How to: Fishing with Big Softbaits

By Mathew HewetsonNZ Fishing World
How to: Fishing with Big Softbaits

Softbaiting is one of my favourite methods to catch snapper, I always take my softbait rig on every fishing trip that embark on. It is such an effective method and fun way to fish for snapper.

Over the years of trying different softbait sizes, colours and brands I have found a number of things that improve my catch rate. Firstly though, with softbaiting there are six key aspects you need to consider to ensure consistent success.

These are: the reel, rod, braid, fluorocarbon leader, jig head and finally the softbait lure.

For the softbait to work at its best you need the other five pieces of tackle doing their bit to give you the result – catching that big snapper.  We have covered a lot of the tackle used in softbaiting over previous issues, but I will briefly summarise what to use.

The six elements of softbaiting


You need a small reel that can be easily cast, for this I always use a size 4000 spin or fixed spool reel.  These types of reel are just so simple to cast. This is important as you sometimes need to cast long distances ahead of the boat when drifting to ensure your softbait reaches the bottom to give you enough time to work the lure before the boat drifts past it.


A matching spin rod that is between 6’-8’ft (1.8m – 2.4m) that is lightweight, strong and that has good grips.  You will be casting a lot so it needs to be comfortable to use over the day.  I use a two-piece 7’ft (2.1m) rod as it is much easier to transport around. The soft tips on these light rods can easily be broken and usually when in transit and not when fishing.


Using braid is critical to success with softbaits.  Braided line doesn’t stretch like monofilament and you need to strike quickly when bitten to sink the hook.  I would recommend using 6lb-10lb (3-5kg) braid which has served me well.


You need a minimum of 20lb (9kg) leader tied to the braid (use an Albright Knot) that is about 6’-8’ft (1.8m – 2.4m) in length which then secures the jighead.  This helps prevent the snapper from biting through the line and from cutting the braid off in kelp or other foul.  Fluorocarbon line becomes much harder to see when in the water so it can help your hook-ups if fish are wary.


The jighead you select needs to be heavy enough to reach the bottom quickly and give you ample time to work the softbait along the bottom.  When casting into the shallow rocks around white water you only need a light head, under ½ ounce as this will help prevent snagging.  When in deeper water over 20m I would use over ½ ounce up to 2 ounces for when the current is moving faster.


Probably the most commonly used softbait when people start out would be the 5” Jerk Shad.  They are still a great lure and I use them especially when shallow water softbaiting (under 20m).  As I often fish the Kaipara Graveyard with its very strong currents of up to 7 knots you need a big jighead matched to a larger softbait.  I only take 6” or longer softbaits to fish in 20m-40m of water.  The larger jigheads are also needed when fishing here, so I use 1oz to 2oz sizes when the currently really picks up.

Colour and style choices

I have used a lot of different kinds of softbaits but for consistent success on big snapper I have found the Berkley Gulps to be the best performer.  They simply produce a larger range of softbait styles and colours that give you a good selection to choose from.  I favour their 6” and 7” Jerk Shad range in colours Lime Tiger, New Penny, Camo and Neon Pepper.  In the murky waters of the Kaipara these larger softbaits have produced fish in the double figures time and again.  I have often taken people fishing here for the first time and they usually catch their biggest PB snapper on one of these baits.

The larger jerk shads work well but Berkley’s other styles of softbaits are also effective and I use them alot.  I have had some great days using the Squid Vicious, particularly in New Penny colour. 

The snapper seem to love this softbait and I have experienced times when I have caught 4-5 fish in a row up to 16lb (7.5kg) using the same Squid Vicious before I had to replace it.  With its tentacles hanging out it does provide a lot of moving parts which the fish must notice as it moves through the water.  These of course will get bitten off at times, but then they are inducing strikes which is what you want.

Berkley’s Belly Strips are also a new longer softbait that has fished very well for me in the deeper water this year.  They seem to be a more durable bait that can take a bit more abuse from the snapper’s sharp teeth before you need to replace them. 

The Fire Tiger and Curried Chicken colours have worked well as these are all 7” inch sized baits and I will always take a tub or two of them when I head out onto the Kaipara.  The Nemesis is another bigger softbait option to consider with a longer tail that looks great moving through the water.


With all softbait fishing they need to be on or near the bottom to catch snapper to consistently produce fish.  As you fish with them drifting in the boat you always need to cast ahead of the boat as it drifts along.  This will ensure the jighead reaches the bottom and you then work the lure along the seabed until the boat catches up and you drift over it. 

You can let more line out as you move past to keep in touch with the bottom but when there is too much line angle with the lure out the back you need to retrieve and cast out again.

With any kind of fishing style, time on the water simply can’t be beaten and you need to get out there to regularly fish to see what works for you.  Make sure you take different sizes, colours and styles and you will build a sound knowledge on what works best.  Fishing with larger softbaits in deeper water has produced bigger snapper for me and they are consistent achievers in my tackle box. 

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