Soft Plastics - Still going strong! Part 2
by Chris Tan
THE RIGHT PRESENTATION
What I have noticed while fishing in these different saltwater commercial ponds, is that only a select few anglers regularly pull out fish. It does not matter whether they use lures or bait. It is definitely something to do with the presentation of the bait or lure, especially on days when the fish are finicky.
What it boils down to, is that there is no real secret weapon to successful fishing, be it using artificial lures or bait.12 A few bait fishermen catch fish, many do not. So it goes for the soft plastics lures: a few fishermen are successful, but many are not. Somehow some people have the impression that using soft plastics guarantees a catch. Not so! Chris Chandran and four other friends went fishing recently. Out of five of them, all using soft plastic lures, only Chris landed fish, five fish. The others? Well, one of them had a hook up but lost it, the rest had a few bumps and nudges here and there.
That trip showed that it is not only what lures and tackle are used, but there is skill and experience involved too. I guess some guys have the wrong impression that the use of soft plastic lures is not fair because it rakes in the fish. This is probably due to the fact that the first anglers to fish the commercial ponds with the soft plastic lures were skilled and experienced in its use, therefore they were successful, and this drew a lot of attention to their fishing techniques that were so different from the bait fishermen's methods.
I have not really studied the rigs of the bait fishermen and made comparisons, but some of those I have seen are out of this world! Quite an over kill for the size of fish targeted. I am not an expert in bait fishing, but if I were a fish......... Quite a number of anglers now use soft plastic lures. Some of them are successful regularly, others tend to only get hits occasionally. Probably due to the fact their presentation of the lure is rather awkward. The ideal way to rig the soft plastic lure is, just slip the soft plastic lure onto a suitably sized jig head with the hook point exposed. The line is tied onto the jig with a loop knot to allow the lure to wobble unrestricted, giving it more motion, essential to attract the fishes to strike. This mono filament line to the lure should be at least 20lbs test or more to withstand the abrasion from the teeth of the mangrove jack or the rough lips of the siakap. Then it is tied to mainline using a uni-knot. That is all that is needed, except for a swivel, for those using spinning reels, a foot or two up the line to get rid of any pesky line twist.
OVER DOING IT
I have observed quite a number of additions to this soft plastic rig by some anglers. They will add more weight to the jig head, at the head of the jig or a few feet further up the line. Just to be able to cast further. This extra weight definitely kills the slight wobbling or wavy action of the soft plastic lure, rendering it alluring only to hungriest of the fishes. When the fish are in a fussy mood they will not strike these lures full of heavy lead!
These anglers add these extra weights because they cannot achieve the casting distance required on the regular weighted jig head of 1/4 to 1/2 oz, due to the use of heavy monofilament line they use. Using any line above 15 to 20lbs test will definitely shorten the casting distance. I personally use 8lb or 12lb test line and never had any problems landing the fish with this line strength.
BRUTE STRENGTH IS NOT THE WAY
The point is, the angler has to play the fish in. Not yank the poor little 2 kilo fish in with 50 to 100lb braided GSP line. I have seen quite a few anglers using such lines, get hook ups and yet lose more than half the hook ups. The first thing they do when they get a hook up is, give a huge massive strike. The fish responds by jumping and shaking its head, trying to throw the hook, if it is a siakap. If the hook is not thrown, and they are still connected to the fish, they will start cranking furiously on the heavy tackle. The fish just gets dragged in.
At this point the fish may again escape. The hook, if it is a jig head, generally is not made for such heavy duty abuse. It will straighten, and the fish escapes. Bait fishing hooks normally used by the heavy tackle anglers, are for heavy duty use, but because of the massive brute strength used, the hook tears a big hole in the mouth of the fish, thus enabling it to throw out the hook. Therefore the use of heavy line is pointless. I find, the proper use of light line actually allows the angler to stay connected to the fish. I must admit, the first time I fished in a commercial saltwater pond in Port Klang was with 30lb braided GSP. My sole intention then was to fill up the ice box! I did not intend to fish for sport that day. I fished with bait as that commercial saltwater pond did not allow the use of lures. The haul that day was 9 fish, 6 mangrove jacks and 3 red drum, although a few were lost to hooks being ripped out and straightened, and haul we did, just yanking the fish in, as fast as we could to prevent the fish from snagging themselves into the waterwheel and floating net cages.
