rigged, or if you need to fit a new tail, proceed as follows:
Lay the jighead along the body with the hook pointing up toward the back. At the point where the hook bend exits the body, crimp the shad body between your fingers. With your other hand invert the jighead and insert the hook point into the centre of the front of the body. Slowly work it through the body until you reach your exit spot and then bring the hook point out between your pinching fingers. This leaves a section of free moving tail and the body secured to the jig head by the barb on its shank.
For other body styles, again exit the hook out of the back and leave a moving rear end. It is this that excites the fish to strike. The secret of successful soft plastic lure fishing is experimentation. Be prepared to run a few trial casts and retrieves at various speeds to see what gives the best action. Likewise, run a larger lure alongside the boat and see what it does at various trolling speeds.
Be open minded and innovative in your thinking. If one technique doesn’t work, try another. Vary depth and retrieve. Hold the lure at mid depth and twitch it along with the rod tip. Try letting it sink and then lift the rod tip before repeating the process. Above all, let it do the work because this is one lure style you do not have to bust a gut on to get results.
Soft plastic lures deserve a place in every serious angler’s tackle box, but a word of warning. The plasticisers used to keep the lure bodies supply can eat through untreated plastic very quickly. Most tackle boxes available today are guaranteed “worm-proof” (soft plastic safe) but if you are buying one to store soft plastics, check this out.
The other “no-no” is to mix colours up in your tackle box trays. Sometimes whites, pearls and yellows are compatible, but most often mixing colours causes “bleeding” of colour from one lure body to another.
So there they are, New Zealand ‘s best kept saltwater lure secret! The rest of the world has been using the “fantastic plastics” for decades, and now it’s our turn to cash in on this simple yet hugely effective lure range.