The rig I use for when I'm setting up my rod for soft plastics fishing is pretty simple but you need to take care with your knots when tying gel spun & braids. The diagram below shows the leader knot I use & its simple to tie as well. You just pass the end of your leader through the doubled line & wrap it 7 or 8 times around as in Step 1Ê the tighten slightly as in Step 2 then go back down 7 or 8 times around & out the same way the leader came in originally as inÊ Step 3. Draw it tight slowly remembering to wet it first. Finally pull it down very snug & then clip the ends of close. I have drawn the turns going back down in red to make it easier to see. Once the knot is finished make sure you test it by applying steady pressure & checking it does not slip or break. Another knot which I have been using lately & I am having excellent results with is the "Stren Knot" . I find it easy to tie with a little practice & very strong indeed. Follow this link to a diagram of how to tie it, Stren Knot. Poorly tied knots will slip & now is the time to find out not when you have a big fish on. Once you are satisfied your knot is OKÊ then either tie on a fly clip or tie directly to the jig head using a Uni knot. If you tie directly to the jig head I prefer to tie a 6 turn Uni knot & tighten it up almost fully but leaving a little loop so the jig head can wiggle freely. Sometimes this bit of extra action allowed by fishing the jig on a small loop can make all the difference to picky fish. Remember to check the loop hasn't pulled tight especially after a fish.
It is VERY important to put your soft plastic on the hook properly. A few extra seconds taken here can make all the difference between getting strikes & not getting strikes. The plastic bait must lay straight & not be bunched up & the hook must be central in the bait or it will interfere with the action & not swim correctly. The soft plastic bait MUST have action both as it sinks & as it is retrieved to be really successful. Some baits if not correctly rigged will still swim in a fashion on the retrieve but do nothing or just spiral as they sink. You need to have that tail working hard as they sink as a lot of bream especially will strike as it is sinking provided it looks life like. Start by measuring your soft plastic bait alongside the jig head & take note of where the hook will need to exit the body in order for it to be straight & not bunched or stretched when the front of it is sitting against the head of the jig. Most plastics have a seam running along the centre in line with the tail so this shows where the hook needs to come through to be central & line up with the tail as well. Start the hook point in the centre of the plastic & thread it round the hook making sure to keep it central & bring the hook point out through the seam & you should have your plastic then laying nice & straight & not bunched up or stretched at all like in pics below.
Picture 1- above shows how to rig a "T" tail grub like a Slider & "Paddle tails" are rigged in the same way as are shad type soft plastics Picture 2 - is how I rig single tail grubs with the tail curled away from the hook. Some prefer the tail on the same side as the hook but I have found that I have more success with them rigged this way as the action of the tail while the grub is sinking is much stronger plus they sink straight down & are less likely to spiral as they do when rigged tail up. The second reason for this is the tail kicks up more sand or mud when retrieved along the bottom & gets the fishes attention & the last reason being that the tail fouls on the hook point far less during casting when its rigged this way.
What is the "right" way to retrieve a soft plastic bait? The answer is simple, there isn't one! I take fish on many types of retrieves but I think the biggest factor that makes the difference between success & failure is the speed. Soft plastic baits work best when used SLOWLY. Using them too fast I think is the main cause of people not being successful. I can't tell you what speed to wind the handle you have to learn it. I can only suggest getting a rigged bait in the pool or in the river & watching it. You only need to move it enough to get the tail working to provide some action & that is all that's needed speed wise to get strikes, get used to that speed then add a few gentle lift & drop actions with the rod & your on your way. Keep experimenting until you get hits. Don't fall into the trap of sticking with one type of retrieve if your not getting strikes, vary it every few casts until you find something that works. A tip when your targeting flathead is give the rod a good hard rip to lift the jig well off the bottom then let it drop again & that really works with Flathead. Just remember keep varying that retrieve & try everything from a dead slow straight one through to a faster jigging type until you find what the fish respond too. In colder water try fishing the plastic very slowly & the same goes for murky water as well. Fish will often take a plastic sitting stationary on the bottom so give it a pause from time to time as well.
