Top 5 tips for fishing with soft plastic lures

John 'Bear' Willis — 6 June 2017

Fishing with lures, particularly soft plastics, has grown steadily in status to become the number one choice for many keen anglers. In fact, to many fishos, bait is now a dirty word. It doesn’t matter what species you favour, nor in what water, there is a soft plastic lure for all occasions.

John ‘Didgey’ Didge is a great mate of mine. He’s an experienced angler based in Geelong, Vic, and has been involved in the fishing media for many years. John is also a competition angler specialising in flathead and bream, but regularly targeting many other species including snapper in his home waters of Corio Bay. Didgey has even developed his own range of jig heads to match his style and we recently travelled to one of my favourite south coast New South Wales destinations where I sapped him for some of his expertise. We rounded it back to five great tips for soft plastics fishing.


Every lure has its own action and soft plastics are no exception. Some are best presented in jerking action and some on a more even, less erratic wind. Yet the key is to let the lure present its action most naturally and give the fish the opportunity to strike. While most plastics will swim quite well with a smooth retrieve, it doesn’t tend to portray the sense of urgency to strike. Wounded creatures tend to swim in spurts, kicking frantically then falling toward the bottom, hence, imitating that action will see success. Yabbies, shrimp and similar critters swim with a flapping tail action, generally in short bursts and there’s barely a fish alive in salt or freshwater that won’t be attracted to one of these tasty tidbits. If you can mimic their swimming action, then you’re in with a good chance of action.


To be successful, you generally need to do some homework on your quarry’s preferred menu, and then select your lure and retrieve style to suit. All fish, from trout to marlin, will respond to a well presented lure that mimics a wounded specimen of their favorite food. Even the aggressive pack hunters like Australian salmon, tailor, tuna, mackerel and trevally may turn their noses up at a lure that is much larger, or smaller than the rest of the bait school they are feeding on at the time. ‘Match the hatch’ is the key yet again.

But many marauding fish have an uncanny ability to open their mouths very wide to eat surprisingly large portions. I am constantly amazed at the size of the bait or lure that are attacked with vigour by very small fish. Think about the physical proportions of the fish you target and try to imagine just how large their food sources may be. For instance, a flathead has a bucket-sized mouth that often eats live mullet, and it has a stomach and appetite to match. So gear up for big’uns! A bream’s mouth is much smaller with a diet of worms, poddies, small crustaceans, shell and crabs so a matching lure is required. However, a sand or beach worm may be quite long so it’s worth threading on an imitation. Alternatively, a marlin will eat a whole tuna so the sky is the limit with lure size for game fish!


All of the experts tell us that fish are colour blind and many say that different coloured lures are there to catch the fishermen, not the fish. However, colour is a very important factor in lure success. Remember that light refracts and changes quickly in the water so what you see from above may not be the obvious choice once immersed, hence, some really unusual colour forms can be very successful.

As a very general rule, I stick to a theory of bright day – bright lure, and dull day – dull lure.  However, it’s wise to match the environment you are fishing in as well.


One of Didgey’s golden rules is that your soft plastic must stay in contact with the bottom. If you can emulate sick or stricken bait then your prey will be suckers for your imitation. A wiggly worm, a jerking yabby, an erratically bouncing bait fish or a crawling crab will certainly attract your target species so you need consider how and where that imitation would be moving, and then try to copy it.


I know of a bloke who got caught out cheating on his wife by not knowing his fish species! He used to regularly disappear, supposedly to a freshwater inland lake fishing with his mates but, instead, shacked up with the girlfriend for a couple of days. He got caught when he returned home to his wife with some flathead that he brought from a fishmonger not knowing the difference between salt and freshwater species!

I tell that tale because many people find it hard to identify the available species and target them. The simple answer is Google! We are blessed with a host of information on every species and location in the country so use it to identify not only your target, but also its preferred feeding habits wherever you travel. Fishing for the fish that are there with imitations of the local food source seems obvious, but a factor that seems lost on so many.


The golden rule to fishing is that there are no rules, and that as soon as you think you have the fish worked out then something in the environment will change and nothing seems to work. It may be a moon phase, flood, peak tides, arrival of predators, loss of food source or even a change of temperature or the seasons that will affect fish’s habits. Learn to experiment, change lures, styles, colours, depth and locality and you may just learn something new. One of the greatest pleasures in fishing is the hunt and ultimate success. But if we were successful with every outing it would be called ‘catching’ not ‘fishing’, wouldn’t it?

Tight lines and happy travels!

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John Willis, John Didge, Gone Fishing