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Pikein' with Plastics

By Mark Romanack

About 20 years ago I started experimenting with soft plastics for fishing northern pike. Early on I spent most of my time dressing various jig types with a wealth of soft plastic bait sizes and designs. The early success I enjoyed catching pike on plastics convinced me to explore other ways of fishing plastics.

These days soft plastic baits have become deeply engrained in just about every pike fishing presentation in my bag of tricks. Early in the season or late, in cover or open water, casting or trolling, soft plastics are part of just about everything good in pike fishing.

TIPPING
One of the most basic and effective ways to incorporate soft plastics into pike fishing is by tipping traditional hard baits to add more action to these lures.Besides dressing a jig with soft plastics, there are countless other lures that benefit from the “tipping” process. Not only does tipping with soft plastic improve the action of many lures, it puts a scent stream in the water that further enhances the presentation. After market scents can be used on soft plastics that are not factory scent impregnated.


Weedless spoons like the famous Johnson Silver Minnow simply cry out for the extra action of an over-sized curly tail or split tail grub. Simply bend open the wire hook guard and thread the grub onto the shank of the hook so most of the hook shank is covered. Finish the rig by bending the hook guard back into position and the bait is ready to fish.

Spinnerbaits are another hard bait that accept tipping readily. I recommend tipping spinnerbaits by first threading a grub onto the single hook and then adding a trailer hook to the rig. Pike are notorious for following baits and short striking. A spinnerbait without a trailer hook will often deliver disappointing results.

Bucktail spinners are another hard bait that can be tipped with soft plastics. A number of commercially produced bucktail spinners now come with a curl tail grub poured right over the treble hook. The bucktail dressing is then added to create a bait with both the pulsating hackle and action of the curl tail plastic.

Bucktails that don’t have a curl tail grub can be customized by using a stout single hook rigged with a grub instead of the factory treble hook.

Even crankbaits can be improved with the help of soft plastics. A number of pike/musky lures now feature a hard crankbait body with a soft plastic tail. The action these lures deliver is exceptional thanks to combining a wobbling crankbait with the fluttering action of a soft plastic tail.

PIKE JIGS
It’s surprisingly difficult to find good jigs suitable for pike fishing. Most jigs simply don’t have heavy duty enough hooks for serious pike fishing. The Bait Rigs Esox Cobra Jig is my all time favorite jig for pike fishing. This jig features a swimming style head and a wide bend heavy wire hook that is perfect for fishing with a host of soft plastic baits.

The Cobra Jig comes in various sizes and can also be purchased factory rigged with living rubber legs and a plastic shad body.

ARTICULATED PLASTICS
New on the market are a whole new category of soft plastics that are part plastic and part swimbait. Savage Gear started this craze with a series of baits called the Soft 4Play series which are minnow shaped articulated soft plastic lures that can be fished in a number of rigging options.

Popular in Europe for decades, this brand is rather new to America and being imported/marketed by Okuma as a supplement to their extensive line up of rods and reels.

One of the most simple ways to fish the Soft 4Play baits is by threading them onto a jig. These baits can also be Texas rigged with a wide bend worm hook for fishing in heavy cover or simply lip hooked with the same wide bend hook for fishing in light cover.

Because these baits sink they are ideal for flipping into cover and can also be twitched in open water much like a hard body jerkbait would be fished.

The Soft 4Play has exceptional action, but it gets better. Using a specially rigged treble hook harness, these baits can be rigged as swimbaits for fishing in open water or light cover. The treble hook rides on the underside of the bait and delivers hook ups similar to a crankbait.

Last, but not least, the Soft 4Play body also fits into a clear plastic head that is rigged with treble hook. The head has a diving lip that allows the Soft 4Play body to be fished as a diving crankbait or sub-surface jerkbait.

These Soft 4Play bodies and accessories come in several sizes and 16 different color patterns. The 13, 19 and 25 centimeter baits are the most practical for pike fishing applications.

Bryan Darland with a monster
Lake Nipigon pike
On a recent filming trip to Lake Nipigon, Bryan Darland of Jay’s Sporting Goods and myself had an exceptional experience pitching and flipping the Soft 4Play baits both lip hooked and Texas rigged. When twitched and allowed to sink the dying minnow action these baits produce literally turned the pike inside out. Often we would twitch the bait on the surface until we would get a boil on the lure. If the fish missed the bait we would then let the bait slowly sink and simply lay on the bottom for 10 to 20 seconds motionless. Pike would literally swim over and put their nose right on the bait. After what seemed like an eternity these fish would suck the bait up off bottom and swim off. Game on!

A dead sucker minnow on bottom is the only other bait I have seen pike react to in this way.

SUMMING IT UP
In short, soft plastics are helping me catch pike at ice out and all the way through the open water fishing season. I’m fishing plastics in cover and also in open water. I’m trolling hard baits enhanced with plastic and also trolling articulated soft plastics equipped with unique plastic diving heads! Plastics make your favorite hard baits better and plastics fished in other new and creative ways are pioneering a whole new approach to targeting the big toothy critters. Knowing what I know now, I want to turn back the clock 25 years and start this whole soft plastic process over again! Compared to my favorite hard body pike lures, plastic has them beat in just about every category.

IMPORTANT CONTACTS
www.savage-gear.com

www.baitrigs.com

www.vicious-fishing.com

www.okumafishing.com