Lure types. When, where & how to use them – Part 1 (Weedless/weightless soft plastics)
This is Part 1 of an 9 part series that will encompass the following lure types:
- Part 2 – Paddletails
- Part 3 – Shallow running hard lures >30cm
- Part 4 – Mid-depth running hard lures 30cm>1.5m
- Part 5 – Deep running hard lures 1.5m>
- Part 6 – Spinners and jigs
- Part 7 – Small surface lures
- Part 8 – Large surface lures
- Part 9 – Needlefish
I’ve been considering writing this series for some time, and with winter at the halfway point and lure anglers suffering severe bouts of cabin fever (not least because of the endless wind and rain) it seemed an appropriate time to offer up some suggestions, examples and experiences of ‘when, where and how’ to utilise certain lure types
In the course of my guiding and via the numerous messages and emails I receive, the two most common questions are: ‘What lure should I use first?‘ and ‘What lure would you use here Marc?‘ the latter often has a photograph attached!
Therefore, my aim throughout this series is to assist the angler who is inexperienced at catching bass on lures (but adept at catching other species perhaps) and/or the more seasoned bass fisherman who is contemplating ‘how’ to approach some new ground in order to enhance their success rate with lures.
Without wanting to risk the excellent relationship I have with many online tackle companies or local fishing tackle shops, please do not be tempted into buying 4 or 5 different patterns/colours of the exact same lure. Instead (and I know I’ve mentioned this before) purchase lures that will suit the actual marks (ground/terrain) you’re fishing over. Importantly, think of the varying sea conditions, light levels and weather conditions that you’ll also encounter before you hit ‘Buy’ such as:
- Calm, choppy or rough, clear or murky seas.
- Direction and intensity of the current.
- Daylight, twilight or darkness.
Finally, a theme of this series will be photographs of the actual lures I use, and the links to where you can purchase them.
Weedless/weightless soft plastics – what are they?
For the purpose of this article, weedless soft plastics will incorporate stick baits, senkos, shads and jerkbaits. Admittedly, some of the weird and wonderful creations that are on show here do have a paddletail and/or have a tiny belly weight attached to the hook – more on the reasons for that later.
So what advantage do ‘SP’s’ give you over the traditional hard lures? The most obvious of course, is that the hook point (or trebles) isn’t sticking out ready to catch all manner of snags and floating debris. Secondly, they can be fished very effectively throughout the entire water column if required, being brilliantly practical when faced with shallow water, over hideously rough terrain – the sort bass love of course!
One other deliberation is that from a catch and release perspective (paramount in 2018) only using one big single hook is far more considerate.
For anyone reading this who isn’t sure, the term ‘weedless’ relates to how these lures are actually rigged onto the hook (so that the point isn’t protruding proudly like some of the lures that I will cover in Part 2) and the type/shape of hook that is required to make this possible. However, please don’t think that you’ll never get snagged on a rock or weedbed again – you still need to be careful!
Essentially, the term ‘weightless’ equates to the fact that these lures do not require any added weight to allow them to be cast or retrieved effectively. Most sink (there are some out there that float) and they are aerodynamic and dense enough in their own right (generally weighing between 13 – 25g) to easily be cast more than far enough to catch bass. That said, depending on how strong the current or wind is, or indeed if you want the lure to look more natural in certain conditions, then a ‘belly weighted hook’ will help you achieve this.
The ground where they’ve been most effective
Note, the most effective… as you can catch bass on weedless soft plastics anywhere however, the type of mark below clearly is as rough as rats! The water over many of these types of mark is very shallow – indeed, this one has only 2ft of water above it at high tide.
Bass lure fishing over such marks offers a very unique opportunity to stand, at low water, in order to really investigate. In the course of attempting to figure out whether I think somewhere like this is worth trying, you’ll often find me turning over rocks and running a net through the rock pools. This is so that I can gauge the amount of life (and bass food) present – you’ll be surprised though, as not every mark looking like the one below is brimming with prawns, blennies, rockling, pipefish and crabs…
Note the slightly deeper channels and pools dotted around the reef – these are zones where bass will nose about, hold and wait ready to pounce therefore, the more features present the better.
