Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Fish will tell you: paddle tail or split tail?

Minnow-imitating plastics that attach to jigheads come in a couple of styles – paddle tail and split tail. As a rule of thumb, the split tail is best for fish that are actively feeding, while paddle tails get the attention of fish that might not otherwise be interested in your bait. (Photo by Steve Carney)

By Steve Carney

Contributing Writer

The two primary artificial styles of minnow-imitating baits are the paddle-tail style and the split-tail style. Both have good and bad qualities, so it pays to have both in the boat because there are days when one trumps the other. Here are some specifics.

Split tails

Split tails have been my go-to baits for years, and the past decade has brought many variations. We used to have maybe one or two sizes of split tails, but now they come as small as 1 inch to as long as 6 inches. 

Split-tail plastics are subtle baits that work well for active fish, but at times inactive fish just ignore them.  

I always have a rod rigged with both styles of baits and let the fish tell me what they want. I always start my morning fishing outings with a split tail and give it an hour to see if it produces. If not, I change to the paddle-tail minnow bait.

Paddle tails

These baits seem to be either feast or famine for me. They are truly aggressive and vibrating baits. It’s amazing how the small paddle in the back of the minnow bait vibrates, pulses, and creates lifelike action. 

This is a great bait when you find inactive fish, because the movement of the paddle-tail tail really triggers strikes. 

On the flip side, this super-aggressive tail can also turn fish off, which I have seen on many occasions. Often, I have to downsize the bait or revert back to the split tail. 

Yes, walleyes especially can be this finicky when you’re using artificial baits. Crappies aren’t as selective as walleyes, but at times they prefer one or the other.


It’s critical when using either paddle tails or split tails that your jighead has a long shank. You want the hook to be at least halfway back from the lead head. 

Many manufacturers have now introduced plenty of long-shanked jigs, so we have lots of options. 

I only carry 1⁄16- and 1⁄8-ounce jigheads because they are perfect for the typical depths of 4 to 15 feet.

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