Beginners guide to small soft lures.
(Please note – Links in bold for some of the products on Amazon)
Soft lures come in many shapes, sizes and styles and the short version is that they all work, there’s none really better than any other and they will all catch you some fish. Ask around which are best to use and you will get so many opinions you really won’t get an answer. What you need is a few lures to get you started and a few more ideas to help you get the best out of them. The more you fish with soft lures, the more you work out what’s right for you or what is missing. Remember as a kid those sweet shops with rows and rows of jars of sweets? That’s soft lure fishing for you.
So where to start? Just keep it simple. Get a small selection of soft shads, such as the Relax Kopyto shad in a couple of sizes. For perch fishing, then two inch and two and half inchsizes are perfect. You want a few jig heads and for these you will want them in sizes 2/0 and 3/0 and these jigheads will be also rated by weight, so choose a light and a slightly heavier weight like 2g and 5g to start and over time a few more. These different weights will help you fish shallow or deeper water. You can now go perch fishing, these lures will catch you perch. Stay mobile, cover lots of features and find some fish.
Is it really that simple? Short version is yes, but you will eventually come across blank sessions, problems that need another way of fishing the lures, a need to try other methods and undoubtedly you will end up with your own little sweet shop of lures. There is so much to soft lure fishing that this little article will not attempt to cover it all, it will just get you started on the right path.
What other lures should I buy?
Have a look at the various styles of soft lure and after the paddle tail shads, you will find split tails, worms, creature baits, grubs and more. So after getting your first bag of paddle tails, try to get something different. I like to have a curly tail grub and stick bait called aZ-Man Finesse TRD fished on a ShroomZ Jighead as my options. The curly tail grub basically has a tail that flutters away even at slow retrieve speeds and just looks a bit different. A TRD is a stick bait that you mostly work along the bottom, sometimes very slowly, and offers you something totally different. So now you have different options on the bank, different styles of lure and lure retrieves and if you also bought them in different colours you now have a nice little bag of tricks that should help you put more fish on the bank.
How do I work these lures? No matter which softie you choose, there’s no one way of using it, so start with the basics. Cast it out and wind it in. If you can, have a look at what your lure is doing in the water so you have an idea what happens when you crank the reel handle. Now try speeding it up and slowing it down. Then try to add a pause so the lure sinks and try to lift the rod so the lure rises. Try a combination of all that and see if anything grabs on to your lure. No matter if its a paddle tail, curly tail, stick bait or creature bait. A bit of all that will work, some better than others and eventually you’ll find which works best for each. Generally paddle and curly tails you would wind in, creature and stick baits you might slowly drag along the bottom but none of this is set in stone, see what the fish want. All these lures you can vertically fish two, by jigging them up and down. So for example, stand beside a canal lock gate and rop the lure in by your feet. Lift and lower the rod tip to make the lure dance, and you are now jigging for perch. Try this around any feature you can find, boats, bridges and so on.
If you would like to see more about soft lures then you can also watch a series of four videos over on the Riverpiker Youtube channel.
Getting started in lure fishing can be a mine field and it can be the most confusing thing ever. When I was a lad, you had any rod and reel you could get your hands on, and you armed yourself with a spinner and a plug if you were lucky and off you went. These days there’s so much to do, so many tactics and methods and so many ranges of lures you haven’t a clue where to start. The internet has so much information and reviews you end up so confused after reading the many varying opinions. Every tackle shop has so much gear you just can’t decide what you like and I haven’t even started on the lures, which ones do you need? So In an attempt to make it easier I’ll add my bit. Before I start you need to remember this, I’ll keep it basic while trying to cover plenty. Simple and as safe as you can to start with. I catch lots of fish and don’t bother trying to make it too complicated which I’d say is where you want to start out. Learn the basics for now, get fishing, have some fun and then if you want to try the many other methods then away you go.
A quick look The first thing to do is decide what your target fish will be. Often people think of pike and that’s me too. But you can catch all sorts on lures, perch, chub, trout, zander and even stuff you might not think about such as roach, rudd, bream and carp. Oh don’t forget the sea species, wrasse, bass and just about everything. Yeah, bloody ace this lure fishing lark.
But I’m a piker so I’ll split it up in to simple terms for the average guy who would fish for the standard course fish like me. Easy way is to split it in to size of lures, the set ups to go with them and the species to target. So you could go for big lures 100g plus and 20cm plus to target pretty much just pike. Go a bit smaller 50g and 15cm or less and you have a medium lure set up, still mostly pike fishing but you’re not going to be as drained after a days fishing. Go 10cm and 20g and you have a good pike, perch, zander set up. Smaller than that, 5cm and 10g and you are mostly perch and chub sort of size and if you go less than 5cm and less than 10g you are going the route of trout and any smaller and you are going to be chasing silver fish with lures. Yeah that’s a very rough guide so don’t stick to those figures just use it to get an idea where to start. For now just remember the idea of various weights of lures, and that we have varying casting weight rods to match up to them.
