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
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.
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).