Howling reels and big smiles are two things that soft bait fishermen get to enjoy on a regular basis. Soft baiting was one of the first real game changing lure technique to revolutionise fishing in New Zealand, particularly if you are chasing snapper. The advent of braid line, and powerful yet comparatively small thread line spinning reels, made this method of fishing not only great fun, but deadly in pretty much any water up top 40 metres. Fished from kayaks or small boats right in close, these lures have proven effective on just about everything from john dory, kingfish, cod, kahawai, to absolutely monster snapper. From a larger boat they are also very easy to fish the highly productive 15 – 40 metre water band.
Jason Kemp with a nice snapper snared on the Catch Stangaz assist hook
Due to the fact they are fished on spinning gear, the lures can either be cast a good distance and fished back towards the boat, or can be dragged along the seabed.
Whatever your application, soft baiting is here to stay and will continue to account for some awesome fish, and will provide some real excitement on light gear.
So, what gear is most important for this style of fishing?
Regardless of what rod and reel setup you are using, there’s only two things that matter at the business end of the line.
The business end
Your jig head and soft bait. These are the only thing the fish will see, and their shape, weight, colour and action will determine whether they get eaten or not.
Next, the hook size and strength will be a factor in hooking up and holding on to that fish, and this will be a determining factor when choosing a jig head to suit your location and underwater terrain.
Choosing a jig head
Rule number 1: You want to use the lightest jig head you can get away with to get your bait to the bottom and to stay in touch with it.
There’s now a significant range of good jig heads on the market. In fact, so many sizes, patterns and designs you might wonder where to begin?
As a generalisation, the best do – everything size is a ½ oz (14gram) head with a 2/0 or 3/0 hook designed to fish 4-5 inch jerk shads, paddle tails and grubs, so start here and have a couple of lighter patterns to try as you get more accustomed to the soft bait technique.
Here are the main factors that will determine the best hook pattern, size, weight and maybe even colours.
Are you fishing over sand or mud?
If yes, then you can fish a lighter gauge hook, as you have the luxury of playing a fish patiently without having to put much stress on the hook. Finer hooks are less obvious, penetrate more easily when using light gear, and don’t interfere with the lures action as much as heavy ones. Use them if you can get away with it and your hook up rate will improve.
Their downside. Of course they are not as strong so big fish can munch them out of shape or they can straighten under too much pressure. Don’t fish these over foul where you need to put a lot of hurt on a decent fish.
How deep are you fishing?
Kayaks and soft baits go hand in hand
If you are fishing shallow such as 1 – 15 metres, likely over weeds or rocks, or casting into or over wash, use a light ¼ oz – 3/8 oz jig head (7 – 10 grams). A bigger more buoyant soft bait body also helps. Choose a model with a strong gauge hook.
You can’t cast as far, but this allows the soft bait to flutter and work around in the water column for longer, and draw out predators, rather than plunging to the bottom and getting buried in the foul. A strong hook and heavier gear will allow you to put a lot of pressure on a fish in order to turn its head. Try and get right over the top of a good fish with the boat as fast as possible to keep the line vertical and avoid being wrapped around obstacles on the seafloor. This is an area where kayaks have a massive advantage as they naturally pull over a good fish instantly.
What weight (diameter) line are you using?
Remember such a light lure will be easily affected by drag and current on your line. Very good lines are extremely fine and exhibit little drag even down to 40 or 50 metres with a bit of current. If you are using a cheaper or thicker diameter braid, you may be forced to fish a bigger 5/8ths oz (18gram) jig head to compensate.
What hook shank length to choose?
Most brands have moved towards a short to very short hook shank.
This puts the hook closer to the head just like hooking up a live bait. It does, however, occasionally leave you with the body bitten off like a live bait.
However, the big up side is that a short shank allows the soft bait body a lot more natural movement and makes the lure work better, act more natural and attract more strikes.
If you are using long shanked hooks, choose a longer 6” plus soft bait.
Here’s the low down on the leading brands in the market...