On the next trip to a commercial pond, which was with G.P. Goh, I decided to drop the line down to 12lb mono filament, to try and land the fish with more skill and finesse than brute force! With the smooth pumping technique I mentioned earlier on, I found that the fish could be coaxed from the snags. The following trip I dropped the line class down to 8lb and found the fish could still be controlled and landed!
Although most commercial saltwater ponds have clean flat bottoms, the aerating wheels can be the snag that the fish heads for to break the angler off! Using steady and smooth pumping, fish can be kept out of the snag and eventually forced to head to another direction. Keep a cool head and just keep pumping even though the fish seems to be close to the drag. Do not lock up the drag! Ultimately the fish will head back out into clear water.
I prefer to use 8 to 12lb line. I find it more than sufficient to land the fish. In fact I do not even utilise the full line strength. I normally fish with half pound pressure set on my drag, as the jig hooks I use are softer than most anglers would care to use. Therefore I must fish with the weakest link of my tackle in mind, and set the reel drag correspondingly. I must at all times play the fish smoothly to prevent the fish from straightening the hook. No brute force here.
The jig hooks I use are soft because they are a light weight bronzed hook. With their fine wire, they penetrate into the flesh of the jaw easily, with minimal effort, whereas the stronger jig hooks that are available have much thicker wire, making it harder for the point to penetrate beyond the barb. Unless the high carbon jig hooks with strong and fine wire diameter are used. But these are very expensive to purchase. What ever hooks are used, it is essential that they are needle sharp. Check them after a strike or hook up. Often the point may hit bone in the jaw and get dulled or bent.
SPEED AND FORCE EQUALS POWER
When the siakap jumps, bow to the fish. That means lower and point the rod to the fish, giving it slack in the line. If the line is taut, when the fish jumps it gets to throw its full body weight on the hook and line. This force is quite a bit more than it can generate in the water. Consider yourself in the water in a swimming pool, you can not really move with speed in the water, right? Well, when a fish is airborne, the combination of the weight and speed of the fish in the air equals power!
To this date I have only lost one siakap, and it was a big one! During the midst of the fight, I was applying pressure with the rod, at the same time moving my hand up from the pistol grip to the fore grip to give my hand more leverage. The big siakap chose to jump at that moment! With my hands all tangled up I could not bow to the fish! So it threw the hook. Upon checking the hook, the gape was slightly opened, probably from the jump, allowing it to lever the hook out. When the fish lunges the response should be to lower the rod, letting it take the line off the reel. Do not fight it with brute force. Rather, tire it out. The knots of the rigs also provide a weak link, especially those funny looking knots I see used to tie bait rigs. Knots should always be tied carefully and chosen for their simplicity and knot strength.
NEW ADDITIONS - are they better?
Some anglers have started adding rubber tubes that glow in the dark to the line just above the soft plastic lure. It probably might have a positive effect on occasions, especially during night fishing to attract the fish. But some anglers have over done it. They use pieces longer than 6 inches. I did not see them have any success, the day I observed them using those tubes. However, I did manage to hook and land 5 fish that day, including a 3.5 kilo siakap! Adding such long pieces of rubber tubes not only spoils the subtle action of the soft plastic lure, but it totally changes its appearance or profile to the fish!
FAST OR SLOW
We have found that the rate of retrieve needs to be varied each cast to find out what the fish are taking that day. Sometimes a fast or even blistering retrieve will make them strike. On other days the lure has to be crawled ever so slowly over the pond bed to get strikes. Once one gets familiar with a pond, it will be noticed there are certain spots that siakap gather in the open water, places where strikes normally occur. Actually there is structure there that attracts them to gather there. The structure is normally a depression. When casting with a heavy jig head, the rises can be felt, and so the location of the depressions discovered.
The aerating wheel also attracts the mangrove jack. They often hold beside or directly in the water flow of the water wheel. Casting the soft plastic lure right beside it and drifting the lure very slowly just above the bottom often produces vicious strikes!
SHAPES AND COLOURS
We have found that most of the soft plastics lures are effective. Our favourites are the grubs, shads and twin tails. The subject of which colour is the most effective often crops up. Some swear by the red, pink, black or clear plastics. I believe they all work. It varies from day to day. On my last trip, I caught 5 fish on 4 different colours, yellow, red, light mauve and clear/speckled. Quite a variety of colours!
At this time, I believe only the ponds in Selangor allow the use of the soft plastics lures. But there are a few that do not allow the use of soft plastic lures, but most of them do. So if you fish in Selangor, go get some soft plastics lures and give them a try! They are actually cheaper than buying live prawns!