Practical tackle


I have a feeling that when we get to grips with the practicalities of fishing with big soft plastic lure we will catch a lot of pike on them. I know that there have been people using smaller bass-sized plastics for many years, with success, but as with all bass lures they are way too small for pike. Either that or they are not the right sort of shapes. Long slim worms and snakes are not as likely to appeal to a pike as a nice chunky slug or grub. That's my thinking anyway.

The biggest problem with soft plastics is that they are mostly intended to be rigged on single hooks, usually just one. This means that a pike has to hit the head end of the lure or engulf the whole thing if you are to hook it. My introduction to plastics was with Mister Twistser's Slimy Slugs in the six inch size. In my first hour and a quarter fishing these slugs I had ten takes, landing just one fish. Now I admit that most of the pike that hit the slugs were under two pounds, and so had trouble getting them in their mouths, but what was obvious from the slashed state of the tail ends of the baits was that the pike were hitting them towards the rear. Because I was rigging the baits to be weedless with the hook point only just showing, hooking problems were compounded. Switching to a weedless hook, at Dave Scarff's suggestion, helped matters and the hook up rate improved slightly. I am not alone in suffering this annoyance. One angler I spoke to had adopted the policy of feeding slack as soon as he felt a take, only striking when the line started to move - a little bit like when wobbling a deadbait. This takes quick reactions and patience, but is something I am sure any serious lure angler can learn with practice. Fishing with soft plastics is nothing like using hardbaits and will require a total re-think for U.K. anglers to fully come to terms with.

For fishing in open water then I suggest adding a treble hook stinger to the large single. Since using the six inch slugs, I have got hold of some of the original soft plastic slugs from Lunker City (a company not a place!), Slug-Go in the nine inch size. These are far more of a mouthful and are even more effective in my opinion, and a lot easier to cast. However, they also suffer from the problem of pike hitting the tail end.

Although these slugs look like nothing much on earth they have an incredible action in the water when fished like a jerkbait. The hook makes the front half of the bait rigid, and should be rigged in such a way that the slug is perfectly straight. If there is even a slight bend in the bait it will spin, and if the nose is kinked up or down it will work too high, or dive respectively. Rigged true the slug becomes a totally unpredictable jerkbait, but with a twitching tail. After much repeated casting slugs can 'ball up' on the cast. This can be prevented by a drop of superglue, or by pegging the bait to the hook with a piece of wooden cocktail stick or something similar pushed through the bait and the eye of the hook.

With practice, and a light trace, slugs can be walked on the surface, which really does draw pike up. I have even had takes skipping them over weed so the lure actually left the water as it hopped along. By allowing them to sink they are fished much like jerkbaits but have to be worked slower to maintain depth. There are insert weights available, to make the slugs heavier and let them be fished faster or deeper. Insert weights look like headless nails made of lead, which can be trimmed to give just the sink rate that you require. Not surprisingly the addition of an insert weight makes a Slug-Go cast even more easily. Exactly where in the slug you place these weights will give differing actions to the lure.

A nine-inch Slug-Go, fished just sub-surface, lured this late summer fish.

One answer to the hook up failure rate might be to rig the slugs on a trace with a couple of trebles. This would be fine if putting a hook close to the tail of the bait didn't completely kill the action. Because Slug-Gos can be rigged to be almost completely weedless, with just the tip of the hook point exposed, additional trebles will prevent you using the baits to fish where no lure has gone before! With the hook point inside the bait slugs can be cast into thick cover and brought back free of weed. I can't say that this has caught me stacks of pike, but the odd one has come from in the lily pads. The secret of the pike attracting success of slugs is undoubtedly the tail action coupled with the where-next darting. At times when fishing close to the surface a Slug-Go will jump out of the water for no earthly reason! As with jerkbaits, this unpredictable action probably explains part of the problem with hooking the pike. At the other extreme there are times when pike will slam these slugs and hook themselves.

