Soft Plastics: Right Lure, Right Time

During a recent shore bass session, a lad fishing a little further down the beach (we’d already exchanged a courteous wave) wandered up for a chat. Like me he was lure fishing, but there was weed in the water and we were both struggling to keep the lures clean on the retrieve, and frankly had little chance of catching.

We gave it best for a while and sat on the shingle discussing fish and fishing. My soft plastics lure box was open by my rucksack and he mentioned he’d not done too well in the past on soft lures. I asked to see his lure box. He’d got a small selection of mainly grub type worms all about the same size, a couple of biggish soft shads and a few overly large rubber sandeels. What his lure box lacked was variety!

From this I realised that a lot of anglers inadvertently miss out on good fishing simply because they don’t give any real thought to giving the fish exactly what they expect to see in specific feeding situations.

Take this mid July to late August period. To get the best from soft lures, you need to consider fully, exactly what the fish are feeding on. At this time, and especially in estuaries, there will be good numbers of sandeel in the inshore waters. If you show the fish a good imitation of a sandeel, the likelihood is they will eat it. Just any old lure will not do, it needs to look like and behave like a sandeel!

One of the best sandeel lures I use are the Gulp Alive and Gulp sandeel imitations. These are treated with scent and when fished on the move they are deadly. I typically fish these on a lead head, but also below a 3-way swivel with a weight attached and 36-inches of 20lb Fluorocarbon line to a size 2/0 hook. These rigging methods work well when the fish are deep.

However, bass especially, are often feeding right in the upper surface layers picking sandeel off the top.

When this occurs I use a Bonnand Bubble Float with about 40-inches of 15lb Fluorocarbon knotted via a small swivel below the float. Then add the hook and Gulp sandeel. With the float semi filled with water to give casting weight, you can achieve a good distance, but the sandeel fishes in the top surface layer and is incredibly effective.

When working in to a fast tidal current and needing to get a sandeel imitator down to mid depth quickly and keep it there, then I revert to the Berkley Powerbait Sandeel, which is a self weighted lure with a wobbling tail action. Again this is also scented to make the lure more attractive to an attacking fish. This can be fished direct to your main line.

These sandeels come in sizes 4in, 5in, 6in and 8in. Again sandeel naturally come in different sizes by species to some extent. I carry the 4 to 6in mainly for estuary work where natural sandeels tend to be this size, but the 8in is a good one when fishing off deep water rock marks for pollack that are used to taking the bigger sandeel, such as Launce.

On the open beaches at this time, and more so when the tides are big, large shoals of mackerel push smaller bait fish, such as sprat, tight in to shore. Bass and pollack become preoccupied with these too. Such a situation calls for a change of tactic.

To imitate the sprat, we need to carry small fish imitators. I like the Gulp Jerk Shad, and also the Berkley Ripple Shads in the smaller 7cm and 9cm sizes, also the Berkley Powerbait Pulse Shad in 6cm and 8cm sizes, plus the Powerbait Original Shad to name a few. It’s no coincidence these are pretty much the size and shape of the small fry that the mackerel herd in to the shallows and the bass and pollack prey on.

These soft shads can be fished on lightweight 10g jig heads, and be worked out behind and below the main shoals to imitate a wounded fish.

Equally, the biggest bass will be ignoring the sprat to some extent and looking to take the mackerel herding the sprat. To target these, switch to a bigger 16cm Powerbait Ripple Shad. The Ocean colour is a good mackerel imitator, but I add three or four black vertical stripes using a permanent marker pen to give the full on mackerel look. These 16cm shads have more than enough weight to cast good distance on their own without the use of a jig head, and work well just retrieved back towards you, thanks to the pulsing tail. Use a 6/0 hook in these as the bass that take them will have a mouth like a small bucket!

I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy every lure I listed. What I am suggesting is that you do vary the type and size of your lures so that when a specific size of baitfish is preoccupying the bass and pollack this summer, that you have the ability to change to something that looks more like what they are actually feeding on. If bass and pollack are herding and eating fry 3ins long, then they are very unlikely to take an 8in sandeel, it’s just the way nature works.

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