The Evolution of Soft Plastic Lures


When I started in the fishing industry as a guide in 1982, we relied a lot on the use of bait to catch many of our fish species. For walleye, it was nightcrawlers, minnows and leeches. There were soft plastic baits available but the use of scent, impregnated in those lures, hadn’t happened yet. I used a lot of Mr Twister curly tail plastic and old classic double tail. Back in the day these were the go-to plastic, and since that time they have expanded their products considerably.The design of the curly tail started a revolution in soft plastic lures. Mister Twister developed the concept and introduced the first curly tail in 1972. 

Back in those days, I was doing a lot of writing, trying to find out more about the how’s and why’s of fish behaviour. One of those places that proved to be a wealth of information was The Freshwater Institute at the University of Manitoba Campus. It was built to house the operations of Fisheries and Marine Service of the Federal Department of the Environment. The institute serves as one of the world’s leading research centres for freshwater and Arctic fisheries research, as well as the regional headquarters of the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans


I met a young biologist who was doing research on fear pheromones, a chemical given off by bait fish when in the presence of predator fish. He brought me into his lab to check things out. I was fascinated by the research and disappointed to learn a short time later that he had left his position and headed down to the U.S.


As it turns out he was hired by Berkley to develop a scent product for their new soft plastics. In 1985 Berkley released Strike — the first product to include real baitfish. About three years later, Dr. Keith Jones’ research into fish feeding stimulants produced Powerbait Trout Dough. This breakthrough then snowballed with the production of several different Powerbait Products. As the years went by Berkley continued their research including biodegradable Gulp product for one and the new Max Scent Powerbait.


Over the years I have been a true believer in Powerbait and soft plastics in general. I have a basement full of the stuff, and it’s interesting to see the progression of these lures. Like many hardcore anglers, I hardly use live bait at all anymore.

Two of my favourites at the bottom the StreakZ 3.75 and the Impulse Ribbon Leech in brown

One thing I have learned over that time, is to pay attention on how each lure works in the water. If the soft plastic doesn’t quite look natural your catch ration will drop, sometimes dramatically depending on fish activity level. There are obviously different looks for different activity levels of the fish.

For example, a boot tail, or swimbait is great when fish are active, especially in shallow water. When the water is cold and bite is off, a nice finesse minnow style works well.

Boot tail spring walleye in shallow water and weeds

In today’s day and age, there is a lot of competition in the soft plastic market. Some of the things I look for in new product are softness combined with durability.

Berkley products have that but so do some other companies. For me personally Z-Man is right up there with Berkley for both those qualities.


Z-Man’s proprietary ElaZtech® material is remarkably soft, pliable, and tougher than traditional soft plastics. ElaZtech resists nicks, cuts, and tears better than most soft baits meaning they will last longer, especially if you Super Glue them to your jig head. I also like the fact that they are buoyant, which makes them pretty darn appealing. They are also non-toxic, a good thing.


I will also use Northlands Tackle Impulse product, specifically the Impulse three-inch brown leech. This is my #1 smallmouth bait. Their core swimbait is pretty darn good on both walleye and bass. They are not quite as durable as some but they are soft and pliable, which is a good thing.

Ned Rig smallmouth

Live Target has put a lot research in developing a new line of soft plastics. The Ghost Tail Minnow, which I have fished, uses LIVETARGET’s Injected Core Technology (ICT) to create a ultra-realistic dropshot bait. According to the manufacturer, The Inner-Core is anatomically precise and produces a vibrant metallic flash, while the Exo-Skin generates a finesse quivering action. The tail design creates action the emulates the movement of a small minnow, while helping the bait track straight while swimming or in current.


Gussy shows off a Winnipeg River walleye caught on soft plastic

Soft plastics are not just for bass and walleye. Big pike and musky love big swimbaits. Lake trout can be partial to them as well. Basically, soft plastic will catch pretty much anything that swims!

I have asked some of the top anglers in western Canada to give their take on soft plastics and how to use them. Part Two of this story continues here from a man who makes his living using them, professional tournament angler Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson.


About Author

Don Lamont - The Complete Angler Don Lamont has been a full time professional angler for 34 years, hosting and producing the award winning “The Complete Angler” television series for fifteen of those. Don has received several awards for his commitment to public education and the future of recreational fishing in Canada. Those include a 2000 Canadian Recreational Fisheries Award for his work with Manitoba’s Urban Angling Partnership. In 2003 he received a Manitoba Tourism Award for his promotion of Manitoba and western Canada. In 2004 he was a finalist at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada National Award for Tourism Excellence, presented by The Globe and Mail. Don has been a regular fishing columnist in the Winnipeg Free Press since 1992 and is currently editor of Hooked Magazine.

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