Getting Started
with Soft-Plastic Baits
Soft-plastics/softbait fishing has been around the Kiwi angling scene for a few years now. In fact, any Kiwi remotely interested in fishing has probably given
it a go at some point.
The use of artificial creations instead of natural bait, to fool fish into biting, is what makes this style of fishing so exciting. It’s like flyfishing or lure fishing.
Big snapper will eat soft-plastics in very shallow water. There are hundreds of softbait/soft-plastic patterns and colours. Most of them will catch fish on their day, but a few styles/patterns are particularly effective. These include the indispensible ‘jerk shad’, in five and seven-inch sizes, plus a variety of fish-shaped, paddle-tail ‘shads’ and curly-tailed grubs. Other effective patterns include worms, vaguely fish-shaped styles typified by Slug-Gos and their many imitations, lizards/‘creatures’ and extremely life-like crab, squid and baitfish patterns from various makers.
Softbaits take a huge variety of fish species, but owe their huge surge in popularity to their uncanny ability to catch snapper; however, soft-plastics also work on blue cod, tarakihi, hapuku, kingfish, kahawai, gurnard, tuna, john dory, trevally, trout, salmon, mahimahi – you name it, you can catch it on a softbait.
Most softbaits are designed for particular presentation systems, such as jig-heads, worm hooks, tubes jigs, dropper (drop-shot) rigs and others, but most can be rigged in a number of ways. Some are supplied with integral hooks and weights.
In essence, soft-plastics fishing is lure fishing, even though some ‘softbaits’ are made from scented/flavoured food-like compounds fish undoubtedly like to eat. There are times when softbaits are at least as effective as natural baits.
At least one leading brand of softbait doesn’t contain plastics at all and is completely biodegradable, which makes it a sensible choice for the environment-conscious angler.
A fishing system
Always carry a selection of lead-head jigs. Softbait fishing is a complete tackle and techniques system. Finesse is what softbait fishing is all about. Modern fishing gear for softbaits is lightweight, lines are thin and the terminal tackle is compact.
It pays to invest a little cash in a proper softbaits fishing system: rod, reel, superbraid line and lead-heads/hooks. These lightweight, amazingly powerful combos are designed specifically for this style of fishing. And once you’ve caught a few fish on a dedicated softbait set, you’ll be hooked.
Fishing soft-plastic baits
Gulp! soft baits are scented and biodegradable. Softbaits are usually fished using jig heads, which come in a variety of sizes, weights and colours. The best ones feature strong, chemically sharpened hooks. Hook sizes between 3/0 and 5/0 are most popular, but jig-heads with larger hooks are available for really big soft-plastic baits.
In certain applications where more weight, or no weight at all, is desirable, worm hooks, fished with or without added weight – often a simple ball or bean sinker – are great. They can also be rigged ‘weedless’, to minimise snagging in foul territory, by burying the hook point in the bait.
Worm hooks, tied to the trace backbone with a Palomar knot, are used when fishing ‘ledger’ or drop-shot rigs, or in conjunction with ‘Elevator’ or ‘Cyclops’-style heavy lead-heads in deep water.
The classic way to softbait fish is to cast ahead of a drifting boat in the direction of the drift. Use the lightest possible jig head and super-fine, low stretch gel-spun polyethylene lines (GSP) to slice through the water. That way the soft-plastic sinks with a realistic, alluring action that draws aggressive bites.
A sea anchor or drogue can slow the speed of the boat’s drift, allowing softbaits more time near the bottom in the strike zone
The jerk shad is the most versatile and popular plastic style. They’re usually fished with jig heads, but may be used with worm hooks or fished drop-shot style.
When fished on a jig head or worm hook-sinker combo, employ a jerky ‘lift and drop’ retrieve that also works well with virtually every softbait style. As well as the standard lift and drop retrieve, jerk shads can be worked in a series of hard jerks, with pauses between each one, or skittered unweighted across the surface, retrieved at speed from almost any depth, ‘twitched’ in place, or trickled very slowly back to the angler using tiny rod tip movements.
Other soft-plastic styles are fished in a similar fashion, but with more or less angler input, depending on the lure type. Lures with mobile tails, like grubs, can be fished very slowly, while shads work best when they’re moved relatively quickly so their tails vibrate strongly.
Techniques
Specialist tackle is required for soft-plastics fishing. •Although softbait fishing works best from a drifting boat, it can also be effective while at anchor, particularly fishing into a berley trail.
•Try casting into the wash around rocks, or else over dark areas indicating weedy terrain. Adjust your weight to suit the water depth and drift speed.
•Aim your casts in the direction the boat is drifting.
•Let the lure sink until either the line goes slack, or you judge the lure to be just above the seafloor, before beginning to work it back to the boat.
•Retrieve slowly, using the rod to impart stuttering lifts and drops. Wind in just quickly enough to keep the line taut and to avoid snagging the bottom. Use the lightest possible weights so the lure can be retrieved more slowly and remain ‘in the zone’, but up out the weed, for longer.
•In deep water, use more weight and cast well ahead to allow the lure to get down before the boat passes over it. Keep an eye on the line during the lure’s descent: any hesitation, acceleration or sudden slackening – strike.
•Try engaging the reel just before the softbait hits the bottom. This ‘swims’ the lure the last few metres, often attracting a bite.
•If the drift is not too swift, softbaits can be productive simply trailed or jiggled behind the boat. Let out a bit of line every so often so that the lure stays in touch with the sea floor.
•Use a sea anchor or drogue to slow you down if necessary – the bigger the better.
The soft-plastics system
Kingfish eat plastics too. Rod: Lightweight 2-2.5m graphite spinning or overhead rod rated 3-10kg. Fuji SIC guides, Hypalon or cork grips, decent reel seat.
Reel: Good quality spinning reel with all alloy body and rotor, enough saltwater resistant ballbearings, alloy spool, good quality bail arm roller, infinite anti-reverse and a powerful drag able to fish superbraid to its limit. Or: Good quality, compact overhead reel with a metal spool, well supported spindle and powerful drag system. A levelwind system is an advantage, but not essential.
Line: Superbraid, of the finest possible diameter for the tackle you intend to use. Fused or bonded lines work particularly well with spinning reels and are easier to tie; ordinary braids are fine on overhead tackle.
Trace: Fluorocarbon for abrasion resistance, low light refraction and heavier than water qualities, in as light a breaking strain as you dare: 6-10kg is typical for snapper fishing, heavier trace for kingfish and other species.
Terminal tackle: A selection of jig heads in various sizes and weights, ball or bean sinkers, worm hooks, cyclops or elevator rigs, teardrop sinkers and a variety of soft-plastic baits. Make sure you have plenty of 5-inch jerk shads.
Species:Snapper Gurnard John Dory Kahawai Kingfish Squid Tarakihi Trevally Tuna Blue Cod Trout Salmon

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