Choosing Soft Plastics

Part 1: Tail Styles & Actions

One of the most common questions I get asked concerns choosing the best soft plastic action (as dictated by the tail design, stiffness and density of the lure) for a particular fishing scenario. While there are actually multiple answers to such questions and no absolute “right” or “wrong” selection, here a few guidelines I use every day that I fish. Hopefully, they might help in YOUR decision-making process:

Paddle-tailed plastics tend to have the strongest actions.
Relatively straight plastics tend to have little in-built action.
Curly-tailed wrigglers, worms or grubs with fine tails have a subtle action well suited to cautious fish.
Plastics with T-tailed designs have a stronger, more pronounced action.
Grubs with broad, curly tails have a reasonably strong action.
T-tailed, fish-shaped shads and swim baits tend to have quite strong actions.
Big swim baits with integrated hooks and weights like the classic Squidgies Slick Rigs tend to have the most pronounced actions of all plastics, with a strong tail beat and plenty of body roll.
Most soft lures (PVC-based plastisol models, the newer, stretchier materials and the supposedly more biodegradable compounds) are highly effective fish catchers that work in a broad range of situations. However, certain shapes, designs, patterns and even materials do work better than others in specific applications, at least in my opinion.

The best way to look at this question is to grade or sort soft plastics by style or design, starting with those models that have the least built-in action (and which therefore track straighter through the water when simply retrieved in a direct line or with a constant retrieve) and work our way up the action scale to the tails that have the most in-built action.

Sort your soft plastics, starting with those that have the LEAST built-in action and working our way up the scale to the tails that have the MOST in-built action.

Roughly speaking, that means starting with the likes of flukes, senkos, straight worms, stick baits, flick baits, jerk shads and various critters, then working up through the curly-tailed worms and wrigglers to curly grubs and then onto the various T-tailed and fish-shaped shads and swim baits. The bigger the tail “flapper” on these T-tailed or fish-tailed plastics, the stronger their action will tend to be and the more body roll they’re likely to exhibit.

Sometimes a more subtle, discrete and downright sneaky swimming action is MUCH more effective than a strong, obvious action.

Newcomers to the game might figure that they are ALWAYS best off choosing the lure with the strongest, most pronounced action… But they’d be wrong!

Sometimes a more subtle, discrete and downright sneaky swimming action is actually MUCH more effective than a strong, obvious action, and far more likely to fool a wary fish into striking.

So, when is a more subtle action from the bottom of the action scale likely to be more effective? ANSWER: In at least these four scenarios:

1. Ultra-clear water

2. Super-shallow water

3. On extremely finicky, wary or shy fish

4. Whenever attempting to imitate a food source with a subtle swimming action

The aggressiveness or otherwise of the lure’s action is paramount and should be the FIRST factor you consider!

Conversely, when is a strongly-actioned lure from the upper end of that 1 to 12 scale likely to be more productive? ANSWER: In at least these four situations:

1. Dirty, discoloured or muddy water

2. In low light or at night

3. At greater depth

4. On aggressive, highly predatory fish

Hopefully, these tips have given you some clues on where to at least START when it comes to choosing a particular soft plastic tail or lure for a given fishing scenario. Obviously, other important factors relating to the size, colour and sink rate of your plastics also play a role in their effectiveness, but in many cases, the aggressiveness or otherwise of the lure’s action is paramount and should be the FIRST factor you consider tweaking.

Any questions about this tutorial?