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Chapter 7. Dead Drifting Soft Baits – Sea-Run Trout

Chapter 7. Dead Drifting Soft Baits – Sea-Run Trout

The Complete Guide to Sea-Run Trout Fishing by Allan Burgess

Salmon caught dead drifting a soft bait in the Twizel Hydro Canals. The same technique works for sea-run trout fishing.

Many anglers are now targeting sea-run brown trout using methods adapted from successful soft bait fishing in the Twizel Hydro Canals. These methods are very effective for sea-run browns. Just a short time ago almost no one fished for sea-runs with soft baits.

The most important thing to get right when fishing soft plastics is the weight of the jig-head. This rule applies equally to both fishing the canals and for targeting sea-run brown trout in rivers. If you are fishing your soft plastic baits on a jig-head that is too light it may never sink to a depth where the fish can see your offering. Even a small difference in weight can make a big difference to your hook-up rate. Conversely, too much weight and your soft bait sinks too quickly, snags on the bottom, and doesn’t have much swimming action when retrieved.

Above: This is a very interesting picture for several reasons. Some of these anglers are fishing for salmon with ticers and zed spinners. some are fishing for sea-run brown trout with feathered lures. Others are catching kahawai. This is all happening at the same time at the mouth of the mighty Rakaia River.

The name of the game when fishing the canals is to have your soft bait drift downstream in a natural fashion. This same “dead drifting” method can be used to fish for sea-run brown trout in tidal lagoons, braids, pools and the fast-flowing river gut.

Dead drift soft plastic lures by allowing them to flow with the current while at the same time taking up any slack in the line with your reel.

Fishing in shallow or slow-moving water requires less weight. This could mean fishing for sea-run trout with weights as light as 1/16th of an ounce. This seems surprisingly light to those unaccustomed
to fishing soft baits. As the flow gains a little more pace the next size jig-head is 1/12th of an ounce. If standing at the end of a braid and drift fishing down into the lagoon resist the temptation to add a heap of weight.

The most popular and effective method used to fish the Twizel Canals is to cast upstream and allow the soft bait to drift downstream with the current. In other words “dead-drift,” though the angler may twitch the rod tip to give the lure a little life. Apart from taking up the slackline, the lure is simply drifted downstream. The same technique works with sea-run brown trout.

Ideally, you want your weight “swimming” along just above the bottom. By taking up slack line on your reel you can keep in touch with the lure as it drifts downstream. Too much weight and all you’ll catch is the bottom. To fish soft plastic lures effectively you need a good range of jig-heads weights in your tackle box.

Soft plastics have proven their worth for targeting sea-run brown trout in coastal rivers. They work really well for this! You can get some great looking 3-inch smelt (silvery) imitations in the shops that are excellent fish takers.

This enormous brown trout weighed 14 pounds. It was caught in Otago Harbour while fishing for salmon with soft baits. The big brownie was chasing the mullet around.

When fishing the fast water at the mouth of one of Canterbury’s braided rivers you will obviously need more weight than you might use to fish the hydro canals, however, as mentioned above, avoid using more weight than you need to get the lure down. Braided line is much finer than monofilament
of the same breaking strain. This allows your jig-head to sink more quickly. The concentrated lead-weight of the jig-head will sink faster than a zed spinner of the same weight.

You may find that a 1/6th or ¼ once jig-head is sufficient even in quite fast water. Sink rate will vary depending on the size of your soft plastic shad and the river’s flow rate. Some gear losses are inevitable when sea-run trout fishing in swiftly flowing river braids. You often only realize there is a snag once you have “hooked” it! Starting light before switching to more weight, if needed, will help to reduce the loss of jig-heads and soft plastics.

Salmon caught on a Berkley soft bait in one of the Mackenzie Country hydro canals. The same “dead-drift’ method also works on sea-run brown trout.

Your rod and reel, braided line, soft baits, and jig-heads all form part of an integrated system when fishing soft plastic lures. In order to fish such light-weight jig heads, you need to be using a suitable rod designed to cast these lighter lures. I have found longer rods over 8 feet to be more effective for distance casting soft baits. The braid is needed instead of monofilament for casting distance, and so you can feel the slightest touch on the lure. Fine diameter braid sinks much faster than monofilament.

I remember fishing Mr Twister soft plastics decades ago and catching fish on them in Fiordland and the Marlborough Sounds. Back then we fished them on mono because that was all we had. Soft plastics really only took-off in New Zealand once inexpensive braided line became readily available. The one thing you really notice when you switch to braid is that you can feel every touch on the lure up the line and through the rod.