If you are looking for a fish to start off with I suggest the Flathead. They love eating soft plastics & are not as fussy as the bream. When you want to catch Flathead I suggest using a plastic at least 50mm (2 inch) in length. Try Squidgys in 65 & 75 mm length or 2 or 3 inch shads. If you use smaller you will be plagued by small & undersize flatties. Trust me you will get enough littlies on 75mm plastics & remember you pretty well can't go too big for flathead. I don't use any special leader when after them just my "standard" 3 kilo Platypus Platinum. Provided you keep a Flathead's head under the waters surface he won't saw you off, I've taken Flatties to 90cm on 2 kilo leaders & had no problems at all.
Fish any of the normal areas you would for flathead, along the edges of channels, drop-offs & around weed beds on sandbanks. I generally like to fish the falling tide. Remember flathead generally face into the current so its important to retrieve your lure in the same direction the current is running rather than against it. Try working the jig over the top of weeds as well as along the edges. Use the smallest jig head that will get to the bottom under the conditions. I use a pretty active retrieve most of the time when I'm targeting flathead & mix that up with the odd dead slow straight retrieve. I jig the soft plastic back by starting off with the rod horizontal & sharply lifting it to about 60 degrees the lowering the rod tip taking in slack while I do with the reel. Every few cast I will just retrieve the jig slowly without applying any type of action at all. Mix it up a bit until you find what's working on the day. I don't think flathead are as particular & fussy about the type of retrieve & lure colour as bream but you still need to be putting your soft plastic down there where the flathead lives. The bite is generally a hard bump or 2 then you feel the fishes weight on the end. Strike as soon as you feel the fishes weight & you shouldn't miss too many. This is a starting point for catching flathead on soft plastics & good sport is not restricted to boat fishing either I do most of my flathead fishing land based. I recommend it for a bit of fun & its a good way of getting experience before heading off after bream.
A real challenge on soft plastics. I suggest deciding what type of area you will be fishing for bream before choosing leaders & lures. If you will be fishing open flats & weed beds you wouldn't need to go heavier than 2 kilo for a leader & probably a T tail or paddle tail grub would be a good starting point. Use the lightest leader possible & you'll get more hits than with a heavier leader. If you will be fishing under wharves & around structure the leader needs to suit the type of structure. You may need to go up as high as 5 kilos or around oysters even more. I rarely go above 4 kilo myself as I think if the country is bad enough you are going to get cut off with almost any leader be it 4 kilo or 10 kilo & using heavy leaders drops your strike rate dramatically. I prefer to use single tail grubs when I'm doing this sort of fishing so I put it into or under the structure & let it sink with its tail wiggling away until it hits bottom then start a soft jigging retrieve. I prefer to use the Flouro green colored Fireline for this type of fishing as it is easier to see on the surface of the water so you can watch the line for signs of a bite.
When you are on sand flats any type of structure such as weed beds , channels , logs or rocks are the places to start fishing for bream. A tip here is that if you see stingrays feeding & stirring up the bottom cast around them as well because bream often hang around them grabbing any food like prawns or nippers that the rays stir up. I look for bream to begin with on the up current side of any weed beds or other structure. I generally use T or Paddle tail grubs for this type of fishing withÊ a 1/16ozÊ jig head. If you see bream feeding try not to cast too close to them as the splash of the jig may spook them so can the shadow of the line. Holding the rod tip under water helps stop the shadow. If the bream aren't interested in your offering downsizing the plastic may help. This can be done by cutting the first 2 or 3 segments from it or use a 1" Slider or similar. Changing to a 1/32 oz head can also help. If that fails you can try different colours or types of plastics until you get a strike. If you see a bream eat the jig strike immediately don't wait to feel the take as they will often pick up the plastic then spit it out quickly. I generally use a very gentle lift & drop type of retrieve for bream on the flats. I fish the soft plastic slowly & hold the rod just above the horizontal then lift it a couple inches then lower it taking in the slack. Again a dead slow straight retrieve will take fish at times. No matter which type of retrieve I use I make all movements on the jig slow & gentle as a sharp lift can often spook a bream that's following. A good pair of sunglasses is essential & watch the area to the side & behind your jig for fish. I have more success on flats drifting or motoring on my electric motor than wading as bream are very sensitive to movement in the water around them. Fishing bream around sand flats can be a lot of fun it can also be very frustrating but seeing a big bream pick up & plastic in shallow water & take off is worth it. I generally use 4 pound Fireline around the flats as long distance casting is normally needed to reach fish around structure before they spook. I use medium drag setting on the reel as mostly the bream just run around & tire themselves & there is not too much about for them to bury you in or cut you off on.