Slugs can be fished fast, with quick-fire twitches of the rod tip, but when fished dead-slow they give a whole new dimension to what is known as finesse fishing. This technique is usually associated with light tackle and small lures, but in my book nine inch Slug-Gos are finesse baits. They make little disturbance as they hit the water, and even less as you fish them, they don't attract by violent actions or noisy rattles. Although slugs can have a lively action when being worked pike will take them on the drop - when they have no action at all! When allowing a slug, or any other soft plastic, to free fall watch the line for unexpected movements, and treat them as takes. Indeed, I would class all soft plastic baits as finesse lures for the simple reason that they don't make a lot of commotion. Maybe "stealth lures" would be a better name for them?

Unlike slugs, grubs and twister-tails need a weighted jig hook to be fished, to maintain their stability. If you can get hold of grubs in sizes of six inches or longer then you will catch pike on them. Guaranteed. The hardest part is getting jig heads big enough. Jigs from «oz upwards with hooks of 3/0 or larger, even up to 8/0, are what you need. Hooks with a good wide gape, too, and the longer the shank the better. A wide gape and a long shank keep the hook point away from the lead head, which can otherwise mask the hook when you try to drive it home.

Rigging grubs on a jig is just like adding one as a trailer to a spinnerbait. I like to get the hook to exit the grub just in front of the curly tail, right at the end of the body. If this means trimming the grub to size, then so be it. Lay the jig alongside the grub before rigging it to gauge the exact spot, and maybe work out where to trim the bait to. Fishing grubs is simplicity itself. While they can be jigged along the bottom, a sure fire way of finding snags in my experience, they also work on a straight retrieve. The rippling tail is fantastically fishy. For some reason I have had no great problems connecting with pike on these lures, they just hit them hard and are usually well hooked in the scissors. I am sure that this is down to the way they are being worked. Pike have trouble targeting jerkbaits but not so spinnerbaits, the parallel with the two soft plastic types (slugs and grubs) is plain to see. Should you experience problems hooking pike on large plastics fished on jigs, try adding a stinger hook, just like you would to a spinnerbait. The stinger will have to be removed every time the plastic bait gets chewed beyond repair, but this is not a great problem.

An alternative to the jig head is the back-weighted hook, where the weight is moulded around the bend of the hook rather than the eye. These hooks have a what is known as a keeper attached to their eyes, a coil of wire that the grub is screwed on to. Once the grub is on the keeper, the hook point is put through the bait at the appropriate place. When simply cranked back there is no difference in the action of grubs on the two hook styles, but when paused and allowed to drop the grubs fall slower and with a lazier tail wag on the back-weighted hooks. Swimmer head jigs, which have a flattened profile, ride higher in the water than ball head or stand-up jigs, and have a slight side-to-side wobble too. These jigs also fall slower, weight for weight, somewhat like a back weighted hook. Swimmer heads collect less weed, too, brushing it aside from the line of the hook. Not totally weedless, but the best option without resorting to weed-guarded jigs. The bigger the grub the better. Having done well on their six inch Mogambo Grubs I am looking forward to getting my hands on some of Kalin's Big'Ns, real monsters at 10 inches!

Another soft plastic bait that can be fished on a jig head is the Reaper Tail. This is also a lifeless looking creation that needs careful rigging. A slight bend should be imparted to the bait. These lures work well hopped slowly along the bottom, but I have also found that the small sizes, mounted on a ball-head jig, can be worked back high in the water on a rapidly twitched retrieve which makes the tail waggle from side to side. This catches fish, which again are usually well hooked. Watch out for the tail catching on the hook point and the lure balling up, this also happens with grubs on jigs and when they are used as trailers too. Soft plastics can slip out of position on the hook or jig head, but a drop of superglue cures that. When rigging slugs to be non-weedless, a small square of cycle inner tube can be pushed over the hook point to keep it proud of the bait.

