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Soft Plastics in the Spread

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

June 14, 2011
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Trolling soft plastics

Trolling soft plastics

Capt. Antonio Amaral

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?’”

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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.”

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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.

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“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.”

Whether you adorn a dredge with sleek ballyhoo imitations or deep-bodied shad depends on personal preference. “I don’t know of any situation where a ’hoo dredge is more effective than a shad dredge or vice versa,” Richardson says. “A school of bait is a school of bait. A hungry predator won’t shy away from either if it feels there’s a free meal waiting.”

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Warning: Paddle-tail models like shad from Action Plastics (www.action-plastics.com) or Mann’s Mannhaden (www.mannsbait.com) can work so enthusiastically at trolling speed that their tails wag right off! To prevent caudal amputations, Richardson modifies baits by cutting an upside-down V notch in the tails. He says this minor surgery relieves stress on tails while still allowing them to work properly, and reduces a dredge’s overall drag.

Convincing Counterfeits
Offshore bottomfishermen know the rewards of embellishing jig heads with plastic bodies. The B2 Squid (www.b2squid.com) rates as a favorite among halibut anglers, while the grouper troop often uses oversize shad. Action Plastics wins the shadzilla award for its monstrous 15-inch Shad Minnow.

Billfishermen will find synthetic versions of the old standby in Mold Craft’s Tuff Hoo and Mann’s Ultimate Hoo (in straight- and paddle-tail models). Those who subscribe to the bigger-bait/bigger-fish theory can ramp up to a Mold Craft Tuff Mac Mackerel (13 inches) or Carolina Lures Yummee Tuna (14½ inches).

Perhaps the most realistic baitfish imitations make up the Live Series from Williamson (www.williamsonlures.com). Introduced in 2005 with six models, the series now has 11, including mock ballyhoo, bluefish, little tunny, mackerel, mullet, ribbonfish and squid. A patented design gives these lures molded-in wings that keep them running true at speeds up to 10 knots, depending on the model.

“When using Williamson Live Series lures, you might have to drop back to a finicky sailfish to give it time to take the bait and turn for a good hook-set,” says David James, Rapala field-promotions and media-relations manager. “Otherwise, a tag-line or flat-line clip will do.”

The rising cost and uncertain availability of live bait make offshore plastics an attractive alternative, especially since artificials won’t wash out after a few hours of trolling. With the exception of shads, all models mentioned feature slots for hooks, leaders and/or weights, so rigging is a no-mess breeze.

McKeral points out that he often trolls his fake flyers under kites, where the skipping lures withstand beatings that would shred natural baits. “There are other advantages,” he says. “We get testimonials from fishermen who have caught as many as a dozen large yellowfin on one Yummee Fly’N Fish. You can carry them in your luggage and they won’t spoil. I’ve kept some of my original prototypes in a warehouse since the 1990s, and they haven’t deteriorated. Try that with a natural!”

Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Soft plastics like this Yummee Fly’N Fish are gaining popularity among offshore anglers for use as teasers and hook baits because they’re more convenient (easy to store and transport) and durable (won’t wash out or decompose) than natural bait. Oh, and they catch fish, too. Here’s a look at what you can find in tackle shops.
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Action Plastics / Ballyshad
Length: 8 inches
Colors: Chartreuse glitter, clear/silver glitter, glow, hot pink glitter, Japanese red, pearl, silk chartreuse, white, yellow
Uses: Dredge, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $20.50 (5 pack); $75.80 (20 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Action Plastics / Shad Minnow
Length: 12 inches
Colors: Chartreuse glitter, clear/mylar, glow, Japanese red, pearl, pearl glow, silk chartreuse, white, yellow
Uses: Dredge; jig
MSRP: $15.80 (3 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Action Plastics / Shad Minnow
Length: 15 inches
Colors: Chartreuse glitter, clear/mylar, gold pearl, Japanese red, pearl, silk chartreuse, white
Uses: Dredge; jig
MSRP: $5.65 each
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: B2 Squid / U9
Length: 9 inches
Colors: Chartreuse, clear/blue flake, fluorescent orange, motor oil, pearl, pink/silver flake, purple/ blue flake, rootbeer, triple glow, triple glow green, triple glow pink, triple glow/red flake, UV purple haze
Uses: Daisy chain, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $19.95 (5 pack); $89.25 (25 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: C & K / Shad
Length: 12 inches
Colors: Green glitter, pearl, yellow
Uses: Dredge; jig
MSRP: $2.49 each
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Carolina Lures / Original Yummee Fly’N Fish
Length: 9 inches
Colors: Blue/crystal, blue/floating, blue/silver
Uses: Daisy chain, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $15.99 (each); $99.99 (5-fish daisy chain)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Carolina Lures / Swimming Yummee Fly’N Fish
Length: 9 inches
Colors: Blue/crystal, blue/floating, blue/silver
Uses: Dredge, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $15.99 (each); $79.99 (5 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Carolina Lures / Mini Yummee Fly’R
Length: 4 inches
Colors: Blue/crystal, blue/silver
Uses: Daisy chain, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $4.99 (2 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Carolina Lures / 5 Mini Yummee Fly’R Daisy Chain
Colors: Blue/crystal, blue/silver
Uses: Teaser, ahead of hook bait
MSRP: $21.99
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