Fishing around wharves & snags is a whole different ball game to flats fishing. Depending on the structure you are fishing heavier leaders are normally the case & a very firmly set drag. Probably the the most critical part of this type of fishing other than soft plastic selection is casting accuracy. If your fishing wharves you need to be able to put that little jig right in under the wharf or right alongside a pontoon. Same thing with tree type snags you need to be able to put a cast in & get that jig right in amongst it where the bream are. Sure you get the odd hit being near it but getting the jig right in where the bream normally feed will result in far more strikes. Sure you will get snagged up a few times & lose jigs but if your not getting snagged a bit you are not getting the jig in the right spot. I practice my casting a fair bit when I am not actually fishing. I toss jigs at a target floating in my pool. It is easy to find somewhere to practice whether its on the water , in your pool or at the local park but it is time very well spent that will increase your catch. Do it!
The current where I am fishing governs the weight of the jig head. If I can I prefer to use a 1/32 oz head so the jig sinks very slowly fluttering on the way down & I prefer to use single tail grubs. This is the time it pays to really be watching the line & if you see the line move at all then strike as a bream will often pick the jig up while it is sinking. If I am fishing pontoons I cast up current & let the jig be pushed underneath it where the bream normally are. A tip here is to close your bail the second the lure touches the water either manually or by winding the handle & get most of the slack out of the line quickly. Bream will often hit a lure a split second after it lands & if your not ready you will miss a lot of fish. The first cast or 2 I let the jig sink naturally & then hop it along the bottom with gentle lifts until its back at the boat. If I don't have any strikes I then try a few gentle lifts as the jig sinks or try a slow straight mid water retrieve. Like the other forms of fishing try variations & don't get stuck in a routine that's not working. Vary types & colours of soft plastics until you start getting hits but remember if its not getting in where the bream are it will not get hits. The take can vary from a twitch on the line as it sinks to a gentle bump & from that to a a crashing hit ripping line of the reel. My best advice is strike at anything unusual & get stuck into the fish or he'll have you round a pylon quick as a flash. You can relax a little once you get him out & away from the structure but be wary of any last minute lunges. Heavy drag is important in this type of fishing.
Fishing snags like trees I generally start fishing up current of them with the same types of weights & plastics as fishing man made structure. The only difference really is I start by fishing about 5 meters up current then slowly cast my jigs closer & closer till I'm fishing it in amongst the snag itself. The reason for this is I have often observed bream sitting well up current from natural snags far further up current than they tend to do on man made structure. Everything else is done the same as fishing man made structure. Watch the line , strike quickly then get stuck into the fish before they get a chance to wrap you round a branch. At the time of writing this my top 3 soft plastics for this type of fishing would be Berkley Power Bait 2 inch grub in Smoke / Glitter followed by the same brand & size in Pumpkinseed colour then the Atomic fat grub in 2 inch in the amber colour.
To wrap this article up I would like to say don't be afraid to experiment with different types & colours of soft plastic baits. New ones are coming out on the market all the time & they will all take fish at some stage. I have only mentioned a few of the styles available. It can be a bit frustrating to start with but the effort of learning to fish soft plastics is well spent & has resulted in many enjoyable sessions for me. Give the plastics a go its well worth it.