Over the years, soft plastic baits have changed a lot. I mean, have you looked at the selection nowadays in the big box stores? It’s crazy how many brands there are.
Traditionally, plastic worms were the ticket when fishing for bass. I used LONG worms that stretched around 6 inches. Or you had the good old Mr. Twister soft plastic baits, that were usually only around 2-3 inches. In between that, I don’t recall there being a wide variety of soft plastic lure options on the market.
Fishing lindy rigs with live bait or bottom bouncers with live bait was all we used as a kid. Now, on some trips, I don’t even buy live bait at all. Between trolling crankbaits or casting soft plastic baits for walleyes, this may be all we do all weekend. I wrote recently about casting crankbaits, and pitching soft plastic baits is an alternative. Basically, they can be used often in the same scenarios.
3 Variations of Soft Plastic Baits
There are really three things that set the variety of soft plastics on the market apart.
- SIZE – From the short and stubby to the long and skinny and everything in-between, there’s a size that’s made for you. Most of my soft plastic lures are between 3-4 inches, with 4 inches being my general size of choice.
- COLOR – You literally can find any and every kind of colored plastic bait imaginable. It’s overwhelming to me, at times, in deciding what colors to buy. If you find your size and style, you often have dozens and dozens of color combinations available. Stick to what colors you’re confident, or what matches the forage base in the system you’re fishing.
- TAIL – There are literally 2 variations of tails made by soft plastic manufacturers. And those are either twister tails or paddle tails. You’ll find that they’re not all created equal. Some designs create more flash and “kick” to them than others. I tend to catch more walleyes on paddle tails than twister tails. Just my personal preference, but I do own both.
How to Fish with Plastic Worms
Just like the 3 styles out there, there are 3 main ways to fish a plastic bait.
- Swim It – It is what I describe. Simple cast out and adjust your reeling speed around the depth you’re fishing. When fishing shallow, use light jigs (such as 1/16 to ¼ oz). When fishing deep, go heavier (such as 5/16 to ⅜ oz). When casting around structure, this can be lethal.
- Jig It – The most common way to fish a jig is to let it fall to the bottom, and “pop” your rod tip, shooting the bait up the water column. Then you let it drop, and that’s usually where the fish hits. How much pop and how much pause is what you’re really trying to figure out. And this doesn’t work well in heavy weeds, as it’ll foul up your lure.
- Combo of Both – I like to fish a combination of both methods. I like to naturally swim the jig, with twitches and short pops and pauses. Any type of irregularity can trigger a following walleye. This takes some practice, as does learning proper jigging methods.
My Go-To Soft Plastic Swim Baits
If you fish for walleyes with soft plastic baits as I do, then you’re basically fishing a soft plastic swim bait. The lures basically glide in the water, producing a kicking action that triggers fish. You can buy pre-made swim baits, such as the Northland Mimic Minnows, which I own many. Or you can buy your jigs and plastics separately. Either way, you’re creating or using swim baits. And with that being said, here are my favorite soft plastic swim baits.
Probably my favorite of all soft plastic baits made these days are Walleye Assassins. I don’t know what it is about them, other than they just catch fish. Like I mentioned earlier, I tend to lean towards the 4-inch paddle tail option.
The colors I prefer are all over the board. If I only had a couple of options, I’d just the Salt-n-Pepper model with the green paddle tail (4-inch). It’s fantastic in clear water in most lakes.
I also tend to lean toward the purple body variations, that also have a chartreuse or green paddle tail. Fishing is all about confidence, and it’s these colors (and variations of it) that I tend to lean towards. However, I swear I own too many colors and I do switch around often.
These were originally made for the bass fishing market, but over the years they’ve proven to be walleye killers as well. Give a few a try, and I’m sure you’ll agree.
Zoom Super Flukes
The Zoom Super Flukes are fairly new to my boat as well. I’ve used variations of soft plastic baits that look similar, but without the unique tail action.
The tail doesn’t have that same whipping action, but more subtle twitches when it’s moving. It’s something I tend to use more on cold fronts or when the fish want something slower and not as erratic.
It’s great for being weedless, as it has a groove in the back, keeping your hook out of harm’s way (for the most part). I’ve seen this same design with some Walleye Assassins as well, a nice feature to any soft plastic lure.
There is a ton of color varieties to the Super Flukes as well, and I tend to lean more towards the bigger varieties. Go big or go home, most of the time.
The newest soft plastics to hit my tackle bag is the Senkos by Yamamoto Baits. These have been a staple in the bass fishing industry forever, and it’s starting to catch on in the walleye world.
I don’t cast these a lot, but more or less drop shot them when sitting on top of fish. The action you get when twitching the bait is something they rarely see, if at all, in my waters. This would be a good alternative to running bottom bouncers or jigging raps on fish.
Berkley Powerbait Ripple Shads
Berkley Powerbaits has been around for quite some time now. They were the innovators of scented soft plastic baits, and continue to make strides even today on the market.
I jumped on the Gulp Alive bandwagon early, and I will admit, we had some good days using them. But once you spill a container in your boat or truck and you’ll find yourself trying something else, forever.
The reason I listed the Ripple Shad Powerbaits is because I just like the action of the lure. When tipped with a jig, you can swim these things for days. They also take a lot of abuse, so while they’re more expensive, they will hold up a bit longer.
The blue shaded variety ( Racy Shad ) is the one I tend to lean towards, with a pearl body. It’s just a perfect minnow imitator, and believe it or not, fish do tend to hold onto these a tad longer for hooksets. Any way you slice it, I like using these soft plastic baits.
Soft Plastic Bait Molds
Nowadays, there are so many do-it-yourselfers that I had to mention the options available for you. This is also the best way to go for the hardcore guys looking to buy soft plastic baits in bulk.
Can’t find the color or style you’re looking for? No problem! Simply buy a mold that fits your style.
- Soft Plastic Lure Kits – Be a bit cautious with simple DIY soft plastic bait kits. Some are legit, but so many will leave you wanting more. It all starts with a quality mold, and the ingredients are very similar. There are a lot of tips such as using rubbing alcohol to expel the baits from your mold trays. But do some research before you just starting buying kits.
- Plastic Bait Molds – As stated earlier, your baits will only be as good as your mold. Using an aluminum mold seems like your best choice for consistency, and for lasting the test of time. There are a TON of soft plastic bait molds on the market, so make sure you know exactly the size and style you’re looking for and your searching will be easier.
- Fishing Lure Paint & Accessories – This is where the fun begins. You need to decide exactly what colors and how much you’re looking to make before you start filling your shopping cart. Not only are you going to find the soft plastic colors, but you can buy flakes and glitter to be added as well. You know, the flashy stuff… But if you’re going to take the time to make soft plastic baits, you should do it right and give it your signature touch.
So there you have it, the why’s and how’s of catching walleyes on soft plastic baits and worms. DO NOT feel that live bait is always better because it’s not. There are times when plastics will outfish live bait, no matter the species of fish you’re targeting (not just walleyes).
So good luck on the water and PRACTICE your techniques for jigging and swimming your baits properly. It’s just another tactic to add to your arsenal.