Soft bait fishing along with Mechanical Jigging are variations of and old theme and variations of soft bait have been with us now for over 20 years since the introductions of the good old "Mister Twisters". I remember my first "Mister Twister, an nicely finished head with blue on top and 3 silicon bodies with white underside and blue on top. I only ever used them to trawl for kahwawai and the were lethal, you could understand why when you pulled them up by side the boat whilst trawling and watched the tail paddle. Since then various soft plastics have come and gone. Articles have been written and then enthusiasm has waned. But now since the introduction of Berkleys "Gulp" line of bio-degradable scented protein bait soft lures have hit the market I can't see this fad dying. Like mechanical jigging, soft bait fishing can be far more effective than its traditional counterpart (bait). There is a definite pattern of larger snapper on soft bait as opposed to bait. Soft bait fishing is more challenging in that as you get better you are rewarded with more and more fish. There is no stinky messy bait which makes it my wives favourite form of fishing!
Spend the money! You do get what you pay for in fishing gear. I won a cheap $150 dollar set in charter competition - it lasted until the first kahawai broke it. Shimano has some great rods but for me being a charter operator I just can't go past Composite Developments 6 year unconditional no questions asked warrantee. Break it in the car door, point load it, whatever you favourite way to smash rods is - composite will replace it. I have learnt this lesson in the past with fly fishing. Cheap unknown brands disappear off the market as quick as they arrive and if you break them - pay for a new. Buy a CD rod, and for 6 years you get to use a great rod without fear!
- On your nice little light-weight reel, spool up with a stiff fused braid like Berkeley Fireline. You will want either 8 or 10 pound line in a bright color such as pink - believe it or "knot"
- Attach to the end of the fireline a minimum of 5 - 6 feet of 20 - 30 fluoro-carbon.
- Attach your jig-head (soft bait head) to the end of the fluoro with your favourite knot. Some people like to use a loop knot here. I use a loop knot with flies and any thing where I think the leader will impact on the movement of the fly/lure on the end however I doubt that given the weight and size of soft bait with it's jig head that a loop knot adds anything other than a few seconds more to tie so I just go with a triple uni here.
- The depth you are casting into combined with your drift speed is going to determine what weight of jig-head you put on. If you are not getting to the bottom by the time the boat drifts over your soft bait then you need to increase your weight. For the Berkeley 5 inch grubs I mostly use, I find with a slow drift of less than half a knot that around a quarter ounce per 8 meters of depth works well. A large majority of your hits will come while the soft bait is swimming to the bottom caused by the supple tail moving against the water as the jig head tows it down. As a general rule you want to maximize the length of time that the soft bait is shimming through the strike zone before the boat drifts over top and spooks the spookier bigger fish away. There are some variables here of course and a heavier jig head may cause a faster more violent wiggle of the soft bait and hence induce more weary fish to take, however on the counter side you perhaps giving them less opportunity, again on the positive the more violent vibration caused by the faster sink of a heavier head might pull fish from further. Some experimentation on any given day is certainly required. Myself and my brother in law will often fish two different colors and weight when we know the fish are around to find the most effective system and then both go onto that.
You're in business. Now all you need to do is work out which Soft Baits work best under what conditions and how to fish with them and you're in business. Personally my go to is a Berkeley 5" New Penny Grub, followed up by good old Nuclear Chickens.
Wash fishing is almost an art in way, similar in some aspects to fly fishing. You are reliant upon reading of the water visual, you understanding of the habits of your quarry - snapper in this case - and your skill at being able to get your lure to the fish without spooking them with boat noise. Wash fishing as the name depicts requires wash hence it is best done on days with a bit of swell rolling in. This acts positively in two ways. Firstly any amount of water movement against the rocks and seaweed iss going to stir things up a bit creating a food trail and hence attracting fish to the area in much the same way as burley. On some days particularly during storms kina and various other species will be smashed up ready to be eaten by the many waiting fish. Secondly, the commotion in the water caused by the swell breaking against the rocks and all the little air bubbles bursting to the surface gives us 'cover' and allows us to get our boat in close enough to cast to our waiting quarry. The noise of around the wash muffles our approach and also dampens the effect of our lead jig head with soft bait attached hitting the water hence making it less likely to spook the weary fish which is probably a good reason for the high success rate on big weary fish under these conditions.
- Keep as far away from the wash and fish as you can while still being able to cast your soft-bait right into the wash
- Make sure that you have time to put an anchor over if you are fishing the windward side of rocks and your engine stops - as has happened to me before on a previous boat - fortunately we got it going again with out incident but it did require a change of undies! Remember Murphy's law, if your motor is going to fail - that is where it will fail!
- Cast into the wash and give a few seconds for it to drop, dependant on how deep you think you are fishing depends on how much you might let in free spool down or alternately retrieve a little and let drop then retrieve a little and let drop. Watch your slack bright colored braid it if it starts to suck the slack off the surface quicker than it's normally dropping rate - strike. Casting into the wash you often won't be letting the soft bait drop as long as you would out deeper hence a quarter to half ounce head is quite handy for most inshore with a 5 inch grub though deeper drop-offs might take up to an ounce in general.