Soft-plastic lures represent one of the greatest innovations in fishing tackle. Few things have revolutionized the way we fish as this versatile and productive category of lures has. The variety of soft-plastic lures currently on the market is nothing short of mind-boggling.
From ultra-realistic imitations of natural forage, such as minnows, frogs or crayfish, to the most bizarre-looking creations in some equally bizarre color schemes, tackle manufacturers provide an endless array of soft baits. Fortunately, most of these lures are relatively inexpensive, which allows any angler to carry a good supply of soft baits. Of course, what really makes soft baits so popular with most avid anglers is they are so darned effective.
With so many choices in soft-plastic baits, its best to look at some of the major types of these lures individually and pick the ones that suit your personal preferences and styles. A good place to start is with the venerable plastic worm. This is the soft-plastic lure that started it all. Plastic worms revolutionized bass fishing in the late 1960s and remain one of the best all-around baits for largemouth bass. The first worms I used were the molded facsimiles of real night crawlers made by the Creme Lure Company, and purple was my favorite color by far. Now my tackle bag usually contains at least a dozen or so 4- and 6-inch worms in a range of colors.
Photo for the Mirror by Walt Young
A hefty river smallmouth bass inhales a soft-plastic stickbait.
To take full advantage of the plastic worm's versatility, learn to rig this bait in the so-called Texas style using an offset shank worm hook and a bullet-shaped slip sinker. Because the hook point is concealed in the soft body of the worm, a Texas-rigged worm can be fished over, around or through virtually any kind of fish-holding cover such as weeds, brush or rocks. In more open water, worms can be fished on a jighead or with no weight at all.
The next type of soft-plastic that impacted my fishing was the Mister Twister curly-tail grubs that came on the market in the early 1970s. After seeing magazine ads for those baits, I finally found some at a small sporting goods store on my way to the Juniata River one Friday afternoon. All they had in stock were some 3-inchers in a bright lemon yellow, but I can still remember catching dozens of smallmouths all weekend on those gaudy grubs.
Grubs are typically fished on jigheads, so it's a good idea to keep an assortment of jigs in various weights to adjust to the depth or current of the water you are fishing. For bass, 3- and 4-inch grubs will be the most useful. Grubs are also deadly for panfish in sizes of 2 inches and smaller.
Tubes were the next soft bait to catch fire back in the mid-1980s as I recall. Back then, I used tubes mostly for largemouths by rigging them on a 1/16-ounce jighead and casting them around weed lines and other cover. The lightweight jighead allows the tube to sink with an enticing spiraling action, and the bass typically take it as it falls. It wasn't long before I discovered how deadly tube jigs can be for river smallmouths, especially in the spring and fall. Over the past few seasons, I've also become a big fan of the 2 3/4-inch "teaser" tubes. Slightly smaller than the standard 3 1/2-inch tubes, there are days when the bass show a decided preference for the downsized tubes.
Soft-plastic jerkbaits like the Lunker City Slug-Go or the Zoom Fluke are super baits when bass or other game fish are in the mood to chase baitfish. When fished with short jerks or twitches of the rod tip, these lures emulate the erratic swimming motion of a sick or crippled minnow, something that most predator fish can't resist.
But when it comes to my favorite and most effective artificial lure, soft stickbaits have been my choice by far for the past six or seven years. The first lure of this type was the Senko, which took the fishing world by storm around 10 or 12 years ago. Since then, many other manufactures have climbed on that bandwagon to offer a soft stick of their own. Soft sticks are impregnated with salt, which makes them heavier than regular soft-plastic baits, so they cast well and will sink a little faster.
My favorite brands of soft sticks are the Yum Dinger and Bass Pro Shops Stik-O. Both of these brands offer a 3-inch size, which has produced more fish of more different species for me than any other artificial lure I have ever used. It is far and away the most effective bait for summertime river smallmouths I've ever cast.
There are several more types of soft-plastic baits, but a selection of plastic worms, grubs, tubes, jerkbaits and sticks will be a solid addition to any tackle bag. Such an assortment will keep you in the game about 90 percent of the time on 90 percent of our Pennsylvania waterways. And when it comes to fishing, I'll take those odds anytime.