Fall is here. The trees glow with various colors, and the water is getting colder by the day. The fish also are less active. It's time to switch out those summertime baits.
Often in the morning, when many people do their fishing, the fish are out in the shallows of ponds and lakes. In the past, we fished the banks in the morning with topwater lures. But now's it's too cold for topwater. What you do?
That's when a 4" finesse soft plastic comes in. Whether be a 4" craw, worm, or lizard, anything that isn't too bulky is fine. It know, 4" plastics are hard to find, but after a bit of searching you will find them. Rig that with an exposed thin wire hook (aberdeen), and you are set. This soft plastic is designed to be rigged weightless, and on a light action spinning rod and reel, with light 6 or 8lb line.
Above: For best results, cast towards structure in the shallows, such as weeds or rock piles.
To work this bait, simply cast towards structure, and let it sink. Feel for bites. If there are none, twitch and "hop" it across the bottom. Reel in and repeat. Bites with this bait are subtle. I often get big bluegill on this bait, with the occasional catfish.
Sometimes, it's good to add a little bit of fish attractant to this bait when the bite is stale. With the plethora of scents on the market these days, get on that matches your bait for the best results (get crayfish for a 4" craw, etc). For baits that don't resemble anything in particular, such as worms, simply get a generic all around scent. I hope that helps.
In these economic times, it's not surprising that some people would like to purchase low-cost fishing gear from Chinese retailers (although it's worth mentioning that most fishing tackle is made overseas these days, with the exception of your everyday soft plastics). Anytime you search up "fishing lures" in search the search box on major e-commerce sites, such as Amazon or Aliexpress, you will find a lot of no-name tackle, mostly hard baits, such as frogs, spinnerbaits, and especially crank baits. Other less common baits, such as buzz baits and chatter baits, are quite rare. While part of your mind cries out the old adage "You get what you pay for" you are also thinking "Dang, some of these lures look really good, and have good reviews." The question stands: Should you buy them, or go to more tried and trusted tackle companies?
Above: This line, which was advertised as Fluorocarbon, was supposed to have a break strength of 6.5 kg, or 14.33 lbs, but really broke at 4lbs. Imagine if you got a 10 lber on the line....
After buying, and trying a lot of these Chinese lures, here's what I came up with: Buy them if you trust them. Personally, for me, I don't trust them. A classic example would be with my Chinese square bills. I ordered 6 of them, from different companies. They had some pretty nice paint jobs, and had some nice reviews (I found out later that it is common to fabricate reviews in China), so I ordered them. The price was pretty reasonable, not too high that you would go the tried-and-true route, but not too low that you would think that you would be buying a piece of garbage.
So after waiting like a month for delivery, I finally got them. I tuned them, and set off for a pond that had a pretty regular bite. This was in the fall, with the water starting to turn a bit cold, and the forests awash with color. It was a nice, sunny day, and after getting some fish on my spinnerbait, I decided to try out the new crank baits.
The baits ran erratically underwater. I was pleased. I then deflected one off some rocks near a culvert, to imitate an injured minnow. That's when I noticed the paint job.
It was good out of the package, but after one small deflection, the whole thing was ruined. One large, ugly streak down the side. Also, after some time in the water, the surrounding paint also started to fall. I switched it out.
3 of the other 5 ones also had bad paint jobs. The paint just doesn't stick well or something. After casting and reeling it in, the bait would would look like someone sprinkled salt on them. The paint just kept on chipping. I switched those baits out.
Finally, I got out one of the last two. The bait ran well, and the paint job wasn't so bad. And then, I got a fish. It was about a pound, but it was feisty. Midway through the fight, I broke off. The hooks on the bait were terrible. They snapped. That's right, a 1 lb could break these hooks. I didn't even bother trying out the last one and went back to fish catching with my spinnerbait.
Above: Hard baits from Chinese retailers seem to have bad hooks. Either they bend, are too bulky, rust, or aren't durable, in my experience.
Buying fishing tackle from China is a wild card. Western companies that manufacture in China have control controls (which, unfortunately, many Chinese companies don't have), plus, the baits are designed by professionals and then manufactured there. Many Chinese companies that tried-and-true baits and try to reverse-engineer them. They copy the paint job and the basic structure. But that small semi-erratic wobble to front or some other small design feature is sometimes the most important part of a bait's fish catching ability. Problem is, those companies can't do that. They can make a bait that looks like it, but really, won't perform the same underwater.