Imagine the position of all that kelp and bladder rack when the tide is flowing across and over it – the fronds will be standing vertically meaning (bar the deeper pools/channels) you’ll have around 12 – 18″ of ‘clear water’ between the weed and the surface to effectively ‘work’ the lure’.
A weedless soft plastic is the ideal lure to utilise over such ground as:
- You can let them sink slowly to the seabed with a low risk of it getting snagged too often.
- You can gently drift them into the vicinity of the channels and pools – natural presentation is key.
- There is only one hook to worry about and that is positioned on the top of the lure.
- Even the shallowest running hard lures could still snag the weed fronds – although you could retrieve with the rod tip held high to alleviate this to some extent.
- A surface lure fished in such shallow water could actually to deter the fish however, if there was a surf running across such a reef, then I would most certainly consider it as the bass only get a split second to make a decision in that instant.
- You might be surprised, but I would also fish a sinking needlefish (Part 9) over such ground as they are in essence, a hard ‘stick bait’ but the way they’re weighted means they ‘swim’ just below the surface.
When they’ve been most effective
A high percentage of the marks (like the one above) that I fish are very remote and most likely to be tucked away under a high cliff or hiding around a picturesque, yet secluded cove. They are the type of mark where bass will hunt even on those calm sunny days when the water is crystal clear.
In the past (before I started using soft plastics) I would use a shallow running lure but the amount of times I witnessed a bass ‘follow’ the lure required a re-think. I changed my tactics and started to utilise lures that look phenomenally natural when retrieved, and this is what you’re aiming for – as close to the real thing as possible or helplessly disoriented so that a bass snaps it up without a second thought…
I have caught bass on these lures during twilight to when the sun is high in the sky, but it is in darkness that remote, snag ridden reefs with lots of features and food really come into their own. Additionally, if you want to avoid wrasse (who also inhabit this ground) and Pollack (who love the twilight period) then you have a far greater chance of attracting a big bass at night.
The actual lures I use and how
OSP DoLive Stick here
An incredibly versatile stickbait, I use the 6″ DoLive Sticks rigged onto an Owner 5/0 weedless twistlock hook here. Although I’ve never caught a bass over 3lb on one (quite a few 4 – 5lb wrasse) I like them because they can be retrieved/worked in two very different, but enticing ways.
I tend to alter the retrieve style every other cast. I straight (linear) retrieve them on one cast so that they travel approximately 1m per second, stopping completely 4 or 5 times through the retrieve to allow the lure to flutter or move with the tide/waves. Then on the next cast, I will just wind very slowly (one turn of the handle every 3 seconds) and will just intermittently twitch them in.
The effect is that on cast one, that tiny lobe on their tail will vibrating like crazy. Yet on cast two, the lure will turn and twist at 90º angles each time you twitch it – much more like something in distress. Either way, they are very attractive and easy to use, and remember that so long as you maintain a modicum of contact (a tight line isn’t required) then the lure will be doing what it’s designed to do. Furthermore, I like to use them when the water is flat calm and crystal clear.
Lunker City Slug-Go here
One of the most effective lures to use when there is lots of floating weed in the water in dirty water. I have had most success with the Slug-Go when fished at extremely close range from beaches, in the zone where shingle meets a reef like the one above. Imagine the high tide period when there is rotting seaweed present following a storm and the water is murky. This is when they have come into their own, on a exasperatingly slow retrieve with the odd twitch of the rod tip. Again, just maintaining contact is enough and the takes are often rod wrenching!
I tend to us the very large 7.5″ version and rig them onto a 5/0 Texposer hook that you can purchase here. When fished on the surface they look fantastic and they make short work of any protruding weed or rocks as the hook sits very snugly in the top (concave) section of the lure. The only down side is that they don’t cast brilliantly, but to be honest, where you’re likely to be using them, you won’t need to cast more than a few metres anyway.
Albie Snax here
On a slow or medium paced retrieve (one turn of the handle every 1 or 2 seconds) the Albie Snax will slalom or almost appear to pivot on the large (6/0 weedless twistlock here) hooks that I tend to use. Overkill on the hook size? Maybe, but these lures are quite tough and rigid therefore, you don’t want to be losing or missing fish because the hook point isn’t penetrating the mouth. Once I’ve rigged them (line the hook up with the join line present) I will wiggle the lure around the bend a little – not too much though otherwise I’ve found the lure can sometimes slide around the bend on a powerful cast, rendering it useless.
