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June 13, 2011

Soft Plastics in the Spread

An in-depth look at the latest lifelike plastic lures for offshore fishing

Sometimes inspiration just comes out of the blue. In this case, it emerged from blue water. “There must be a better way,” thought Jim McKeral, owner of Carolina Lures (www.carolinalures.com), as he witnessed a frustrating scene: yellowfin tuna chasing flying fish at the surface while refusing baits trolled by the recreational fleet.

McKeral resolved to create a completely new lure that would catch surface-feeding fish. He drew on a lifetime of lure-design and angling experience, as well as a great deal of determination, to develop the Yummee Fly’N Fish. “Engineers, and even our suppliers, shook their heads and called me crazy,” he says. “Everything was a challenge. Lure-molding technology was designed to make small things like bass worms. We had to specifically engineer all the plastics to get the best lure action, because existing materials didn’t meet my stringent criteria. The whole process took several years.”

When he finally introduced the Yummee Fly’N Fish in 2001, McKeral still had to convince skeptical anglers it would work. “We tested prototypes under the kite off Morehead City, North Carolina, on Capt. Pete Zook’s Energizer,” he recalls. “We heard people on the radio laughing at us and saying, ‘What do you expect to catch with a rubber fish?’”

Nobody’s laughing now. Today, serious anglers deploy many types of “rubber fish” as baits and teasers.

No Chain, No Gain
Nothing new to offshore anglers, plastic imitations began gaining popularity in the mid-1970s, thanks in large part to the Squirt Squid. This durable, effective squid imitation marked Mold Craft’s (www.moldcraftproducts.com) entry into the lure-making industry. Available in 6-, 9-, 12- and 16-inch models, Mold Craft squid have earned a place on top boats pursuing sailfish, marlin and tuna. While they perform well on spreader bars, full-body (not hollow bulb) plastic squid frequently see service as daisy-chain teasers. Rigged in-line or on droppers, a row of splashing squid calls pelagics in for a closer look.

“The 7-inch delta-wing Yummee Birds remain stable and make a lot of splash when run as a daisy chain,” McKeral says. “The 9-inch Yummee Fly’N Fish creates even more commotion.”

Looking for a subsurface teaser that’s easier to manage than a dredge? Consider the Dancin’ Dolphin Triple Teaser from Tactical Tackle (www.tacticaltackle.com). The 15-inch Dancin’ Dolphin perfectly mimics a peanut dolphin waiting to be crunched by marlin, tuna or even slammer dolphin. This mini mahi can be fished singly as a hook bait, but string three in line on heavy mono, and you have a teaser that works below the prop wash. Pulled at 5 knots, the third lure runs 30 feet deep; increase your trolling speed to 10 knots, and the first one smokes just under the waves while the second swims three feet deep, and the third follows at six feet under.

Soft plastics also offer alternatives for anglers who like to put birds or other noisy attractors ahead of trolling lures. McKeral often rigs a 4-inch Mini Yummee Fly’R on a dropper in front of another lure or runs several in a chain — the straggler bearing a hook — when he notices big fish chasing small baits.

Dredge of Allegiance
Many skippers, especially along the mid-Atlantic coast, swear by dredges as reliable fish-raising tools; many mates swear at dredges as a major pain in the ass to rig with natural baits. “Rubber fish” offer a solution that pleases both parties.

“Rigging dredges with natural baits becomes time consuming, tedious — and if you have to purchase the baits, very expensive,” says Chuck Richardson, whose company, Tournament Cable (www.tournamentcable.com), offers a wide selection of dredges and other terminal tackle. “But rigging dredges with plastics requires considerably less time, and depending on which artificial baits you use, they can be much less expensive than the real thing. Most plastic baits used today will far outlast naturals, so you get more for the money.”

Richardson recommends Tournament Cable Bait Springs as the quickest, most effective means to attach soft-plastic bodies to a dredge. Made from .059-inch-diameter ­stainless spring steel, they corkscrew into the lure’s head and leave a nose ring for clipping onto a snap swivel. “The springs come with or without weights,” Richardson says. “Heavy-gauge wire makes them easy to screw into baits, and extra length gives them better holding power.”