Soft plastic lures come in so many styles, colors, brands and flavors that you could fish all day every day for five years and not have a chance to use them all. You could write a book on all the different types and the myriad ways to use them. I only have room for a column, so I’ll try to condense by focusing on trout, since they just opened on June 1.
Trout will usually hit any lure, but soft plastics are a common choice. The reasons are many, but here’s the big one: Compared to other artificials, soft plastics are cheap. Even compared to shrimp, they’re cheap. One soft plastic bait might catch a dozen fish before it needs replacing. Try that with a shrimp.
Many anglers, especially those who are getting started in Southwest Florida fishing, prefer to use floats. What many of them don’t realize is that a soft plastic bait under a float can be just as effective a fish-catcher as a live shrimp — and with a lot less interference from those pesky pinfish.
A soft plastic under a float is a cool way to catch not just trout but also redfish, snook, cobia and even tarpon (a personal favorite of mine). You can use any float style — even the old red-and-white plastic bobber — but Styrofoam popping corks are the choice of most locals. They’re cheap, easy to use and are proven fish attractors.
To use a popping cork, just pull the peg, slide your line into the slot, and put the peg back. Set it so the cork is about 18 to 24 inches above your bait. Casting this is a little awkward, since it wants to spin like a helicopter blade, and getting distance will take a little practice.
With the cast made, reel up any slack and then twitch your rod tip with short, hard jerk. This pulls the float sideways and under the water, making a popping noise. The sound simulates a feeding fish, so it attracts fish in the area that are just out of sight.
The motion also pulls your lure up and allows it to slowly sink back down. From a fish’s standpoint, it hears a feeding fish, and when it goes to investigate (if there’s food for one, there might be enough food for two) it sees something small diving for the bottom and trying to escape. This is why popping corks are so popular.
There are also floats that are rigged on a wire with clacking beads for noise. Cajun Thunder and DOA both make these with different-shaped floats for different presentations. DOA also offers a package deal called a Deadly Combo: Float, leader and soft plastic shrimp, already tied and ready to go.
A soft plastic shrimp is the most common choice for trout fishing, probably because so many of us are used to drowning shrimp in pursuit of specks. But with all the different plastics out there, why not experiment? Each one has a distinct profile and will make a different sound underwater.
Fish-shaped plastics might even help you catch bigger trout. Smaller trout primarily eat shrimp, while larger trout prefer fish. A 3- or 4-inch shad tail can be rigged on an eighth-ounce jighead, or even on an offset worm hook to make it sink or swim more naturally. Try fish scents also to make your baits more appealing to larger trout.
If you don’t mind catching fewer fish, bump up the size of your baits. Big trout will happily go after larger prey. A ladyfish, mullet or even another trout in the 8- to 10-inch range really hits the spot for some of these bigger fish. Soft plastics that imitate these larger baitfish are too big for the little trout that are often so abundant, so you won’t get as many hits — but the ones you do get are going to be from bigger fish. (Sometimes too big, since tarpon also eat these same baits.)
There are so many floats and plastics to choose from, but don’t be intimidated. Stop into your favorite local tackle shop and ask for some recommendations. Soon, that could be the new Fishin’ Frank’s at 4200 Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte. We’ve been working hard on getting the store ready and are planning to open on June 11, if we don’t hit any more snags.
Robert Lugiewicz is the longtime manager of Fishin’ Frank’s (re-opening soon at 4200 Tamiami Trail Unit P, Charlotte Harbor) and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Contact him at 941-625-3888.