Rod n reel combo We’ve quickly split the lures ranges so let’s quickly split the rods and reels up. Most probably most of you will have used a standard fixed spool rod and reel combo (left image) so I would suggest for most people just carry on this theme. More experienced lure anglers may choose to go down the route of baitcaster rod and reel combo (right) for better casting distance and a whole manner of things. But since this is aimed at beginners stick to what you know.
Buying your first rod and reel As a suggestion, many of you will be thinking along the lines of pike, perch, chub and zander. A chance of any and a chance of many fish. So we’ll not go look at all the specific set ups, the best way to get in to lure fishing is to go light. A light lure outfit is great fun and easy to do and you have more chance of catching something, anything. Plus you don’t have to spend much at all on a rod and reel to get started. The cost is the most important factor to help you decide what is right for you. A young kid with only his pocket money will look at the cheap tackle and a big company executive will want the tartiest gear he can find. What ever catagory you are in, get the best quality reel you can afford because that is the most important bit of kit for me, a smooth drag is just music to your ears when the bigger fish take. A cheaper rod will do you a fantastic job and isn’t that important when starting out. So we are going light lures 3-15g and 4-10cm lures as a rough guide. Now go and look around the web, don’t buy anything, just see what you can find and come back to me in ten minutes, and read on.
Just bought your new gear? Minefield wasn’t it. Rods and reels everywhere and you have no clue which to choose. Remember your budget? Lets say it’s £100 for a rod and reel. I’d say go £60 for the reel and £40 for the rod. That will get you an above average rod and reel. For reels you will be looking at 1000-2500 size front drag. For the rods just check out the jig rods and spin rods to start with one of those. The casting ranges will vary and it doesn’t have to be anything exact. 2-10g, 3-13g, 5-20g honestly it is not that important at all. Lighter 2-10g range if you will go more for perch and slightly tougher 5-20 if you think you might catch more jacks or zander. Some rods will be shorter 5ft 6, great for getting in tight spots amd not tangling in trees, and some will be longer 8 or 9ft and will give you a bit more casting distance. Doesn’t matter too much though, just try it to where you might be fishing. Shorter rod for little intimate rivers and a longer rod for larger ponds or lakes. soft action rods will be good for spinning and faster (stiff) action rods will be good for jigging and putting movement in to a lure. The last thing to remember though is that your mate will have a rod and he’ll recommend this, and your other mate will have a rod and he’ll recommend that. Just remember its a bit of pot luck if you buy the right rod and reel combo first time out, especially if you haven’t had a play with it already. You can’t beat having a go with a mates rod to see if it is right for you. but do remember this, for £100 you can get a pretty decent set up and it’ll do a grand job, just go for it.
All set to go? Nah, you’re no where near. Your reel needs some line on and I’d suggest getting braid over mono for most situations. Long story short, mono is stretchy and braid isn’t. That gives you a couple of things in lure fishing that is advantagous. No stretch so you feel every bump, knock and vibration of the lure and that is really beneficial as you can also distinguish the tiny knock from a fish, the lure picking up weed, banging hard or soft bottom and much more. With mono you’ll feel naff all. The other thing is when you twitch your rod to put some action in to your lure it’s instant where the stretchy mono is cushioned and the action less, and add to that when you go to set the hooks you are in direct contact and so you will hook up better.
Using lures will attract pike, you might even be wanting to catch them. So this means you need to protect your line against a bite off because a pikes teeth are razor sharp. I always use a wire trace. Now some of you might have heard of or seen debates about whether to use a wire trace or a fluorocarbon trace. This is a beginners guide and you are starting out from scratch. Please do not get talked in to not using a wire trace by anyone, for now at least. You are starting out on your lure fishing adventure and you will catch pike on this set up and these lures. The wire will stop you losing a lure but more importantly it’ll stop you leaving a lure inside a pikes mouth and potentially killing it. In later articles I will cover things to do to avoid pike or where you might not need a wire trace. You’ve read this far, you’ve seen me catch fish and I always, always use a wire trace. Just trust me, you will catch pike, perch, chub trout and more while using a wire trace, do not worry about it scaring the fish off.
A 20lb wire trace from a well known tackle manufacturer should do the trick. If you want to look around, some even do lighter versions to go with your 10lb line. Personally I make my own light lure traces to suit what I am doing. I would suggest eventually you go down this route also as it is much cheaper. Please try to stay clear of the cheap tackle shop 50p traces or bundles of 50 traces for a fiver off eBay. You really do get what you pay for with some things in life.
