They look like something from a bag of Haribo and

are almost as soft. But these malleable

monsters are calorie free and bass want to gobble them, says Henry Gilbey

It feels more like I’m

Czech-nymphing a Westcountry stream for wild browns and grayling than bass

fishing. Gurgling water tugs at my wader-clad legs, and I follow that urgent

current by holding my rod tip up and maintaining a nice tight line. Swing up

the spinning rod, around and down, retrieve (or bump the lure back along the

bottom in this case), cast upstream again, repeat at will. But there is no fly

on the end of my line and I am standing in saltwater as the tide pours out of

this lonely estuary.

Fishing for bass with soft plastic lures is

deadly in this kind of situation, and anybody with any experience of

fly-fishing will get the hang of it in no time at all. Let your supple, soft

plastic lure do the work in the moving water. Bump, tap, nudge, big bump, tap,

tap, whack. Bass on! There are infinite ways to fish for bass with soft plastic

lures but an experience I will never forget is the first time I fished (in

essence, Czech-nymphed) a wonderful Irish estuary with a soft plastic lure,

because that first irregular whack on the rod tip was a stunning bass of 7lb.

Lure-fishing for bass is hardly new, but over

the past few years there has been what I would term an explosion of interest in

a more modern, light-tackle, sporting approach. Bass is one of our true

sporting quarries, indeed to me it is the king of our cold Atlantic ocean. I

have always believed there are real parallels between lure- and fly-fishing,

and especially the subtle art of using soft plastics. In my mind the finesse

required to fish the smaller soft plastics properly is as close to the “feel”

of fly-fishing that conventional fishing is going to get – and with real

advantages.

Fly-fishing for these wonderful creatures

remains popular but lure-fishing is a more efficient way to cover more water

and fish the tricky or lively conditions that they love successfully. Most

lure-fishing, though, is done with “hard plastic” lures, often wonderfully

shiny and desirable surface and sub-surface imitations that cast a mile and are

easy to work. Soft plastic lures tend to be the rubbery, flexible shads, eels,

worms and grubs that many anglers look at and wonder what on earth will eat

them. What has made them so important to our fishing is the realisation that

there are any number of different ways to fish these strange-looking imiitations,

and that bass often want to jump all over them. All types of lures have a place

in bass fishing but soft plastics can give you a vital extra.

Competition drives technological innovation.

Soft plastic lures really took off in the USA where there is a huge

com-petition scene based around largemouth (freshwater) bass. I guess it was

these competitors who stumbled upon the fact that occasionally fish want

something soft and lifelike. Soft plastics are supple with a greater range of

movements – and thus underwater vibrations and signals – than hard. These

plastics have been around in the UK for ages but in the main have been used in

the freshwater-predator fishing scene or for deepwater wreck- and reef-fishing

at sea. Using them specifically for bass fishing here has been gathering

momentum and recently we have cottoned on to the fact that we have plenty to

learn from the French bass fishermen. French saltwater anglers have had no

choice but to continue developing more successful ways to catch already

pressurised bass stocks, and soft plastics have played a major role in this.

RIG IT YOURSELF

Soft plastic lures like a standard “shad” can be fished

in much the same way as you might fish a minnow-type hard lure. Cast it out and

retrieve it, allowing for the natural action of the lure to bring the fish in.

Soft plastics come into their own when you slow down and begin to “animate”

them. This is the point to fishing with soft plastics – either you impart the

action to them via different retrieves or you trust in their in-built action to

attract fish when, for example, there is current to get them working. Take a

look at the tail on a soft plastic shad and try to imagine it vibrating like

crazy in the current. Hard plastic lures don’t work in the same way.

Soft plastics often come pre-rigged on

weighted hooks but I am more interested in those that are not pre-rigged,

giving me far more choice in how I might rig and fish them to adapt to

different fishing situations. Many soft plastics can be fished “weightless”:

you insert a hook into the lure and use only the

inherent weight of the lure to cast it. The Lunker City Slug-Go lure looks almost better than a real sandeel

when you cast it out and slowly and deliberately twitch it back. Rig such a

lure to be “weedless” (hook point just inserted into the soft body of the lure)

and it becomes much harder to snag it up. This opens up a world of fishing for

bass and even wrasse and pollack right in among the weed and rocks. After all,

bass like to work with cover in ambushing their prey.

It is when you look at different jig heads

(single hooks with moulded, weighted heads) that soft plastics really begin to

inspire as a versatile method for targeting bass. Countless models and sizes of

jig head allow you to fish your chosen soft plastic any way you can imagine.

One of the most lethal soft plastic lures I know of is the 41⁄2in MegaBass XLayer. A lure like this can be

made to work in different ways by playing around with jig heads and varying the

way you fish it. There are probably as many soft plastics out there as there

are bass in our seas but if I could carry only one type of SP, as they are

sometimes known, it would be that MegaBass XLayer.

Carefully mount an XLayer on a light 7g-10g

jig head by threading it on like you would a worm. It helps to use a drop of

Super Glue to secure the tip of the lure to the back of the jig head. Cast it

out, let it sink a little, and then twitch it back fairly quickly so that it

darts from side to side. If it’s possible to imitate a nervous sandeel or other

baitfish any better then I am not aware of it. I watched a French specialist

catch a bass, then a pollack and then a wrasse in consecutive casts, standing

on the same rock, all with the XLayer.

 

LIMITLESS LURES

The ways in which you can fish these lures is limitless.

Twitch it as described or “Czech-nymph” it in the current of an estuary where

you can allow it to bump along the bottom. When the lure moves just inside the

line of the current, “hop” it gently back along the bottom, right to your feet.

A soft plastic like the XLayer can also be rigged weedless, with no added

weight, and then allowed to sink and twitch around underwater features. You can

“sink and draw” soft plastic shads mounted on heavier jig heads. Look for an

area with current, then allow the lure to hit the bottom. Draw the lure up via

your rod tip and reel handle and let it sink back down; this is when the shad’s

tail comes alive. As with all fishing, con-fidence is a big thing here. Trust

that far smaller movements than are required with hard lures are making that

soft plastic work how it is meant to. Finesse is the key.

I will never forget one angler’s first-ever

cast for bass in Ireland . “Cast the XLayer out there on the edge of the ripple

and hop it back along the bottom nice and steadily,” were his instructions. He

did exactly what he was told and hooked and landed an 11lb bass. On the next

chuck he had one of 7lb, and the following morning one of 9 lb. Soft plastics work.

Lighter than normal tackle is required to fish

properly with most soft plastics. We tend to use spinning rods around 7ft-8ft

long that are very light, have a very fast action and are rated somewhere

between 5g and 30g. Match these small, sensitive rods with a small spinning

reel loaded up with, say, 15lb braid (essential mainline for all the feel you

can get; the best is Varivas Avani Sea Bass Max Power PE, a true eight-strand

braid) and a very short 15lb-20lb fluorocarbon leader. Use the rod like you

would work with a wand (if that makes sense). Top of the tree when it comes to

“finesse” bass rods is the stunning 7ft Tenryu Injection, but you could also

look at the Grauvell Teklon Concept 7ft 702L matched with the Shimano Rarenium

C3000 spinning reel.

SOURCE THE GEAR

Mr Fish Jersey, Fishing Tackle Shop, La Route
de St Aubin, St Helier JE2 3LN, tel 01534 618886, www.mrfishjersey.com (the best shop for the outstanding Tenryu lure rods, all manner of lures, good advice).
Veals Mail Order, tel 01275 892000, www.veals.co.uk (Grauvell rods, all kinds of lures, online tips).