The idea of using soft plastics has been a battle of stepping away from tradition and into the next generation. The issue often boils down to whether you have success your first few times with plastics, or not. Initial failure does not bode well in the confidence department. This makes it all the harder the next time you want to try them.
To ease the burden of putting on a Power Minnow instead of a real minnow, start by understanding the best times of year to use plastics. Plastics do work most of the year, but there are peak times to maximize success.
Spring — Anytime you’re pitching jigs or vertical jigging in spring, you could likely be using plastics with success. If pitching jigs into mudlines, plastics often outfish livebait. In turbulence, plastics seem to have better “fish calling” qualities than livebaits. They thump louder, vibrate more and emit scent.
When fishing tailraces or high-current areas, plastics also shine. The strong currents add to their thump and vibration.
Early Summer — When weedlines first begin to form true edges along flats and points, plastics simply fish better than a jig and minnow. You needn’t worry about the bait getting ripped off. If you use no-stretch FireLine, you can fish virtually weedless, ripping the jig free nearly every time it snags in the growth. Casting plastics on jigheads into and along the edges of weedlines can be a phenomenal bite. This is especially true the first two weeks in June in the northern part of the country. It’s often the best technique you can apply at this time of year.
Summer — Other than the weed bite, this is perhaps the most challenging time of the year to fish plastics, especially when walleyes are set up on deep structures or flats where livebait rigging is the main technique. Berkley’s new Gulp! Worms work well in this situation, especially for fishing a spinner rig or in areas where the perch and other panfish are constantly nibbling at your crawler. With the Gulp! you do not have to keep checking your bait — it’ll always be there!
Plastics also do well this time of year when casting cranks at night for walleyes using shallow flats or points. Casting and retrieving 5-inch Power Pogies or the 5-inch Jerk Shads can produce big walleyes at night.
Fall — Fall is a productive time to use plastics, if not a prime time. If you’re fishing a river or reservoir with mudlines, casting plastics into them will still produce for you, even in cold water. And, of course, there’s still the night pattern in the shallows.
Winter — Winter is a great time to fish plastic rib worms for river walleyes. Lindy’s new Munchies 4-inch worm or Berkley 4-inch Pulse worms are great for either drift-jigging with the current or pitching jigs to wing dams and into eddies. As an added bonus, there’s no more reaching into the minnow bucket in the middle of winter.
Perhaps the hardest element in using plastics is trusting them. It’s so easy to simply go back to using minnows. You must learn to believe that plastics work. They do. I use them almost religiously for walleyes. You would not hear so many people and pros talking about them if they didn’t work.
Understanding the times of year and associated patterns for using plastics will increase your catch success. This helps build confidence and, in return, you’ll add a very successful technique to your arsenal.