After buying some Chinese tackle and trying them out, I opted personally to stick with tried-and-true baits and companies. Most of my fishing friends have done the same. I know of one guy that gets good success out of his baits, but unfortunately he has to replace them often due to paint chipping issues down the road. But hey, if these baits suit you, and you found a good one, feel free to use them. If you got a good bait for cheap, who am I to discourage you rom buying and using it?
Are All Hooks Created Equal?
For most of us, the last thing we pay attention to is our terminal tackle. That's right, our hooks, our lines, our weights. That's a mistake. Your terminal tackle is very, very important. However, one thing, the hook, is especially overlooked in the tackle shop. That's a really big mistake. Here's why:
1. Sharpness. Bass have very hard and bony mouths, an evolutionary trait that allows them to eat creatures with sharp fins (bluegill, perch), or spines and claws (crayfish). You need to really set the hook to get the hook to penetrate the mouth. However, a dull hook isn't going to pierce the mouth. Maybe with crappie (whom's nickname is "paper mouth") you can get away with less than sharp hooks, but with bass, you need to set one good hookset with one sharp hook. You can buy the most best soft plastics, with the best rod and reel, but if the hook ain't sharp, you ain't going catch any fish. The fish's mouth just isn't pierced.
Above: Storage matters too. Store your hooks in rust-free tackle boxes. Trust me, you hooks with stay sharper and instant longer.
2. Bending. What's more frustrating to hook a nice fish, with a nice hooks, but then the fish comes off, and you find that the hook is straightened out? The curve of the hook, which helps prevent the fish from throwing it off, is now straightened during the fight, and allows the fish to escape. Your hooks must be rigid. Not only will you lose more fish with bendy hooks, you will also lose more money replacing bent hooks.
3. Rust. Rusty hooks are just a pain. They're dull, and weak and easily broken. You just can't fish with them, for the reasons that they won't penetrate the fishes' mouths or will just break. The rust dust also makes a mess in your tackle box. Trust me, don't use rusty hooks. I'm speaking from experience here. Bad hooks will rust like crazy.
So now you know about the problems with bad hooks. A good hook is sharp, stays sharp, doesn't rust, or bend. Pros, such as Kevin VanDam (KVD), obsess over their hooks, and there is a reason for that. In addition to get some kind of hook sharpener, or get a whetstone to sharpen your hooks as they get dull. To see if a hook is sharp enough, stick it into your thumbnail and try to drag it from there. If it moves and leaves a small mark, it's dull. A good sharp hook should stay in your fingernail.
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How to Store Soft Plastics Properly
We all love our soft plastics. They are extremely versatile, and catch fish left and right. They work. We all have lots of them. But one common mistake that I see with soft plastics are the improper methods of storing them. You are not catching all the fish you should be, nor getting the best use out of them. Let me explain.
Above: Store your plastics in a Ziplock bag, or their original bag, if possible. Not your tackle box.
1. A common mistake that I see often is storing your plastics in your tackle box, or just without anything to hold it in. That is not good for your plastics, people.
In some old tackle boxes, the colors of your soft plastics will bleed into your tackle box. You will have a rainbow colored tackle box with all those plastics. This isn't really a problem in the newer ones, but just be careful.
Some plastics, especially the ones more reliant on scent, will dry out and be useless if you let them sit in the tackle box. Also, the scent on your soft plastics is sure to dry out. You will catch less fish, people. The dust in your tackle box can also some times
Your plastics have scent, which will make the box moist. And moist boxes sometimes means rusty hooks, especially if those hooks are lower end, and are stored in the same compartments as your soft plastics.
2. A storing your plastics all together is also a bad idea. Soft plastics bleed when heated up, people. Leave your bag out in the sun? Hike out on a hot day with your backpack? You will have rainbow colored plastics. And we want our colors to be that color for a specific reason (resembles forage, better contrast against surrounding, etc). Keep your soft plastics separate, by type and color.
