The best way to develop your feel for bites is by bass fishing with soft plastics. It requires patience to fish with these lures generally speaking because you have to feel the fish pick up or bite the lure, often when it's not moving. There won't be a big splash like a topwater or a hard tug like a crankbait. And knowing which plastic to use for different situations for bass fishing will eliminate a lot of wasted time on the water.
This category could take ages to explain so we'll try to keep it as simple as possible. Soft plastics are essentially combinations of salt, plastic, sand, glitter, and coloring shaped and formed into anything that can be perceived to be alive by a bass. There is an amazing array of colors, shapes and sizes when it comes to soft plastics and there are hundreds of different types plastics available.
Soft Plastics categories:
- soft stickbaits
- soft jerkbaits
- shad tails
- drop shot baits
Most soft plastics are either going to be rigged on a hook either Texas rigged, wacky rigged, Carolina rigged, nose hooked, Tex-posed or otherwise hooked, or they will be rigged on some sort of jighead and fished open hook.
Fishing a plastic worm on a Texas rig is one skill every bass angler must master and become proficient with. Learning to detect bites on a plastic worm sitting still and knowing the difference between a bite and say bumping a rock or pulling through some grass are acquired perceptions that will make you a much better angler. We discuss that more in our Learning to Detect Bites feature.
For now, let's stick with the different types of plastics and their intended uses.
Top to Bottom: Zoom Magnum Ol' Monster, Go2Bait Paddle Tail worm, Zoom 7 1/2-inch worm, Z-Man Finesse Worm, Berkley Bottom Hopper, Zoom Trick Worm
Probably the easiest of the soft plastics to start learning to fish with would be a simple plastic worm. Creme introduced anglers to a new way to catch bass many decades ago, but a plastic worm has stood the test of time as a productive way to catch bass all over the country.
Plastic worms come in a variety of lengths with a variety of tails. You have paddle tails, curl tails, straight tails, vibe tails and more. Each tail is designed to give the worm some sort of lively action as you lift it off the bottom of the lake and let it settle back. Some worms have a vibe tail on the end that has a cut in it so that as you steadily reel it in, it vibrates subtly under the water.
There are lots of ways to fish a worm and they work in a variety of conditions. It's narrow profile helps it come through cover, but a long curl tail will have a tendency to grab on to things underwater. It's great for fishing on long casts and working an area thoroughly to see if bass are there. Worms work great in clear and muddy water alike. They work well on Texas rigs with bullet sinkers. Most bites will feel like a slight tick, pressure or you will feel or see the bass swimming off with your line.
Zoom Brush Hog, Berkley Powerbait 4-inch Lizard
This category of bass fishing plastics involves usually slender profile worms with multiple appendages. They may mimick lizards or nothing that swims in the water but the many appendages give them action and help them look alive. They are equally effective on a Carolina Rig and on a Texas Rig alike. They can be great baits for flipping sparse cover, sight fishing, working big areas out deep, and pitching around isolated objects. Their many appendages can make them hard to penetrate heavy cover that is better fished with more streamlined flipping baits. But they work great in muddy and clear water alike. You can downsize the baits to small sizes and even fish them on shaky heads to give the bass something alive looking to bite.
Left: Zoom Z-Hog, Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver, Yum Wooly Bullee
Right: Berkley Havoc Pit Boss, Gene Larew Biffle Bug, Missile Baits D-Bomb
This unique streamlined bait was designed to penetrate the heart of thick cover and get where big bass live and ambush prey. A slightly ribbed oval body with flaps at tail of the bait allow it to glide and dart in and out of cover, coaxing bass to bite. Andre Moore of Reaction Innovations gets the credit for creating the first beaver bait, the Sweet Beaver. His design spawned a whole new category of soft plastics that anglers have flipped and pitched on just about every fishery in America with great success. Their narrow profile and solid body makes them a great choice for punching matted vegetation, flipping bushes, or even just pitching to docks, stumps, lay downs or any other cover you find.
Zoom Super Salty Tube
A tube is really a remarkable lure. The Gitzit created by Bobby Garland gave anglers a profile that not only mimicked baitfish but also crawfish. In fact, a study by Berkley concluded that the 3-4 inch profile of a tube, was the most preferred profile for a bass, probably because it mimics the size of most prey so well. A tube is a hollowed out plastic with multiple tentacles for a tail. You can slide a jighead up into the tube, a popular way to fish for smallmouth up north, or a texas rig it with a sinker and EWG offset worm hook and flip it. They are extremely versatile, fall with an erratic spiraling action on a jig head, and are a go-to bait for sight fishing.
