When choosing the right-sized soft-plastic bait, check what's in the water where you are fishing. You want to "match the hatch," as fly fishermen say. If there are 3-inch mullet in the water, use similar-sized bait, though sometimes you can use a lure with a larger tail to entice larger fish. Typically, though, swimbaits with 2½- to 3-inch tails work well with jerkbait tails running about 5 to 6 inches.
An advantage that soft-plastics have over hard-body baits is being able to rig the lure "weedless." Without an exposed hook, soft plastics can be fished in the mangroves and over oyster bars without snagging and fished in the sea grasses without snagging a side salad each time. Also, hard-body baits have multiple treble hooks. Jig baits will have either one hook exposed, or when rigged weedless, zero hook points exposed.
Rigged right, with the shank of the hook going through the center of the soft plastic and protruding out at the right location, the lures will swim true with great action. One of the most important aspects of using soft-plastic baits, Taylor says, is getting to, and working the lure in, the zone 6 inches from the bottom or from the top of the weeds. Taylor teaches anglers to slow down the lure retrieve and finesse it in deeper water. But when fishing shallow redfish waters, anglers can reel faster and "get aggressive" while keeping the rod tip up, he says.
Soft plastics are just that: soft, flexible plastic baits that look and perform like the baitfish they are meant to imitate. The plastic is heated into liquid form and poured into molds of just about any size and shape, and the lures come in a range of colors. Ingredients such as shiny flecks and scents can be added to pique the fishes' senses of sight and smell. • Soft-plastic baits typically consist of a single hook (instead of the treble hooks found on hard-body lures), which means less trouble with weeds and less trouble with snagged clothing, fingers, hands, etc. • Kayak fishing guide Neil Taylor's clients throw soft-plastic baits hundreds of times every day when targeting inshore game fish such as seatrout and redfish. • "The styles available in soft-plastic lures imitate the general shape of the baitfish, crabs and shrimp that are a natural part of these fishes' diets," Taylor says. "It is up to the angler to present them realistically in situations where the fish are feeding."
The other major component of this fishing setup is, of course, the soft-plastic body that must be threaded onto the jighead.
Swimbaits, also known as paddletails, resemble minnow-type baits such as sardines, mullet and creek chubs. These baits, typically 3 to 4 inches long, have a slender body that produces good natural action, but they must swim to produce strikes as opposed to other varieties that glide and won't sink as fast.
Jerkbaits have longer, more slender tails that do not "thump side to side" like a paddletail, Taylor says. Jerkbait-style tails, such as the Slam R, can be glided smoothly through the water or more erratically, creating a darting motion that can excite fish into striking.
Creature baits are typically molded to look like crustaceans. These funky-looking shapes can be used as situational baits, such as for black drum, or when redfish are honed in on crabs only.
Jigheads come in either the conventional J-hook style or a weedless style.
Taylor says experience has taught him there is a distinct difference in choosing a quality jighead over a less expensive one.
"A three-pack of jigheads for $4 lasts a long time and swims a lot better than the cheaper jigheads, leading to better results," Taylor says. "With a stronger and more durable hook, they won't rust between trips and may be used for long periods of time before they are lost in battle."
When picking a jighead weight, Taylor says gulf anglers will find that 1/16- to ¼-ounce jigheads produce in most inshore situations. A ⅛-ounce jighead covers most situations, but in deeper water or faster currents, a quarter-ounce lure might be necessary.
Choosing the weight might depend on your situation. If you are wading or in a kayak, you are lower to the water. Good casters can still make long tosses with the lightest jigheads and work the lures without snagging seagrass on the bottom. When fishing from a seawall or a powerboat, anglers are perched higher above the water. Heavier jigheads will help the lure swim properly down in the "fishy" zone.