vManufacturer / Model:** Carolina Lures / Yummee Delta Wing Flyer
Length: 7 inches
Colors: Blue/crystal, blue/silver
Uses: Daisy chain, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $15.99 (2 pack); $39.99 (4-fish chain)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Carolina Lures / Yummee Bird
Length: 7 inches
Colors: Blue/crystal, blue/floating, blue/silver
Uses: Daisy chain, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $15.99 (2 pack); $19.99 (2 pack, rigged); $39.99 (4-bird chain)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Carolina Lures / Yummee Tuna
Length: 14.5 inches
Colors: Blue/crystal, yellowfin
Uses: Hook bait, teaser
MSRP: $45.99 (each); $54.99 (rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Carolina Lures / Yummee Tuna Chasin’ Fly’Rs
Uses: Hook bait, teaser
MSRP: $59.99
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Mann’s / Mannhaden
Length: 8 and 11 inches
Colors: bleeding bunker, chartreuse MF/black, natural, pearl/blue
Uses: Dredge, jig
MSRP: $121.99 (8-inch, 50 pack); $98.79 (11-inch, 20 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Mann’s / Ultimate Hoo (paddle tail)
Length:10 inches
Colors: Pearl/black, pearl/blue, pearl/chartreuse, pearl/green, pearl/pink, pearl/purple
Uses: Dredge, spreader bar
MSRP: $11.99 (4 pack); $51.99 (20 pack); $152.79 (60 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Mann’s / Ultimate Hoo II (straight tail)
Length: 10 inches
Colors: Pearl/black, pearl/blue, nightglow/black, nightglow/blue
Uses: Dredge, spreader bar
MSRP: $152.79 (60 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Mold Craft / Squirt Squid
Length: 6, 9, 12 and 16inches
Colors: Amber metal/flake, blue metal/flake, chartreuse, clear, clear mylar, green metal/flake, golden, hot pink, pearl white, pink glow, purple metal/flake, smoke metal/flake, super glow, syka
Uses: Daisy chain, hook bait, spreader bar
MSRP: $2.59 (6-inch), $4.49 (9-inch), $9.99 (12-inch), $25 (16-inch)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Mold Craft / Tuff Hoo
Length: 8 inches
Colors: Blue/glow, blue/silver, blue/white, green/glow, green /silver, green /white, pink/white, purple/silver
Uses: Dredge, hook bait, spreader bar
Trolling speed: 2 to 12 knots
MSRP: $21.99 (5 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Mold Craft / Tuff Mac
Length: 13 inches
Colors: Blue/silver, blue/white, purple/silver
Uses: Hook bait, teaser
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Tactical Tackle / Dancin’ Dolphin
Length: 15 inches
Colors: Pearl, pink, green
Uses: Hook bait, teaser
Trolling speed: 2 to 10 knots
Rigged: 12-foot, 400-pound Momoi mono leader; single Mustad 7731 hook
MSRP: $59.95 (unrigged); $99.99 (rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Tactical Tackle / Dancin’ Dolphin Triple Teaser
Colors: Pearl, pink, green
Uses: Teaser
Trolling speed: 2 to 10 knots
Rigged: 6-foot, 400-pound Momoi mono leader and Sampo swivel ahead of each lure
MSRP: $159.95
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Tactical Tackle / Holy Mackerel
Length: 15 inches
Colors: Blue bandit, dark vader, don juan, pink rebel
Uses: Hook bait, teaser
Trolling speed: 2 to 10 knots
Rigged: 12-foot, 400-pound Momoi mono leader; single Mustad 7731 hook; or wire cable leader/treble stinger
MSRP: $39.95 (each, unrigged); $99.95 (pack of one rigged and two spare tails)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Ballyhoo
Length: 9.5 inches
Colors: Black, blue
Uses: Hook bait
Trolling speed: 2 to 8 knots
Rigged: 6 feet of 100-pound mono, single J or circle hook
MSRP: $14.99 (pack of one rigged and two unrigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Bluefish
Length: 10 inches
Colors: Natural
Uses: Hook bait
Trolling speed: Up to 10 knots
Rigged: 10 feet of 300-pound mono, VMC hook
MSRP: $19.99 (each, rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Bunker
Length: 10 inches
Colors: Black back, moss back
Uses: Hook bait
Rigged: 6 feet of 200-pound mono, VMC hook
MSRP: $21.99 (each, rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Dredge Mackerel
Length: 12 inches
Colors: Black back
Uses: Dredge, spreader bar
MSRP: $22.49 (3 pack)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Little Tunny
Length: 11 and 14 inches
Colors: Bonito, skipjack
Uses: Hook bait
Trolling speed: 2 to 7 knots
Rigged: 10 feet of 400-pound mono, VMC hook (11-inch); 12 feet of 500-pound mono, VMC hook (14-inch)
MSRP: $24.99 (11-inch, rigged); $31.99 (14-inch, rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Mackerel
Length: 7 and 10 inches
Colors: Blue, green
Uses: Hook bait
Trolling speed: 6 knots (7-inch); 9 knots (10-inch)
Rigged: 5 feet of 130-pound mono, VMC hook (7-inch); 10 feet of 300-pound mono, VMC hook (10-inch)
MSRP: $11.99 (7-inch, pack of two rigged); $19.99 (10-inch, rigged, each)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Ribbonfish
Length: 18 inches
Colors: Black, blue, natural
Uses: Hook bait
Trolling speed: 2 to 7 knots
Rigged: Stainless-steel cable, single nose hook, three 4X strong trebles in body
MSRP: $22.99 (pack of two rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Spanish Mackerel
Length: 12 inches
Colors: Natural
Uses: Hook bait
Trolling speed: Up to 9 knots
Rigged: 6 feet of 300-pound mono, size 11/0 VMC hook
MSRP: $24.99 (each, rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Split Tail Mullet
Length: 9 inches
Colors: Blue, natural
Uses: Hook bait
Trolling speed: 2 to 7 knots
Rigged: 5 feet of 200-pound mono, size 9/0 VMC hook
MSRP: $14.99 (pack of two rigged)
Plastic Fintastics

Plastic Fintastics

Manufacturer / Model: Williamson / Live Squid
Length: 9 inches
Colors: Natural, pink/blue dots
Uses: Hook bait, spreader bar
Rigged: 6 feet of 200-pound mono, size 8/0 VMC hook
MSRP: $15.99 (pack of one rigged and two unrigged)
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