You Need to Tie This On! — Soft Plastics Part 3

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One of the benefits to traveling all over North America to compete in bass tournaments is that I am exposed to a wide variety of both unique lures and different ways to catch bass. Some of these techniques come home with me and occasionally they work so well they are effective for tournament use around Lake of the Woods or for catching other species like walleye, crappie, musky or even lake trout.

MY GO TO BAITS

The following are some of my favourite techniques that I have picked up in my travels and work great for catching fish in Sunset Country. Ned rigs are a finesse presentation used for catching pressured bass in clear water situations but the do-nothing soft plastic worms rigged on a jig head are excellent walleye, lake trout and crappie baits as well.

GO BIG FOR BIG FISH!

Large soft plastic swimbaits are used frequently on southern waters for bass where large shad are the primary forage. These oversized six to ten inch baits are excellent options for pike, musky and lake trout in our part of the World.

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My friend Drew Reese has only missed coming to the Lake of the Woods two summers in the past fifty plus years.  He travels north every year between May and September from Kansas and enjoys the excellent smallmouth fishing found in the Sioux Narrows area. Years ago, Drew saw the effectiveness of a simple “do-nothing” worm for catching bass, then the durability of the Z-Man Elaztech plastic. Elaztech, the super stretchy soft plastic also has properties that make it float so when it’s rigged on a jig head, it stands up off the bottom, attracting the attention of nearby fish.

Drew is an accomplished bass angler who fished in the first Bassmaster Classic back in 1972. He is also a finesse fishing aficionado who is still competitive in our local tournaments, including earning a second place finish at the 2018 Bassin’ For Bucks tournament on Lake of the Woods.

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Ned Rig smallmouth

My introduction to the “Ned Rig” came in 2016 at Table Rock Lake in Missouri.  I was preparing for a tournament the following week at nearby Beaver Lake, Arkansas and Drew drove four hours to meet me because he wanted to show me how to fish the Ned rig.

NED RIG IT UP!

We went out on Table Rock on an awful windy day and the fishing was not that great but I saw how much confidence Drew had in that little worm rigged on a 1/6 ounce Z-Man Finesse ShroomZ Jighead. The following week at Beaver Lake I used that jig along with a Hula StickZ bait to take an 11th place finish at an FLW Tour event. From that point on I don’t think I have ever been out fishing without having a “Ned rig” tied on a rod in my boat.

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Because the Z-Man plastic floats and stands up in the water, it makes a great crayfish imitation and I believe that is part of what makes these baits so effective. I seldom vary from using a 1/6 ounce jig, which is fairly heavy but will go lighter if the bottom is really snaggy.  Most often I use a Z-Man Hula StickZ cut down about a half inch but Z-Man also makes the TRD CrawZ and the Finesse TRD, which is the original “Ned” bait.

EQUIPMENT

These I fish on a 7’ medium action G. Loomis spinning rod, a 2500 sized Shimano reel, eight pound Power Pro braided line with an eight pound fluorocarbon leader attached. Cast near shallow rocks or boulders and bounce the jig along the bottom. These baits can also be used for fishing deeper water by dropping it under the boat to fish you spot on your electronics. Last summer on Lake of the Woods, the Hula StickZ was one of the top walleye producers in my boat.

SWIMBAIT MAGIC

If you get online and search “swimbaits for bass” you’ll uncover a wide assortment of oversized baits designed to catch trophy largemouths in the southern U.S. These baits come in all sizes but the most common are in the six to eight inch range. There are both hard bodied and soft bodied models. They range in price from a few bucks all the way up into the hundreds per bait. These are custom made hard bodied lures.

The best baits have a natural appearance and a lifelike action.  Local anglers are finding these work really well for catching pike and musky in central Canada. Many swimbaits are designed to mimic shad, a wide-bodied baitfish common in most southern waters. Designs are available to imitate every baitfish and prey fish you can think of including small trout, perch, bass and suckers.

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CAST TO COVER FOR TROPHY FISH

Of course, these swimbaits will work in traditional pike and musky locations. Here are some key tips on over looked spots. During the spring and summer fish shallow cover like docks and trees hanging in the water, a top tactic among Lake of the Woods anglers. Muskies, in particular, will patrol a piece of cover like a dock and a lifelike minnow imitator swimming up along the side of it is an easy meal. Cast parallel to the dock. Then retrieve your swimbait about a foot beneath the surface at a slow and steady rate.

For larger soft plastic swimbaits you want to make sure you use an adequate hook. Find yourself some large 8/0 – 12/0 wide gap, screw-lock hooks. I like to use the screw-lock hooks with some weight attached to the shank of the hook. This will help act as a keel and keep the bait down in the water. Catching a trophy fish on a lifelike swimbait is a fun and effective way to do it.

Read Part 2 Soft Plastic for Spring Walleye

Read Part 1 The Evolution of Soft Plastic Lures

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About Author

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Jeff Gustafson, known in the fishing world as "Gussy", grew up on the shores of Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. He took out his first guide trip at age 14 on Lake of the Woods and has made his living in the fishing/outdoor industry ever since. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Gussy has always been self-employed as a fishing guide, outdoor writer and photographer as well as fishing promoter. Today his fishes the Bassmaster Elite Pro bass circuit and as many local bass tournaments as he can find the time to enter. You can find him online through his website at www.gussyoutdoors.com.

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