Left: Strike King Rage Toad, Right: Zoom Horny Toad
These soft plastic frog imitators were designed to be fished over the top of matted vegetation. With a flat wide body and usually two kicking legs on the back, you straight reel the lure in on heavy braid or fluorocarbon and it acts as almost a subtle buzzbait, gurgling on the retrieve to draw vicious strikes. It's a great option for fishing over summer and fall grass. All you need is an offset worm hook, although better double pronged toad hooks are now available for this fishing.
Top to bottom: Big Bite Baits Coontail, The Hag's Tornado, Yamamoto Senko
The soft stickbait hit the scene and it was as close as a plastic could get to fishing live bait. You simply cast it out on an unweighted hook, let it flutter to the bottom. If a fish didn't pick it up on the initial cast, you might lift it up and let it fall again, before reeling it in and making another cast. It was that simple, and in clear water, it's a deadly bass catcher. Gary Yamamoto basically came up with the design for the first soft stick bait when he made a mold of a Cross pen. With just the right amount of salt, sand, plastic, the lure dances on the fall and draws onlooking bass.
Newer versions of soft sticks baits have hit the market that feature ringed bodies. These soft stick bait varieties fish well as drop baits, shaky head worms, and even on Carolina rigs. When bass are around the spawn, a Senko or other soft plastic stick bait can be hard to beat. They are great follow up baits for bass that strike and miss other lures as they really excel when bass are looking for a bait they know is in the area. You've got to be a line watcher with these baits. Any slight tick, or line jump or just a slow side swimming of your line and you know you're about to have some fun.
Left to right: Yum Money Craw, Strike King Rage Craw, Zoom Speed Craw, Megabass Bottle Shrimp, Strike King Rage DB Craw, Berkley Powerbait Chigger Craw
As simply as the name implies, soft plastic craws for bass fishing were designed to mimic one of a bass's favorite foods---the crawfish. Essentially most craws are a small narrow 3-4 inch body that has two claws or appendages to mimic claws at one end. You hook the lure at the rounded end either texas rigged or on jighead. It can be flipped on its own or used as a trailer for a jig. The smaller varieties on shaky heads are deadly on smallmouth bass while the bigger versions make great swim jig trailers and flipping baits as well.
Left to right: Missile Baits Twin Turbo, Zoom Big Salty Chunk, Zoom Super Chunk
Speaking of trailers, there are several plastic shapes designed specifically to be fished with casting jigs, swim jigs, spinnerbaits and more. These trailers offer tails that just undulate and more active tails that vibrate and flap as the lure is moved along. Typically I've found that the less active trailers do better for me in cold water and the more active twin tail type trailers work better in warmer water. You can usually find colors to match your spinnerbaits and jigs, but often times a completely contrasting color works wonders.
Berkley Twitchtail Minnow, Zoom Z-Drop, Missile Baits Drop Craw, Strike King Dream Shot, Robo Worm Straight Tail worm
Some of the finesse worm and slender profile plastics were designed specifically to be used on drop shot rigs. With the drop shot rig, you don't want a plastic that will catch a lot of water and cause the rig to spin on the retrieve, thus twisting your line and causing you problems later. You want a streamlined profile that you can make dance and swim with subtle vibrations and twitches on your drop shot rig. Most of these baits look like do nothing baits but catch lots of bass and big bass in deep, clear water, especially on lakes where bass like to suspend.
Zoom Swimming Super Fluke, AA Worms Shad Tail, Strike King Caffeine Shad
Soft jerkbaits and shad tails
The soft jerkbait is not only a fun soft plastic to fish, but it's very productive as a follow up bait for misses on other hard lures. Rigged weightless on an extra wide gap (EWG) worm hook, you can make it dart and dance like a dying or injured bait fish and the bass will viciously attack it. We typically stick with shader other minnow imitating colors but have seen where natural colors like watermelon and green pumpkin have produced well.
New versions have paddle tails on them. They can still be jerked around but they work even better just slowly reeled on a slightly weighted hook or jighead for a more finesse type action and profile in areas where you know the bass are roaming. The shad tails can be added to a jig head to be fished like a swim bait or jerked and hopped around like a jerkbait.
There are probably more soft plastics we're missing but this should give you a well-rounded base of knowledge for the soft plastics available to you and where to throw them. For a better idea of when to use which lure, check out our Bass Fishing Lure Selector Chart. For more information, see our How to Bass Fish Guide, When to Bass Fish Guide and Where to Bass Fish Guide.