Reaper Tail on stand-up jig. Reaper Tail rigged horizontally on swimmer-head jig. Renosky Super Shad on ball-head jig with wired on double hook. Unknown shad body (cut to place hook point in correct position) on unidentified jig. Kalin's Mogambo Grub on un-painted swimmer-head jig. 8/0 lunker City worm hook with heavy insert weights. 9" Slug-Go rigged with point of hook just exposed. Gordon Griffiths All Action Tail on keel-weighted keeper hook. Back-weighted keeper hook.

The opinion in the U.S. seems to be that soft plastics and jigs are at their best in cold water conditions, worked slowly along the bottom, but I reckon they work well enough fished high and fast in warm water. Perhaps this is because I am more likely to be found legering a deadbait when winter comes. But maybe one winter I will give them an extended trial. Apart from ball head jigs, I am currently trying out Reaper Tails on stand-up and swimmer head jigs. So far the stand-up seems to work best for a slow bottom hopping presentation, and the swimmer head for mid-water fishing. The shape of a Reaper Tail allows for two rigging options. I like them rigged flat on the swimmer head, and upright on the stand-up jig. Just a personal preference. A flat-rigged reaper on a wide swimmer head can be swum through the water with a lazy swaying action, even in very shallow water. This set up is also quite weed resistant, owing to the up-facing hook. Rigging Reaper Tails so they go a little way round the bend of the hook gives them a bit more life. Not too far or they will spin on the retrieve, particularly on swimmer heads. Don't be afraid to trim these plastics to a length that puts the hook point in a good position. It is early days for these soft plastics, and like so much that is radical in lure fishing I know of no U.K. suppliers for the baits or hardware - like decent large jig heads - at present.

The one type of soft plastic bait that does seem to have gained a following in the U.K. is the shad body. Probably because they look like fish and so don't frighten off the conservative British lure angler! Personally, I have had little time for these baits as I can't get them to do very much when fishing them as you might a wobbled deadbait. I find that a natural bait actually has more action, but that might just be me. Being fish-shaped, people tend to rig them much as they would a deadbait for wobbling, and this is O.K. to an extent. As they come shad bodies sink fairly slowly and have a tendency to flop on their sides when twitched. I think this is because they are heavier at the top of the body. Perhaps a case for insert weights along the belly of these shads. A jig head with a treble, or trebles, attached by a length of wire overcomes the dual niggles of a lack of stability and poor hooking. The use of a large hooked jig head gives excellent casting with these shads, and provided the hook is positioned somewhere close to the middle of the bait hooking is pretty reasonable too. On a jig shads perform a little better for me. The tail has more action to my eyes, and it is simple to work the lures deep. Equally, instead of hopping them along the bottom, they can be ripped back in mid-water or higher. It might not look very attractive to our eyes when fished like this, but the pike can think differently at times. For the time being I will leave it to the likes of Del Bennett to play about with rigs that involve threading traces through the baits. Del's had a thirty on a plastic shad, so who am I to argue with him? Even so I shall continue to fish them on jig heads, with or without an additional wired-in hook.

I have by no means exhausted the range of soft plastic baits that are available, I have tried lizards and snakes (as usual for me without success!) and there are others like the weird looking Curtis Creature which I intend to try out some time. As you might suppose, soft plastics don't stand up too well to the attentions of a pike's teeth. You can catch a few fish on one bait though, and unless there is a big chunk bitten off they continue to work well. Minor cuts can be repaired by heating the open 'wound' with flame from a cigarette lighter and then pressing it closed while the plastic is still molten. This will prolong the life of a bait somewhat. I have a feeling that soft plastics are going to be the next big thing in pike lures, once there is a wide range of baits and attendant hooks and jigs available in this country. Interest in these baits certainly seems to be growing at the moment.

A small pike that absolutely hammered a grub fished on a back-weighted hook.