Sea-run brown trout taken near the bridges, Waimakariri River. I have noticed that since the fish limit was reduced to two fish per day that far more trout are being released. After two fish are kept the angler must stop fishing.

Don’t worry too much about the manufacturer’s stated breaking strain marked on spools of braid as they typically break well above this figure when tested. Try to fish a braided line close to 0.15mm diameter for trout and salmon in the hydro canals or when fishing for sea-run trout, because your jig-head and soft plastic will sink faster, plus you get less bow in the line as your lure swings around. The smaller diameter braid will make it easier and more effective to fish lighter jig-heads.

An interesting development in my home city of Christchurch has been The Complete Angler fishing tackle store selling individual soft plastic jerk-shads. Instead of having to purchase a whole packet of lures the same shape and colour you can “pick and mix” in much the same way fly fishers do when choosing flies. This is a great idea! It makes it possible to try-out all different colours without a huge initial outlay. By having a wide variety of lures in your tackle box you can switch over to whatever is catching fish for the bloke fishing next to you. Generally speaking, lighter coloured lures are better during the day; and darker colours work best at night, or in discoloured water.

A fish on the lure rod while another angler looks on at the Rakaia River lagoon.

By carrying an inexpensive selection of crimp-on leads you can quickly and easily squeeze on a little more weight to the line should you not have the correct weight jig-head. This is very effective in the hydro canals where even a small bit of extra weight can make a difference when the canal water starts moving. Crimping on more weight works just as well for sea-run brown trout fishing. I must admit that I prefer natural coloured soft plastic minnows when fishing for trout and salmon.

Many of the shads available now are incredibly life-like in appearance. Their natural colouring complete with shimmering pearlescence is matched by their sinewy swimming action imparted by their paddle-shaped tail. They look amazingly like a real baitfish when retrieved through clear water!

Large sea-run brown trout caught by the author at Rakaia River.

Later in the season after Christmas when the river flows can become very low, and the water crystal clear, the sea-run trout get more cautious and harder to catch during the day. Salmon and trout anglers will have been pelting the lower river braids and lagoons for months with all manner of hardware. At such times it is worth fishing smaller soft plastic lures and Later in the season after Christmas when the river flows can become very low, and the water crystal clear, the sea-run trout get more cautious and harder to catch during the day. Salmon and trout anglers will have been pelting the lower river braids and lagoons for months with all manner of hardware. At such times it is worth fishing smaller soft plastic lures and using longer fluorocarbon leaders.

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“Dead drifting” is another sea-run trout fishing method to try. Simply allow the lure to drift downstream taking up just enough slack line to stay in touch. It works very well for catching sea-run browns.
Interestingly some successful anglers report that they don’t use any monofilament or fluorocarbon leader material at all. They simply tie the soft bait jig head straight to their braid. So far I have resisted the temptation to do the same.

Even the most successful anglers are always learning and trying new lures, methods and ideas. Soft bait fishing for sea-run trout is all the rage at the moment. Unless you tie your own feathered lures, soft baits are, surprisingly, the cheaper option. I’m sure this is a factor. If you slowly pull your soft bait through the water, just beyond your rod tip, their swimming action, their eyes, and skin colour is amazingly lifelike. They look just like a small real live fish swimming upstream. No wonder the sea-run brown trout like them!

Big sea-run brown trout taken with a lure rod at the mouth of Canterbury’s Rakaia River.

Good luck chasing sea-run brown trout. If you are new to fishing for them the best thing to do is get out there and give it a try. Sea-run brown trout seem to run upstream together. At least that appears to be the case in my home river, the Waimakariri. Some years they are present right from the start of the fishing season on 1 October. In other years they don’t arrive in good numbers until well into November.

Don’t be put-off fishing for them just because the water is discoloured. Sometimes I  have caught plenty of fish even though on arrival at the river I thought the river was just too milky to even bother fishing!    Allan Burgess

The End

Important note. Please return to this online book The Complete Guide to Sea-Run Trout Fishing by Allan Burgess as we will be updating it with exclusive (can only be viewed here) NEW sea-run trout fishing videos, text and photographs.

Download The Complete Guide to Sea-Run Trout Fishing as a .pdf  Members are welcome to download and copy this .pdf to their other devices like tablet, phone and computer. Please do not share the link.   


Contents, Acknowledgements and Introduction

1. Where Do Sea-Run Trout Come From

2. Cucumber Fish, Smelt or Silveries

3. Tackle for Sea-Run Brown Trout

4. Fishing Different Rivers – The Mighty Rakaia

5. The Waimakariri River

6. Other Sea-Run Trout Fishing Rivers

7. Dead Drifting Soft Baits 

This post was last modified on 15/10/2019 1:45 pm

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