Above: The soft jerkbait on the tope used to be white. But it got stored with a charteuse colored jerk bait, and the colors bled, turning the white jerk bait into a yellow jerk bait.
So what is the correct way of storing soft plastics? In their individual bags, preferable the ones they came with. If you can't do that, get yourself a Ziplock bag, which is the next best thing. I hope this helps.
When NOT to Use Shad Colored Baits
Shad colored baits are all the rage, especially in crank baits. Shad colors are just everywhere; people use shad colors to imitate the baitfish. "Match the hatch", as fly fishermen say. And shad are present in many reservoirs and lakes. But sometimes, using shad colors is no a good idea.
Many reservoirs, such as Toledo Bend, have large shoals of shad. However, smaller lakes and ponds, and even some larger bodies of water, have no shad present. I think that most town lakes in your ordinary public parks have little shad. The forage fish? Bluegill. Throwing a shad style bait will look very unnatural; the shiny, silverly coloration of the shad, and their long, thin bodies, stands out in stark contrast with the dull and dark colors of bluegill, and their flat, disc-shaped bodies.
Above: Here's a pond where shad style baits aren't the most productive. Use green pumpkin and other like-colors to imitate bluegill.
Using bluegill style baits, or trying to imitate a crawfish, will often get you much better results than using a shad style bait. So where do you not want to use shad style baits?
1. Clear water ponds and lakes - shad primarily eat plankton. Clear water is a sign of low plankton concentrations, which means little or no shad. However, bluegill are not primarily plankton eaters, and will feast on other things, such as worms or small bait fish. Also, crawfish may be present, especially in rock piles.
2. Small ponds - Shad don't do well in small ponds, and high bass predation is part of the reason. Also, small ponds are shallower, and are not suited to be their habitat. Bluegill have the upper hand in small ponds.
3. Up north - Shad don't do well when the water temperature starts to dip.
4. Really, really weedy and muddy water - that's bluegill habitat. Enough said.
I hoped that helped. Remember, shad aren't everywhere, and you need to identify the primary forage in the water you are fishing in. Just remember that most of time in smaller bodies of water, the primary baitfish will be bluegill. Up north, the larger bodies of water will mostly have perch, and down south, in the larger bodies of water, is where the shad is.
Does a Pond Hold Fish?
Everyone loves pond fishing. One of their many appeals is their accessibility. They are in or near almost every neighborhood. If you do a bit of hiking or go on Google Earth, you will find a pond.
And pond fish are often unwary, too. They rarely will see fishing pressure, unlike most town lakes, which causes them to bite everything. Heck, I even caught a pond bass on a pine with a hook (topwater, of course).
But does it have fish?
I've fished in ponds all my life, and there's three questions that I ask myself to determine if a pond holds fish... or not.
Above: C'mon, folks. Not going to have fish.......
Size: That big puddle over there isn't going to have fish. The larger the pond, the more baitfishes and their food that it can support. Bass need food to grow, and therefore a bass would need a waterway large enough that it can support his food. 3/4th of an acre is a good minimum.
Plus, bass need deeper water to retreat in during temperature swings. Small bodies of water are unlikely to hold deep spots. Also, small bodies of water overheat or freeze out quickly, much quicker than larger bodies of water. Temperature can kill bass in a small pond.
Conditions: After you got size covered, look at the pond's other conditions. Folks, if it dries up to a puddle during the summer, it's not going to hold fish. If it is gin clear and you can't see any fish, it's not going to hold fish. If it is extremely shallow, no fish. A tell-tale sign of ponds with no bass/fish that I use is the vegetation. If the weeds are extremely dense, everywhere, that could indicate no fish (fish, such as carp, will eat many weeds), or extremely poor pond management, which will eventually kill the pond's fish, but that's another story for another day. A horde of frogs, everywhere, is also a sign of a frog/bug only pond with no fish. Fish prey on frogs and tadpoles, bass, bluegill, etc. The frogs would therefore be not as so dense in a pond with fish.
There you go. Of course, the real determining factor is going there is catching fish yourself.
Hi. I am Ian, an extremely avid bass fisherman living in Howard County, MD. I like to bank fish and fish at local ponds and small creeks. I will explore budget friendly options for people to use in this blog. I hope I can teach you something.