New Anglers can Learn Fishing with Soft Plastics

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With all the brands, styles, colors, and types of soft plastics on today's market, you're sure to find something that works for almost any fishing adventure.

Stick Bait, Swim Bait, Craw, Worm, Tube, Grub, Jerk-bait, Creature…You name it, there’s a soft bait like it these days. Technology has lead to a variety of products specifically formulated for the fishing enthusiast. You can find soft baits for saltwater fishing and freshwater. There are soft baits for bass, crappie, bluegill, trout, muskie, tuna, and everything else that swims. Soft baits can be made to float, sink slowly, sink like a rock, or vary their depths depending on the circumstances. Go into any fishing supply store and you’re liable to find hundreds of soft bait options if not thousands. For the new angler, that can be rather overwhelming…and expensive.

So just what do you need to know about soft baits when you’re starting out?

First, let’s talk about bait material.

Soft plastic baits are typically produced out of plastisol: “a suspension of PVC or other polymer particles in a liquid plasticizer.” Sound’s a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s rather simple if you have someone break it down for you. Think about PVC. It’s a rather rigid form of plastic that holds up well to all sorts of abuse. It’s frequently an angler’s best friend when out on the water. 

Imagine shaving a piece of PVC down into a powder then dumping that powder into a liquid glue. That’s essentially what the plasticizer is doing for the PVC powder. The PVC provides your hard product that the fish is going to chase and bite while the plasticizer glues that powder together into a compound that can hold up to the bites while still keeping its flexible (moveable) texture. Until you get to the point that you want to start making your own baits, this will be enough for you to understand what’s to come.

Let’s get to the fun part, the texture of soft plastic baits.

There are, generally speaking, 5 types of soft plastics: Finesse, Worm, Swim or jerk-bait, Craw or tube, and Saltwater.

Finesse style plastics are generally soft and easily damaged so care is needed when fishing with them.
Worms are a bit more hearty than finesse baits, but the plastic is still soft enough to naturally wiggle in water.
Swimbaits are a good middle-of-the-road plastic but still have enough flexibility to produce excellent motion in the water.
Craws, like tubes, are fairly sturdy. The plastic will still move in the water to give a life-like presentation, but the motion will be stiffer...like shelled creatures.
Saltwater plastics must be made of a harder material to be fished in the harsh environment.

Finesse plastics must be as soft as possible. They are going to be the baits most often described as short-lived. Many of the brands on the market, today, are only good for one or two catches before you have to change out your plastic bait for another one. 

Worms must have a good degree of flexibility to act like a real worm as they’re sinking through the water column but not be so soft that they go limp as they’re sinking. This is why they will still be soft, but have a tad bit more rigidity than the finesse baits. 

Swimbaits and jerkbaits are your middle-of-the-road plastics. They will still be soft enough to allow for motion as they glide through the water, but they are going to be more hardy for a better endurance against those hard-hitting, hungry fish. 

Craw and tube plastics are more hearty. They have a thickness and rigidity to them that tends to focus more on shape than motion. Your fishing style and rigging will be more important with these baits than their natural behavior in the water. 

The other side of the spectrum are the saltwater or hard plastic baits. While these are some of the strongest plastic baits on the market, their nice is a bit limiting compared to the other types of plastics. They are proven to hold up against some of the hardest-hitting, most destructive mouths in the fish kingdom.

Swimbaits and jerkbaits are your middle-of-the-road plastics.

They will still be soft enough to allow for motion as they glide through the water, but they are going to be more hardy for a better endurance against those hard-hitting, hungry fish. Craw and tube plastics are more hearty. They have a thickness and rigidity to them that tends to focus more on shape than motion. Your fishing style and rigging will be more important with these baits than their natural behavior in the water. The other side of the spectrum are the saltwater or hard plastic baits. While these are some of the strongest plastic baits on the market, their nice is a bit limiting compared to the other types of plastics. They are proven to hold up against some of the hardest-hitting, most destructive mouths in the fish kingdom.

So what does this mean for you?

Let’s break this down a little more for you.

Finesse plastics

Popular with ice fishing, these soft and highly flexible baits tend to be much smaller in size. They frequently have multiple appendages or segments to allow for varied and random motion. The ultimate goal with a finesse bait is to use very little work to attract the attention of a fish that might not necessarily know it’s hungry.

Finesse plastics tend to be smaller than other plastic baits and are significantly more reactive than the stiffer plastic lures.

Rigging a finesse bait doesn't have to be complicated

Drop-shots discussed in “Cut Bait Fishing Tips for the New Angler” are a popular choice for these types of plastics. Another popular option is the wacky rig. While it is highly successful for bass anglers, you’ll find its versatility is good for almost any of North America’s game fish. The drop shot is great for just about any water level (deep lakes, shallow streams, dams, and so much more).

Plastic Worms

These include soft senkos, shaky heads, ned rigs, straight tail worms, curly tail worms, lunker logs, slim shaky worms (yes, different from the shaky heads), paddle tails, split tails…Getting the picture?