When it comes to colours of soft plastics I have had most success with black, white, orange and a subdued brown a little like an eel. Funnily enough this colour preference has been across the entire range of plastics that I have tried so far. In clear water the brown has been quite good, but so have white and orange. In murky conditions white has scored well for me as has black. That soft plastics should work at all in coloured water rather goes against the theory of noisy lures being the best bet when water clarity is poor. A quieter lure than a plastic slug is hard to imagine. When using jigs, I don't find the colour of the jig head itself to have any bearing on matters. O.K., so it looks nicer to us if the head is painted, maybe even in a contrasting colour to the bait, but I catch just as well on unpainted jigs as I do on coloured ones.

Care must be exercised with storing soft plastics as they can ruin other hard plastic baits and boxes. Leave a grub next to a plastic plug for any length of time and the paint will have melted off the plug and maybe even the body of the lure will have begun to melt too. Always store soft baits in plastic bags or "worm proof" compartmented boxes. Try not to mix soft plastics of different colours in the same bag or compartment as the colours will bleed between each lure. To keep grubs and so on supple when stored for long periods it might be worth your while adding a few drops of vegetable oil to the bags. Some anglers like to use a fish oil which will soak into the baits and mask their rubbery smell and taste.

Small plastics can be fished quite successfully on the tackle you would select for spinnerbaits or crankbaits as there is not too much demand on the gear to pull large hooks through thick plastic bodies before contacting the pike. Bigger baits like the nine inch Slug-Go need stouter tackle, a minimum twenty pound line and a heavy crankbait or light jerkbait rod. Because jigs and so on can be fished through weed beds, it is worth erring on the heavy side at times and braids of 35lb are not out of place in snaggy situations. As a consequence the 5501 Ambassadeur is my first choice reel matched to a rod of 6« to 7 feet, with a fairly stiff action - particularly if big hooks gave to be struck through thick plastics. Traces can be simple 60lb jobs fitted with the usual swivel and snap (a Duolock is easiest to use) for fishing with jig heads, and these can be used with the smaller slugs too. However, slugs work a little better when the trace is attached direct to the hook, and preferably with the join sleeved in shrink tube. They were, after all, originally designed to be fished for bass without a leader - the hook tied direct to the main line. The weight of the trace wire can affect the action of 6 inch slugs, a heavy one making for a deeper fishing bait and twenty pound wire being ideal for surface fishing. Varying traces can, therefore, be used to subtly alter your lure presentation. The 9 inch Slug-Go is large enough not to be affected too much by even a 100lb trace.

Leaving soft plastic baits, in the strictest sense, there is one, the French made Sosy, that could have been mentioned in the crankbait chapter as it even has a lip. It also has a segmented body made of a fairly soft plastic. The action of these highly imitative lures is an extremely lifelike, sinuous wiggle on a steady retrieve, and an equally convincing crippled fish imitation when worked in an erratic manner. I have not had any success on the Sosy yet, having only just begun using them. But I know a few who have done well on these baits.

Getting back to hard-baits, one lure type that I have not mentioned elsewhere is the vibrating plug or rattlebait. The reason is simple. They are diabolical! I know that some anglers rate them very highly, but I am not one of them. Most are sinkers, although one or two floating versions are coming on the market now, and intended for smaller species than pike. The only large rattlebait that I know of is the Bill Lewis Super-Trap. If you think that a fast vibrating, loud rattling lure is what you need, then give these a try. I have nothing more to say about these lures other than to let you know of their existence. No doubt someone reading this will think I am being unfair on these baits, and maybe one day I will change my mind. I have one and someday I might find the place to use it and catch pike on it. Only then will I get another. Until then I will say no more.

Pretty much the same goes for bladebaits, except that I have never used one of these. Made from a sheet of metal with a weighted head, vibrating blades do just that, at high frequency, when pulled through the water. The most famous model is the Heddon Sonar, but larger pike/musky sized models are now listed in U.S. catalogues. Like sinking rattlebaits they are at their best in deep water, and can be either cast or jigged. I have even less to say about blade baits than I do about rattlebaits!

