Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Swimbaits revolutionizing the soft plastic world

(Photo by John Tertuliani)

By John Tertuliani

Contributing Writer


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.

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