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February 09, 2011

Using Soft Plastic Baits

From trout to tuna, plastic baits offer unmatched versatility.

All illustrations by Joe Mahler /

Soft-plastic lures, in all their sizes, shapes, colors and styles, can be almost as effective as natural baits. Built-in scent and a variety of configurations - shrimp and fish imitations, eels and shad-style bodies with different tail shapes for lifelike action - can be deadly over a wide range of water types and fishing situations. Tuna on the continental shelf, stripers on the jetties, snook and tarpon in the inlets, and redfish and trout on the flats - there is scarcely a situation in which soft plastics can't do the job.

Think Skinny

Soft plastics are especially effective for flats fishing, sight-casting and surf fishing because they land quietly. They can also be used right on the surface when rigged weightless. A plastic shrimp is ideal for this when the internal weight is removed and the hook positioned so that it sticks out at the bottom, keeping the body upright. So is a 4- to 8-inch slender plastic body rigged weedless on a large-gap hook, a deadly rig for fishing shorelines and structure.

Many anglers sight-fishing on grassy flats remove the internal hook from a plastic shrimp and rig it without the tail fin to swim backward on a larger hook. The point lies right along the back so the lure is almost completely weedless, and it casts much easier and more accurately when rigged this way.

One or two plastic beads in front of the hook eye can increase the strike potential of almost all soft-plastic rigs. Everyone has their own color favorites; mine include orange, red, chartreuse and black, and I prefer 6 to 8 mm beads. A bead inside the loop formed by the leader when you're tying it to the eye of the hook prevents shrimp bodies and other soft plastics from sliding up the leader after hookup and becoming a target for other fish.