A sort-of-crankbait is the Buck Perry Spoonplug. Although these are pressed out of a single piece of sheet metal they are retrieved like crankbaits and have a similar sort of diving, wiggling action. Hard to find and most use when fishing deep water from a boat. A similar bait is the Russelure. I have no experience of fishing with either of these lures either. Another lure that shares some common ground, in as much as it is essentially a spoon, but one which fishes in a non-spoon-like way, is the Helin Swimmerspoon. I think these lures have been deleted for some time, but I mention them out of interest and because I know that some people have done well on them at times - particularly when trolling. These banana-shaped spoons actually fish with the line-tie underneath and rock from side to side. The largest sizes sink like the proverbial stones, and are therefore best used from a boat, which is essential if you intend to troll with them I guess!

Fly fishing for pike appears to be a growth area as I write, so I mention it here for that reason. There have been a few anglers specialising in this for a number of years, but for some reason more and more people are trying it out for themselves. There is one chap locally who has had pike to over nineteen pounds on the fly. From what I can gather he often manages to catch more on his flies than other anglers fishing alongside him with more mainstream pike lures - which appears to be what everyone who tries fly fishing for pike seems to find. I haven't got round to it yet, but one of these days I will give pike-fly fishing a try, hopefully on a trout water with some huge, previously uncaught pike in it!

Arbogast A. C. Plug, 9½". Bill Lewis Super Trap (sinking). Berkley Power Rattle. Sosy. Helin Swimmer Spoon. Buck Perry Spoon Plug.

There are plenty of other lures around, some halfway between one type and another, others being combination lures. Over the last few years there have appeared rattlebaits with soft plastic back-end. Berkley do a range of these baits plus a crankbait and a minnow too. The Berkley "Powerbait" soft plastic is even scent impregnated to make the fish hold on longer. That's what they say anyway! These lures are all bass-sized, but the Arbogast A.C. Plug is a large, jointed, lip-less crankbait with a soft plastic tail pinned into the rear section. Originally designed for bass, despite its size, the A.C. comes in three sizes from 7½ to 12 inches in length, so it is perfectly acceptable to pike. Having a wooden body, the A.C. Plug is very buoyant and will only run down to about two feet in the nine inch size. For shallow water pike it works well, being good for popping, and having a snakey wiggle when cranked. At its slowest retrieve speed the tail can be made to slap lazily in the wake from the body, while the head wiggles just below the surface. So far I what little success I have had has come by fishing the A.C. pretty quickly, but steadily. I have even had pike come up to this lure when fishing it like this over more than twelve feet of water, and not big fish either. Pike as small as five or six pounds have shown an interest in the A.C. Plug. One interesting incident that occurred when using this plug was that two fish that hit it (and then fell off) actually turned and followed it in. Usually pike that hit lures as solidly as these fish did, but don't get landed, make a hasty exit from the scene. Perhaps this was just a one-off though. With the A.C. Plug currently selling for around £20 I leave it to you to decide if it is worth it the money, I remain unconvinced at present. You never know though.

Leaving aside commercially made "hybrid" lures, you can always add bits to lures in an attempt to make them more attractive to pike. If this gives you confidence then I am not going to say it is wrong. I have had takes on a Creek Chub Pikie fitted with a spinner blade between the line-tie and the trace snap. But to go too far down this road leads you away from the main point of lure fishing - catching pike. Adorning lures for the hell of it is counter-productive in my opinion, as it very often destroys the original behaviour of the lure, and rarely improves it. If you want a lure to do something different - change to a different lure! Most good baits have got the way they are by field testing of prototypes. They are how they are for a reason. They work. Don't let me stop you experimenting though, always try new lures, and new ways of fishing old ones. Even so, classic lures, and lure types, will always catch pike. There is far too much over-complification talked about in lure fishing circles by some people. And a lot of talk for talk's sake. Pike are simple creatures, and the best lures and techniques are simple too.