Soft plastics are some of the most-overlooked baits that bass fishermen have in their tackle boxes once the leaves begin to turn in the fall. Everyone thinks about fishing plastic lizards and floating worms in the spring, during the prespawn, but after that, when summer shows up, a lot of people forget about them — except maybe for fishing a big worm in deep water.
The fall of the year is very similar to the spring, in terms of fishing conditions, and I’ve had lots of success fishing soft-plastic baits as the weather cools. A lot of fish will be shallow, and that’s always a great time to dig into your storage box for a bag of soft plastics.
I’m usually searching for fish with a crankbait in the fall, but when I find fish, I’ll usually switch to a soft-plastic. I do fish a Mop jig with a soft-plastic trailer, but I primarily use a couple of other baits: a soft-plastic stickbait that Trigger-X makes, the Flutter Worm, and a Fluke-type bait, the Drop Dead Minnow.
A Flutter Worm, you can throw it out and just let it sink. It has a lot of action fluttering down, like a Senko. My favorite color is bubble gun; it’s a great color in some of our South Carolina lakes; I don’t know why, other than it’s very, very visible, but it’s very good in the fall. I will fish it like a floating worm or sometimes just cast it and let it flutter down.
What makes a Flutter Worm, and to some extent, the Drop Dead Minnow, excellent fall baits is that on so many of our lakes — Murray, Clarks Hill, Hartwell, Wateree and to some extent, Santee Cooper — fish tend to suspend in the fall around bait. In those cases, you want a bait that you can let fall through the water column to the depth the fish are holding.
I probably fish a Drop Dead Minnow a little more. It’s similar to a Fluke in that you get that great, dying minnow action as if falls, and you can also fish it very quickly. I like the white and herring colors. Back in September, I fished it a lot and won the Lexington County Law Enforcement tournament on Lake Murray; my partner and I had five fish that weighed 24.30 pounds, and we were catching fish that were suspended five or six feet deep over 30 feet of water.
The real key with any lure you fish in the fall is finding baitfish with your electronics. The first thing I do when I leave the ramp is turn on my two Humminbird units, an 1198 and a 998. I’ve found that with good electronics, you can do so much more idling over a likely looking spot for two minutes that you can casting to it for an hour. I’m going to look for bait, and often, you’ll find that bait suspended — maybe over a point, a creek-channel bend, even a silt line. If there isn’t bait, very seldom will the fish be there. They’re kind of like me; they don’t ever want to be too far away from the food.
The next really important thing is to know how fast your bait falls; it’s as important as knowing of deep your crankbait will run — you need to know your soft plastics the same way. You don’t need to be able to know within, say, six inches, but you want to be able to keep the bait above the fish, because very seldom will they go down to strike a bait. There are a lot of variables: the weight of your line you’re using, the diameter of line, the distance you’re casting, even how fast you count “One Mississippi, two Mississippi.” You’ve got to know how long it will take your bait to fall, say, five feet or 10 feet.
The Flutter Worm comes in 4- and 6-inch models, and I like to fish the 6-inch model weightless on a 4/0 hook. If I’m fishing a Drop Dead Minnow, I’ll fish it on a 4/0 VMC Drop Dead Hook; that’s a hook with a 3/32nd-ounce weight on the shank — what a lot of fishermen will call a swimbait hook. I fish both baits on 12-pound Trilene 100-Percent Fluorocarbon all the time. This is a time when you really need to fish fluoro over monofilament.
I fish both baits on a 7-foot, medium-action All-Star baitcasting rod and a Pfleuger Patriarch baitcasting reel.
A big factor is being able to see your line. Trilene makes fluoro in green and clear; both of them are invisible to fish, and it just depends on which you can see better. Some of us can see green better, and some clear better.
That’s important because, most of the time, you’re going to see the strike; you’ll rarely ever feel it. You make a cast and count the bait down to where you think they are, then you twitch the bait a couple of times. You’ve really got to watch your line, because most of your strikes are going to come after you’ve twitched the bait a couple of times and let it start to flutter down. It’s really important to see your line twitch; sometimes you’ll see just a very little twitch. Your next move is to tighten down and set the hook. If you don’t see the twitch, when you move your rod to twitch the bait again, you’ll feel the fish. Sometimes you’ll catch him, but sometimes he’ll get off because you haven’t really set the hook.
What’s so important about seeing that first strike and catching that first fish is that they’re usually ganged up this time of year, around that bait. If you find a point with bait on it, there’s a good chance that fish will be there. And if you get the first one to bite, you can usually catch several.
So when you take a day or two off this month from deer-hunting and head out on the lake, don’t forget those soft plastics. They’re very effective baits and often overlooked — but you can’t afford to overlook them.