Braid strength is important. Too light and you lose lures, too heavy and your casting is imparied and it effects the lure too much. So you need to find a balance. Buy a quality brand not a cheap import. For starting out, if you are lucky enough to buy a reel with two spools, fill one with 20lb braid and one with 10lb braid. Sounds a bit over gunned for perch you might think. Let’s get you fishing first, catching some fish and not losing all your lures. If you are fishing for perch on a shallow canal with no snags the 10lb is perfect. If you fish a snaggy river 20lb might help you get a few snagged lures back rather than snapping like cotton and leaving a £10 Rapala on the river bed. If you catch a few more pike than perch the 20lb will be more suitable also. (Note-if you are wanting to only catch pike then I would recommend going for a minimum 10-40g rod, 3000 size reel and 40lb plus braid but we’ll cover this another day)
What about lures?
What about all those lures, which ones do you need? You need them all and you need one in every colour. Well you don’t, but you will tell yourself that you do every day once you get the lure bug. You’ll buy lures just because they look pretty and something different to what you have. Eventually you’ll realise half of them are crap, fall to bits and catch nothing. Eventually you will work out which lures you like and which lures work for you where and when.
And that bit is the key. Once you work out what you like it will start to work for you, especially if you use that lure in the right place (where the fish are) and you start catching. The more you catch on it the more you use it and the more you catch on it. Total opposite for your crap lures.
I’ll no doubt do a lure article, but for now here are some things to look for. You want some variety in your lures. Don’t buy the same thing over and over. A good old copper spinner works and catches pike, perch, chub, trout and so on. Can’t go wrong with Mepps or Blue Fox Super Vibrax. Soft shads are cheap and catch fish. Mounted on a jig head of varying weights to help you get depth or work it faster or slower. A 2inch Relax Kopyto shad on a 7g size 2/0 jig head or a 2.5inch on a 3/0 jig head. You want a plug/crank bait to help mix it up. I like to use the Rapala shad raps and jointed shad raps in 5-7cm. They have a diving vain and a wobbling vibrating motion so adds something different to a soft plastic paddle tail shad. You can get all these or similar versions it really isn’t that important. What’s important is you learn to use them and you give them a go in a swim and if nothing happens move on after 10 minutes. Just trust me on that. Later on when experience, techniques and all the rest come in to play you might stay longer and try many things but for starting out, keep it simple, keep it light and keep it mobile.
Can I go fishing now? Nearly. Unhooking pike is a tricky job and if you haven’t seen my video already go watch my “How to unhook a pike” video tutorial at the bottom. Being shown by an experienced angler is best but not always possible so the video helps fill that void. You’ll need some tools. Long forceps are good though I prefer long nosed pliers, 10 inch plus is good. A pikes mouth is cavernous and 8 inch forceps might not even reech and your hand will be very close to those ultra sharp teeth. Wire cutters are a must for a couple of reasons. A bad hook up and you can quickly snip hooks to untangle nets or any awkward hooks in the mouth. Quicker and safer for both you and the fish. Another great use for the hook cutters are WHEN you stick the hook in your hand. Yeah it’ll happen and if you are lucky it’ll only be in your hand and not still attached to an angry pike. Those cutters are well worth carrying around for when that happens as you can get yourself free of the fish. Ok the hook is still in your hand but you can deal with that once the fish is back swimming. 😉
Unhooking mats are great. You can get some that roll up nice and small and are light enough to carry around everywhere. But i’ll not preach you have to have one. Use common sense. Wet grass is fine but a hard concrete canal bank isn’t. Think about where you are fishing and decide if you need it. Any doubt, just take one.
Now you can go Yes, now you can go fishing. Enjoy it. Don’t be in a rush to catch a monster perch or a humongous pike. The joy of light lure fishing is roaming around having a bit of fun. If you work hard you might find a sweet spot full of fish or even that massive stripey. Get yourself plenty of venues and give them all a bit of time, moving from one to the other to keep it fresh and see if you can get lucky and drop on a few fish. I can’t stress enough how important location is. You won’t catch them if they are not there. Don’t go buying more lures because that won’t solve the problem. If the fish are there one of them will hit within ten minutes. At that point you work hard to figure out if more are there and if certain things work or don’t.
And my last tip for the day is learn your gear. In some kind of Mr Miyagi, wax on wax off style you need to be at one with your gear. Get to know and feel everything that is happening from butt of your rod right down to the river bed itself. Watch everything, your line, your rod, the water, the lure and get right in the zone. Simply casting out and winding back in doesn’t always work unless a crazy pike is about. Some days you have to work at everything, faster slower, shallower or deeper, slowly twitched on the bottom or whizzed just under the surface. You are a lure fisherman now and the very best are super switched on, watching, working, jigging and jerking the lures, so make that lure work and lure those fish. It’s not always easy, you’re making it harder for yourself by using a daft shaped alien looking thing, but when it all goes right, it’s absolutely fantastic fun. Welcome to lure fishing!
Tight lines and have fun.