STORIES OUT THERE FISHING By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Plastic Tactics for Bass Luring bass can be easy as long as you pick the right one for the right fishing conditions New to fishing worms, salamanders, crayfish and other soft-plastic lures? This guide to some basics will help you get started. (Keith Sutton photo) They slither, wiggle, creep, crawl, flutter, float, squish and squirm. They’re available in every shape, size, color, texture and combination imaginable. Some glow in the dark. Some are impregnated with salt, amino acids or special flavorings. Many are amazingly lifelike imitations of real animals. Others look more like creatures from Saturday morning cartoons. One thing’s for sure about soft-plastic lures—you’ll never get bored fishing them. If you tied a different version on every time you made a cast for bass, you’d probably still never use all the many models available from today’s manufacturers. Use them you should, however, for there are at least three characteristics that make these lures stand out over other artificials. First, when compared with other types of lures, soft plastics are cheaper than anything else on the market. True, they get torn up more easily, but you have no reason to resist dropping one into a snag-filled treetop or down into the jumbled rock pile of a riprap bank where a bass is likely to be hiding. If it gets chewed up, nipped off or lost, simply add on another and you’re ready to go again. Second, soft plastics entice bass. Many are perfect replicas of food animals that are eaten by all species of bass. These creations are so detailed in size, shape, color, scent and feel that they’ll fool almost anything or anybody. And with good reason: they’re cast in molds made from the real thing. On the other hand, a number of them don’t resemble anything on the bass’s natural menu, yet these weird baits still catch fish. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, soft-plastic lures are extremely versatile. They can be rigged to perform in almost every type of fishing situation—weedless for fishing dense brush or other heavy cover; floating for working weedbeds and surface-slashing schools; on a jighead for bouncing rocky points and steep ledges; flipping style for in-close work; or almost any way you can imagine. They range in size from miniscule plastic bugs (for fly fishing) to gigantic snakes, crayfish and salamanders. With the addition of nothing more than a hook, you can use them as the entire lure; or they can be used to tip other lures, for example, as a trailer on a spinnerbait or jig. They range in color from natural greens, grays and browns to sparkling, psychedelic pinks, purples and blues. Keep your tacklebox well stocked with a variety of these cheap, lifelike, weedless artificials and you’ll be ready for any bassing situation. If soft-plastic lures have a drawback, it is that many anglers find it difficult to master their use. For some, gaining confidence in these lures is a long process of trial and error, and quite a few never learn to fish them with any degree of success. For those who do, however, soft plastics become an indispensable component of their bass-angling arsenal. And learning how to use them is really not as difficult as you might think. Here’s a quick look at three of the soft-plastic lures available today, with tips on how to rig and fish them for certain situations. Plastic Worms No other soft-plastic lure is as popular as the plastic worm. And it’s probably safe to say that more lunker bass have been caught on plastic worms than on any other single type of artificial. The most popular sizes run 4, 5, 6 and 7-1/2 inches, but much smaller and much larger versions are also available. In most instances, smaller worms are used in extremely clear or cold water or for more wary bass, and the larger worms are used in murky water or when the angler is after really big fish. In many waters where bass have been pounded daily with worms and other lures, switching to smaller sizes and lighter-test line will often do the trick. But in some cases, going the opposite way may be even more productive. Probably the most popular method of rigging worms is the Texas rig. This is made by threading a cone-shaped bullet weight on the line, tying on a hook, then threading the point of the hook through the head of the worm for about a half inch, turning it back out, then turning the hook around and embedding the point in the body. (Be sure the worm body has no kink to alter action.) This rig is weedless, fairly snag-proof and easy to cast. By retrieving carefully, you can usually “worm” the lure through the heaviest cover. Minimize snags by pegging the sliding sinker to your line by inserting a toothpick into the sinker hole and breaking it off. Cast, pitched or flipped, the Texas rig is outstanding. One good tactic is to cast a few feet past the target, crawl the worm to the object, and hop it a time or two. If a fish doesn’t hit, reel the worm straight back. Fish horizontal cover like logs and bridge pilings along their entire length since you don’t know exactly where the strike zone is. Move the worm, by alternately raising and lowering your rod tip, reeling slack line on the drop. If you feel the weight touch a branch or rock, drop the rod tip just a bit, then gently flip the lure upward. By leaving off the slip-sinker, you can fish a Texas-rigged worm as a surface lure. Larger worms are especially effective this way when worked over vegetation, around brush tops and along weedy shorelines. The Carolina rig is particularly advantageous in areas where open lake bottom may be mucky or slightly grassy. Here a heavier slip-sinker, often weighing as much as an ounce, is threaded on the line, followed by a swivel. A leader, measuring 2 to 4 feet long, is tied to the swivel, and the hook and worm are tied to the leader. At rest, the lure suspends above the bottom. Pauses in retrieve or feeding the lure slack line move the worm enticingly. Bass tend to inhale the free-floating worm on this rig, and the ratio of hooked fish to strikes is very high. But this rig also has a tendency to hang a lot and is harder to cast. Another method of rigging is to simply thread the worm onto a jig head. Popular combos run from 1/16- to 1/4-ounce jigheads with 4- to 6-inch worms. The strength of the jigworm is its slow, subtle descent which triggers bass along weed edges or sheer bluff walls. Lizards and Salamanders These lures seem to work best in spring when bass come shallow to spawn. One reason is that bass regard salamanders as a threat to their eggs. Sometimes a bass will dart six or eight feet away from its nest to hit a plastic lizard, even when a worm tossed into the nest draws only a cursory response. Rig Texas style, and fish the lure slow, as if the creature is sneaking along the bottom like a predatory egg-gobbler. In summer, you can fish more actively, using a series of short hops around timber. Or rig them weightless to swim over the surface of weed beds. Crayfish Soft-plastic crayfish often come pre-rigged. Those that aren’t can be outfitted with a weighted hook or leadhead jig, with the hook point turned in to make the lure weedless. Be sure to insert the hook so the crayfish will be retrieved backward in the same way that a live crayfish scoots backward across the bottom. Crayfish are especially good smallmouth and spotted bass lures. In streams, try a small plastic crayfish on a 1/8-ounce leadhead crawled alongside under boulders, rock ledges and rock shelves. You can do the same thing around logs, stumps and other heavy cover for largemouths. Some bassers use large crayfish as trailers on jigs, flipping them in dense cover. This larger size and added action of a jig rigged this way helps entice trophy-class bass. Soft-plastic baits provide one of the most versatile approaches for fishing under many conditions. It may take a little extra effort to learn to fish them effectively, but the ability to mix and match them in a variety of combinations to suit any condition makes them too good to ignore.