By John Tertuliani
Soft plastics come in enough shapes, sizes, and colors that there’s nearly no limit on how you can use them. Presentations range from a bent hook to a keel hook to a jighead to who knows what. A swimbait or worm or other creature can be used with weight or unweighted.
My initiation to soft plastics began with a nondescript bag of curly-tailed grubs and one worm. Available at a local tackle shop, the grubs were clear, with silver glitter, 11⁄2 inches long, and looked like something made in your basement. At about the same time, I bought on a whim a dark green plastic worm from a barrel of worms sitting on the floor of a Woolworth store. The worm cost 5 cents. I had the money.
We poured our own jigheads. I put the grubs on 1⁄16-ounce jigheads. The grubs caught fish way beyond my expectations. The worm did the same: I caught an 18-inch largemouth weighing more than 3 pounds. I couldn’t believe how fish would go for soft plastics.
I used light spinning tackle and 4-pound-test monofilament for the grubs. If I didn’t retie the line after four fish, the fifth or sixth fish would break the line. Light line was more effective for me to cast a small jig, and I caught more fish than I did with 8-pound line and heavier jigs.
My worm experience went the other way. Light line and a light rod worked with an exposed hook, but not so much when I started embedding the hook in the worm.
In more recent times, I noticed the pros using heavy tackle to reduce the risk of losing a big fish in heavy cover. Many are power anglers, preferring heavy braid, large hooks with strong wire and a wide gap, and tackle strong enough to pull an embedded hook through a swimbait at a moment’s notice. Non-tournament anglers use heavy line for the same reasons. Some don’t like to tie knots; it takes time away from fishing when having to freshen the end of the line.
For swimbaits that imitate prey fish, I use medium tackle for both weighted and unweighted presentations. The hook is exposed most of the time, embedded if necessary. For some species, such as pike, I started using a treble hook with one hook stuck in the worm to hold it in place. A treble is also good when fish are not aggressively feeding.
Crankbaits are rarely used without trebles. I’m surprised more anglers aren’t using swimbaits with a treble, other than the obvious potential of getting snagged.
When using a treble hook, I attach about 12 to 18 inches of monofilament to the end of the line. I add a screw lock to secure the swimbait to the leader. You can use a plastic tube from a coffee stirrer or a metal tube from a pop rivet instead of a screw lock. Run the tube through the nose of the swimbait down to the hook location. The tube becomes a conduit for your line to the hook.
The swimbait can swing free on the line after the treble has been pulled out by a fish, causing less damage to the swimbait and making it more difficult for a fish to use the weight of the swimbait to help spit the hook. A swivel tied to the end of the leader completes the rigging.
Above the treble, I sometimes add a glass bead or two. I use red beads as a target to direct the strike to the swimbait at the hook location.
These rigs are simple to make, and you may want to make them as you need them. Otherwise, a tangled mess is bound to happen when treble hooks and monofilament are thrown together.
Some sort of snell holder is helpful if you want to store a few rigs for later use. A flat version may be more useful with treble hooks than the tube holder designed for single hooks.
I sometimes use a straight-shanked hook instead of embedding a swimbait hook. I use Super Glue to keep the hook in place – a drop at both ends of the hook where it touches the plastic. Gluing a hook in place is not for everybody. You may prefer to stick with bent hooks. I try to insert the hook as straight as possible to help the swimbait run true.
The same goes for inserting a screw lock. It should be as straight as possible. A loop knot or snap to the hook gives the swimbait more action than if the hook is tied directly to the line.
For anglers interested in proven methods, a weighted-keel hook is another option to consider instead of a jighead. The weight situated low on the hook doesn’t seem to impair action, and the momentum once it gets moving may actually impart some back-and-forth action to the swimbait.
Although jigs have been my most effective artificial lure, I’m shying away from using them as a vehicle for medium to large swimbaits. I get a livelier movement without the weight fixed to the front of the swimbait – more side-to-side wobble, whole-body action. If I need some weight, I put the weight up the line, Carolina style.
There is nothing wrong with a swimbait presented on a jighead.
I prefer experimenting with other methods, forever seeking patterns that stick out from the pack of tail-wagging swimbaits that accompany angler-pressured waters.