I ‘ve used the pearl colour almost exclusively in darkness (with many bass ranging from 2 – 8 lb taken on them) but I will be experimenting with the smoke colour (above) by both day and night this season. I really couldn’t say at this stage whether they would be effective in deeper water as again, I’ve had the most success over the ground I’ve described above – especially when there has been a slight swell running over a reef and onto the beach
The ‘Cattle tongue is a very similar lure, in terms of performance and action as the OSP DoLive Stick however, the Dot Crawler is a different animal altogether! Weighing 25g, it can be accurately cast very long distances however, you need to be careful how and where you fish it. Over the ground above, it would most likely be slithering across the seabed and through the weed therefore, eventually you would snag the stem of a huge chuck of wrack and it would be game over.
Therefore, my preference has been to only use the Dot Crawler over platforms of rock, exposed to lots of tide and where there isn’t quite as much weed present. Even better, if can find these platforms with a gorge or gully running through it them but distance is required, then this is the ideal weapon. I’ve even had some success with smaller bass hammering them as they were bumped along a broken seabed at the mouth of a certain estuary.
As you can see, there is a weight added (in the form of 2.6g belly weight attached/glued to the 4/0 weedless hook that you can purchase here) to the 5″ Fish Arrow Flash lures below – the one I’ve had the most success with is the non-paddletial version. Although the lure does sink and can be fished without any weight, if you watch a blenny or gobie in a rock pool, they tend to skirt along the rocks and seabed rather than swimming in mid-water therefore, these are what I’m attempting to mimic when I’m using an Arrow Flash. If, when you’re searching around (looking under rocks) an intertidal reef you’re finding lots of these creatures, then I’d hazard a guess that the bass will know they’re there!
The Mann’s Hardnose was one of the first weedless/weightless soft plastics that I ever used – the one below is rigged onto a 4/0 Texposer. Both this and the Fish Arrow Flash can be fished through virtually any type of snags, including protruding weed and rocks. Moreover, you’d be extremely unlucky to snag one up (probably the reason why I’m using the original packet of lures I bought 5 years ago!
The difference between the two is in the way I retrieve them. The Arrow Flash is wound excruciatingly slowly to enable keeping it as close to the seabed as possible – with the rod tip down if necessary. Where as the Hardnose is a real ‘fish in distress’ type of lure being remarkably sensitive to any tiny twitch on the rod tip or slight increase in retrieve speed. I love to let them drift, particularly if there is a decent amount of wave movement (creating white aerated water) followed by quick turn of the reel handle to create the ‘darting’ movement that bass seem to love.
Designed by a very good bass angler, who catches a lot of bass on them in Dorset, the Red Gill Evo Stix is essentially a hybrid of a weedless senko and a paddletail. They come with the weedless hooks and a selection of nose cone weights (which you thread the leader through) but I prefer to use them weightless if I can. In a similar way to the Slug-Go, if there copious amounts of weed stacked up the beach and there is an abundance of floating salad, then the Evo is one of the lures I attach – especially in the corners of tiny coves adjacent to a reef system. Sometimes that extra bit of movement (via the wriggling tail) can be enough to enduce a take when the bass may be preoccupied with whatever is being washed out of the weed (maggots/idotea).
The OSP DoLive Shad may appear similar in profile, but it is in fact, a broad, almost stocky shad in comparison – which makes it exceptionally stable in the water. If an onshore wind is blowing straight onto a shallow reef, the weight of this lure not only gets it out there, but it also enables the angler to remain in contact with it even when it is really getting pushed about by the waves and/or current – something that isn’t possible with the lures above bar the Dot Crawler. This is why, if I’m expecting waves and a powerful tide to run across a shallow reef, I’ll always carry a few with me. I like to work these just above the seabead, no more than 3″ if I can (this requires a slow retrieve) as I think they imitate a pollack or wrasse beautifully.
Please do get in contact if you would like to offer any feedback – it would be great to hear about your own experiences and suggestions in relation to weedless, weightless soft plastics.
Thanks for reading.