From the same company that produce GULP soft bait bodies. Leader of the market and probably responsible for more fish on soft baits than any other jig heads available simply because of time in the market and solid product.
Berkley have the biggest range of sizes and options from tiny mackerel or freshwater hooks to monster bombers and everything in between.
They feature two types of hook, both high quality Japanese Owner brand. A finer gauge dark brown coated hook, and a silver super strong forged hook. Both are strong and hold their point well. The brown ones tend to rust quickly after exposure to saltwater.
There are two patterns available, the original shape pictured, and a new shape with a rounded head and a keel which helps protect the soft bait when bouncing along the bottom.
You can’t go wrong with the right Berkley head. So what’s the downside?
Not much. Some hook shanks are way too long for mine, and can destroy the tail action, so pick a shorter shank model. No colour, flash, or UV as are featured on some newer brands, so you are relying on the soft bait body to do all the talking.
Very good heads and available pretty much everywhere.
Brand new to the market the Catch Stingaz have been working well, and offer a few unique properties.
They are a tenya style jig, meaning they erect or stand up the hook when fished along the bottom, imitating a feeding baitfish.
They are available in a reasonable range of head sizes with 2/0 – 3/0 hooks, and feature a couple of colour options with UV glow and 3D eyes. Good for fishing deeper or at change of light.
It is believed by some, that baitfish eyes are a key strike indicator. Whether this is true or not, it certainly does not hurt to have them as on most other types of lure everywhere else from marlin lures to stick baits.
A unique feature is a second anchor point for attaching a ‘stinger’ assist hook to snare those tentative tail biters.
Downsides? Chinese hooks are solid and a good size, but reasonably soft for their bulk, and can blunt off and bend more than expensive Japanese ones. Eyes bite off fairly easily.
Good heads available at many tackle stores. Get these if the Stinger hook is appealing. It does catch fish that missed the main hook.
Catch also produce a range of matching soft bait bodies called Livies.
What is it with fishing brands wanting to change the S to a Z?
Anyhow, these are a very good jig head for most applications, but really shine when you want to fish a lighter gauge hook, and a lighter weight head.
They are available in a wide range of weights and hook sizes at GoFish Tackle co https://www.gofish.co.nz/
These jig heads are made on Japanese Gamakatsu jig heads and are very strong for their fine profile.
The hooks are a good length, and also hold their point well, even after several fish.
A top jig head for over the sand and their flat profile gives a nice swimming action.
They hook up exceptionally well even on the lightest gear.
No colour or eyes etc.
Great jig heads, love them, but consider using another model if you need to go beast mode and haul on big snapper in the rough.
Boutique jig heads (disclaimer coming) imported by the owner of NZ Fishing World several years ago when looking for the jig head that had everything.
Designed to offer only the common sizes 3/8 oz to 5/8 0z (10 – 18 grams) in 2/0 and 3/0 only, in a range of colours.
The heads have a holographic foil that offers a lot of flash, UV eyes, and feature a hook produced in China for the Japanese market that is very sharp and almost impossible to bend.
These have accounted for many good fish over the years including multiple 20lb snapper.
Available from the soft bait experts at YEEHAA FISHING https://yeehaa.co.nz/
Downsides. Early models had eyes that chewed off fairly easily, and hook points so sharp they often blunted off after a few fish and needed changing. Second generation models addressed this and in ½ oz 14 gram 3/0 are hard to beat.
Although they look stainless, the hooks are not, and will rust after use (and subsequently fall out of fishes mouths if broken off)
A great jig head if you want something a bit flash that is definitely a proven fish catcher.
Ocean Angler Lightbulbs
Designed and imported by the same company that brings in Z Man soft bait bodies.
Light bulbs are a sound design with a very short shank hook and are available in a solid range of sizes.
Although you can’t see it with the naked eye, there is a printed eye on the lure in UV paint.
For a 3/0, the hooks are a wide gape, and are definitely on the industrial side.
You might miss the odd hookup, but they are at least strong.
There you go. Plenty of room for personal preference here, but they are all great options as long as you have them over the side.