Each type of worm will have different action. It’ll create different reactions in the fish your targeting. More importantly, it’ll require different types of fishing techniques to get the most of their actions. That being said, there are some basics that will remain tried and true regardless of which type of worm you choose.

The biggest consistency will be the types of riggs you use.

The Texas Rig

The Texas Rig is another versatile rig that works well for many plastic lures.

The shaky head rig

The shaky head rig works well for worms and similar plastic baits, but is more limiting than the Texas Rig

Swimbaits and Jerkbaits

These are going to be your more “realistic” looking soft plastics. Their structure will normally be the shape of a fish and the color patter will, often, be close enough to a real fish that you could almost believe you’re looking at a fish through squinted eyes. The swimbaits and jerkbaits are usually mid water to top water style baits. While most plastic baits are primarily considered bass fishing tools, these swimbaits and jerkbaits are more universal.

All predatory fish eat smaller fish.

Rigging the swimbaits and jerkbaits doesn’t have to be stressful

Your options for rigging are rather straightforward with these baits which also make them excellent for learning to fish with soft plastics. You can easily use a basic jig head, spice it up with a weighted spinning jighead, or stick to the tried and true Texas rig. Probably one of the most common presentations, though, is to use a worm hook through the body (a weightless presentation).

The spinner jighead can add some flash to your presentation which is especially helpful during sunny days.
Swimbaits will even work well on a dropshot

Craw and tube baits (Let’s also add creature baits to this)

While the name does clarify the type of plastic bait a bit, there is still a vast range of interpretations to understand. Most true craws are going to be some form of a crawfish representation. They will typically have some type of shape to them that could be interpreted as pinchers that will trail behind the body of the bait as it glides through the water.

There are a wide variety of creatures in the plastic baits world.
Craws, like tubes, are fairly sturdy. The plastic will still move in the water to give a life-like presentation, but the motion will be stiffer...like shelled creatures.

Tubes on the other had are quite literally, tubes. They will have a rounded, hollow, body that collapse easily under the pressure of a bite. Their trailing end will usually be frilled, like a skirt, and is said to imitate a crawdad or bait fish.

Tubes often get rigged on their own, specialized, jigheads that allow for a very streamlined presentation.

Both craws and tube baits are sturdy plastic baits that can provide more longevity than the softer plastics used for finesse fishing. They are, however, more typically used for a reaction bite type scenario. Your goal is to get the target fish’s attention and make him want to bite the intruder (your bait). Now this can be because he’s hungry, because he’s protecting his bed, or just flat out irritated with the interruption in general. The point is, you are creating the need to bite as opposed to the casual bite common with some other types of bait. 

This is why I suggest adding the general creature baits clause to this category. Creature baits can be a variety of shapes, color patterns, and sizes. They can represent frogs, tadpoles, fry, insects, lizards, or just about anything else fish might eat. What they have, truly, in common with craws and tubes is their sturdy structure. These baits are typically designed with thicker bodies and are commonly made with the harder plastics that can take a beating with little to no damage.

Creature baits have similar structure and form to craw baits and can be used interchangeably with craws in the fishing realm.

These are probably the most versatile baits for fishing rigs

Punching and flipping are common practices for these types of baits. While the techniques can get you access to fish you wouldn’t normally have frequent bites from, they are more demanding on the skills ladder than what many beginners are prepared to endure. Our recommendation would be to start simple and work your way up to these more specialized techniques.

The Texas rig and Carolina rig will still prove very effective for you with these plastics as well.

A creature or craw plastic bait will provide an excellent trailer for a skirted jig presentation.

A skirted jig can provide a versatile setup that you can fish all day using a wide array of techniques. Adding these flashy hooks to your arsenal will give you a solid start when you prepare to advance your skills towards punching and flipping styles of fishing.

Saltwater and harder plastics

You will find a few striking similarities between saltwater plastics and the baits already discussed, today. The biggest similarity is that the shapes and functions will be virtually identical. While the plastic is typically a bit hardier to hold up to the harshness of the saltwater, the motions and flexibility will still be there. The biggest difference you are likely to notice is the color pattern. Most saltwater baits will be bright, wild colors while most freshwater baits will be muted, earthy, colors that have just a hint of brightness to them.

Saltwater plastics often have bright, extravagant colors, but will have a stiffer feel in the hand.

Fishing with soft plastics is very much like fishing with anything else. You really do need to “match the hatch.”

Saltwater fish are much more colorful. Their vibrant patterns and striking presentations must be mimicked to draw the attention of your target fish. While the colors will make them stand out, especially to primarily freshwater anglers, their fishing techniques are quite similar.

When rigging for saltwater fishing, keep it simple.

The Carolina rig will work for many of your presentations. So too, will the simple worm hook through the body. To get a better control when fishing deeper, consider a belly weighted hook.

The belly weighted hook can provide a very good rigging presentation for fresh and saltwater plastics presentations.

Up next: dough baits, artificial scents, and how they are used in conjunction with these soft plastic lures as well as individual baits.

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