Like GCO Guide John Shutte (atcisme), who commented on the Heddon Tiny Torpedo article about his love of soft plastics, I too prefer them. The crankbaits we’ve talked about so far have their place in the water on days where the fish are spread out and out need a little more pizzazz to get their attention, but nothing gets a smallmouth to strike like a well worked soft plastic when you know where the fish are hanging. Such as the current situation in our area, when the water is cold and the fish aren’t moving as much; we know they’re going to be in deeper water hanging below the thermocline and keeping the lure low and slow is the name of the game.
Now, I’ve tried a lot of different brands of soft plastics out there and had great success with them on the smallies, and one in particular I used to use because they used a stiffer salt water formulation as the plastics lasted longer and it was economical. All of the different brands of soft plastics out there had on trait in common though; short strikes. Anyone who fishes soft plastics has experienced bringing a fish up to the boat only to watch it open it’s mouth and drop right off because they struck short and never sucked the bait all the way in to get hooked.
My theory on why this happens a lot with some soft plastics is rather scientific; smallmouth bass, in fact all black bass, have tiny teeth in their lips and you also may not know it, but they have taste buds there too. When a fish grabs a soft plastic, they are tasting it as well as feeling it. If the salt content is within the range of what they identify as food and the texture seems right, they suck the bait into their mouths and proceed to the next stage of the process inside of the mouth where the food gets further analyzed and either A: spit out, or B: swallowed. Now, this process will get thrown to the side altogether if the fish is fooled from the start and simply sucks the bait in, confident that it is what it appears to be.
The thing that seems to be happening with a short strike is that the fish isn’t immediately convinced that what it has is actually food, but since it’s trying to escape, it holds on to it to the bitter end and unless you get lucky, they end up letting go of it and you have recorded a miss.
For a fishing guide, the most frustrating thing in the world is a short strike. No matter what you tell your client, they tend to internalize the miss as their fault and often will get overly aggressive in their hook set and compound the problem. If you go in the reverse and wait to set the hook, the fish will either let go, or possibly suck the bait all the way into the gullet and then you have them gut hooked. Over the years, I’ve tried numerous methods to get around this, from scent attractants (more on that nefarious subject in a future post) to adding a trailer hook to the bait, which effectively kills the action.
Enter River Rock Custom Baits. I actually stumbled across them accidentally when there was a problem email address in my newsletter recipient list, and I ended up talking to the owner, Robert Shue and the conversation with him let me to try his baits. Robert talked a big game, telling me how his plastic formulation was tested time and again by a Bass Pro Shops Fishermen to zero in on just the right formulation for the softness of the plastic and the salt content, etc. As I was talking to him though, I became hopeful, because it occurred to me that all the claims in the world wouldn’t get him more than one shot at anyone’s tackle box if the claims were unfounded. That is no road to success.
SO…long story short, I tried them. My wife Kelly decided that she was going to guide ME for a change and let me fish the whole day. Gotta love a woman that loves you that much! We headed on down to my favorite stretch on the New and before we even put on, I resigned myself to the likely chance of getting skunked; we were post frontal, the water just didn’t look good and the wildlife was dead quiet. It would be a tough day. Never one to back down from a challenge, I tied on a River Rock 3″ tube in watermelon w/Black, much like this one. I could tell by the feel of it that the plastic is indeed softer and therefore less durable than the other major brands I’ve tried, but if it could net me one fish on a tough day, I’d be grateful.
Now, days like the one I’m speaking of, you can’t expect much, and I never expect anything right off the bat on this stretch on a tough day. The water on my favorite stretch starts out good and gets better the farther down that you go. Not getting anything in the first half mile is never shocking to me, and getting a strike right away is a good sign. Which is why I was impressed that we nailed a little smallie in the first few casts- the first half mile actually netted 3- 13″to 14″ smallies on a day that I was sure that anything short of dynamite would be futile. The best part is that there were very few short strikes over all; we boated 14 fish through out that ‘tough’ day with very few short strikes. I am convinced that the balance between soft and tough gives these baits a presentation that the fish can’t resist! Other models I tried that day were the Twitchy Minnow, Jakes Craw and the Standard Stick and all of them brought success. As a matter of fact, at the end of the run, I let Kelly fish some and she caught two fish at the very end of the run, where I have never had anything hit before!
As far as presentation goes, I have had success with both weighted and unweighted hooks, and the best success from the tube and craw come from a very slow presentation with a slight lift of the rod tip every so often to imitate a crawdad on the bottom. The stick and the minnow worked out best with a short slash and pause to get the fishes ire up.
Give them a try and let me know what you think!
Tight lines and God Bless,