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Trout on soft plastics

Soft plastics have been around for many years and advanced technologies have seen a flood of new colours, shapes scents and jig heads allow anglers to target trout in many new ways. Ever since I caught my first trout on a plastic ten years ago, I have been refining my technique ever since. Many of you out there may have been targeting trout with hard bodies for quite some time and you’ve never made the switch over to plastics or you’ve never targeted trout at all, regardless of your angling skill level, there are some distinct advantages of using plastics and it’s an enjoyable way to target trout, so read on and hopefully this excites you to give it a go.

open mouth of trout
One of the best things about using soft plastics when targeting trout is that they are relatively inexpensive compared to hard bodied lures, allowing you to be armed with a wider selection of colours, shapes, sizes and scents. With this vast array of choices we have in the market, choosing a plastic can be a little daunting.  However, fly fisherman have a saying “match the hatch” and this applies when using plastics as well. When I started targeting trout with plastics I applied this theory when choosing a lure and this brought me success. If you’re troubled on what “the hatch” is and what the fish are feeding on, a bit of research at the local tackle store will give you a good idea of some of the basic prey species. I personally always carry minnows from 2 to 5 inch, with 3 inch generally being the size I’d tie on first. Some have paddle tails, curl tails or straight tails. I also carry patterns that mimic insects, crustaceans, small grubs and worms. If you have a good mix of these sizes and shapes you’ll be able to imitate pretty much anything the trout are feeding on. Once you’ve chosen shapes and patterns, you’ll need to look at colours.  A basic rule of thumb is that natural coloured plastics are good for clear water and bright, dark or reflective plastics for dirty water. Sometimes you’ll find or hear about a colour that is working that matches nothing at all, it just works. Time on the water, talking with other fishermen, visits to the local tackle store and experimentation will give you confidence and you’ll settle on a selection of favourites. The lures that work in the rivers and lakes that I fish could be vastly different from your local waterway, however, in saying that, I generally start my day on most occasions with a 3” minnow in natural colours of browns and greens and this is probably a good place for you to start too. A lure like this can imitate galaxias & smelt which make up a large part of a trout’s diet in most lakes and rivers in Australia.

trout and angler by waterfall
Once again you will be confronted with a vast selection to choose from. There are jig heads that have a darting action, jig heads that have spinning blades, jig heads with no action and even jig heads designed to be snag free. The best thing to do is experiment with different jig heads and take note of how each different jig head affects the action of the lure. Regardless of the jig head pattern you decide to use, you must always ensure that the weight of the jig head allows the plastic you’re using to swim as naturally as possible. You’re trying to imitate an injured or sick fish so sinking too slow isn’t really an issue, but having it sink too fast is no good. In terms of brand and shape buy and try to see what you prefer, and stick with the patterns that suit the waters you’re fishing. Is it runs and riffles, shallow streams and ponds or deep lake systems? If you’re fishing all these kinds of waters you’ll need varying weights of jig head. Like any lure, swimming your plastic visibly in the shallows will give you an understanding of what your plastic is doing underwater as well as giving you an indication of its sink rate; all very important factors when fooling a big trout.
When fishing a big lake, the size of  jig head I use will be between 1/16oz  to 1/12oz. When choosing the weight of a jig head you need to use a bit of common sense. Factors I consider when choosing a jig head is casting ability, wind, sink rate, structure and lake floor. If you want to get deep, use a heavier jig head, if you want the plastic to spend more time near the surface and sit mid-water for longer, go lighter. You never want the plastic to rocket down to the bottom and lose all its action, so don’t go too heavy, therefore sticking between sizes of 1/16oz and 1/12oz will see plastics around that 2”-5” size swimming naturally. In a river scenario there is a little more trial and error. All the above factors (lake scenario) apply, only this time you have the extra factor of water flow in the river. The jig heads I choose are between 1/8oz to 1/24oz. For a slower moving river or slow pools, I choose to go lighter again with 1/12oz to 1/32oz. There is always a compromise between presentation, casting distance and the depth you need to reach, you need to try and find the balance for each scenario. It’s all about adaption and putting the lure into the zone where the fish are.
It is important to remember to place the hook through your plastic correctly and have enough of the barb exposed. This is not only for presentation but it also enables the plastic to swim correctly. If not done properly the plastic could spin around when retrieving your cast.

trout vertical shot

plastic line for catching trout fishWORKING YOUR PLASTIC
Over the years, I have fished with many people and everybody develops their own style that suits them. I myself generally mix up my retrieve with twitches, lifts and pauses. The plastic and jig head you’re using will dictate the way you need to retrieve it. Remember, experimenting with how your lure swims will show you how to work it; if you don’t look at your lure and think, “wow, that looks just like an injured little minnow” or it doesn’t look natural, you’re probably doing something wrong. Adjust the weight you’re using and your retrieve until your plastic presents naturally. Be mindful that trout will be wary of anything that doesn’t look natural, if it does look natural they will hit and swallow a plastic with aggression and you’ll know about it. If you can visibly see trout following your lure but they’re not hitting it, try adding some longer pauses or a few twitches to get them to strike. Putting any combination of variables in your retrieval such as speeding up or slowing down with shorter/longer twitches and shorter/longer pauses will enable you to discover what works for you on any given day.

I always use graphite or carbon composite rods and spool with braid. I have three different rods that I have set up for soft plastics, each one is different for varying scenarios. You can’t always use the same rod and reel set up as you need varying line class for different situations. When fishing a lake or deep, wide rivers I like to use rods of about 7ft in length and rated 2-4kg or 2-5kg with a 2000/2500 size reel. These rods allow me to have great control over my plastic and allow me to feel every bump and hit. I spool with 10lb braid and 8lb leader. The down side of fishing braid this heavy is that fish under a kilo don’t put up much of a fight and casting light jig heads is a bit of a struggle as well. In saying that I still prefer this set up as when that better fish in excess of 1.5kg comes along I have the best possible chance of landing it as I can pull the fish out of structure quickly and I haven’t under gunned myself. I’d rather catch that one 2.5kg fish than fight fish under a kilo on super light gear!  7’ rods are great for fishing off a bank and I know I’m casting distances at my optimum. The other set up I use is a 6ft graphite medium taper rod rated 2 to 6lb with a 2000 size reel spooled with 8lb braid and 6lb leader. I use this rod when fishing small streams where you don’t have to cast great distances and need to make short accurate casts to structure. This outfit is great on small fish and very challenging on the larger fish. Be sure to pick up a myriad of rods, as all manufacturers rate their rods the same (i.e. 2-4kg) however actions may vary.  While you may think 10lb or even 8lb braid is excessive I find that the difference in diameter is minimal and I predominantly use it as the heavier braid provides me with greater abrasion resistance in the heavily snagged areas I am fishing. I am most comfortable with this but if you prefer lighter and the terrain allows it, then by all means do so.

large troutWHEN TO FISH
Although not a concrete rule, three days before or after a full or new moon with a steady or high barometer can prove to be productive. Be sure to look at what the weather has done in the weeks prior to your trip. If it has been raining non stop for two weeks rivers may be running too fast or if it hasn’t rained at all they may be running too slow. A phone call to the local tackle store in the area your planning on fishing should give you a good idea about how the local rivers are flowing. I like to move around and try different areas whether it be lakes or rivers as there is always a new challenge and some great country to fish in. Keeping an ear out via social media, forums and talking with other fishermen will give you a good idea of what is firing and when.
We do not become experienced anglers by just sitting at home so do your research, and above all else just get out and do it! If you apply the basic principles laid out in this article and use your own natural fishing and hunting intuition, you should see yourself catching some nice trout on plastics.

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