Soft plastics from rocks
12 February 2018
SP - Not a rare single malt but most definitely a refined and productive distraction.
Fishing soft plastics (SP’s) from the shore is not a new form of angling. It is one less explored and less publicized than other forms of rock or soft plastic fishing (or soft baiting as it sometimes known), at least here in NZ. It is however an incredibly rewarding form of fishing that is active, challenging and best of all productive.
Our day started off in typical land based style, up before 5am to begin the journey to spot x. After a couple of hours driving, boating and more than just a bit of clambering, slipping, wading and trudging we were finally rewarded by the sight of a great looking piece of water.
It was a point that reeked of snapper, dissected by a myriad of guts and reefy structure. It was also surrounded by streaks of white water stemming from an uplifting easterly swell that whispered deep water. The day was going to be a success.
While we didn’t break any records or bag any double figure fish we took home more than enough for a feed each, lost a couple of good fish, experienced some super exciting sight fishing, caught fish on all manner of soft plastics and never baited a hook.
What follows is a brief introduction to softbaiting from the shore, like all fishing techniques there are exceptions to every rule but the ideas outlined below undoubtedly will contribute to your success.
Slowly but surely
This sums up land-based soft plastic fishing. Essentially you let the lure swim itself, especially when using paddle tail, swimmer or crazy legs style lures. These lures have an action built into their design so there’s no need to wave the rod tip around like an inebriated symphonic conductor.
Saltwater fly expert Craig Worthington has written much about snapper’s enthusiasm for a falling fly and the falling theory is good to bear in mind when softbaiting too. The key is to stay in contact with the lure and try to imagine the path it is taking through the water column.
If you are prospecting an area the idea is to cast the lure out and let it sink until its about 1/3 of the way to the bottom. Stay in constant contact with the line and begin a very slow retrieve. The idea here is to be covering as much ground as possible, keeping the lure as deep as possible and all whilst keeping it on a slow downward path.
If you can imagine drawing out the first half of a pendulums swing this is the path the lure should be taking through the water column as you bring it to your feet.
Fishing with only lures and not using any other attractant can be an incredibly rewarding form of fishing. There’s a real freedom to being able to explore the coastline with just a small backpack containing as little as a knife, some trace and some lures.
In this form of fishing one can find freedom from the shackles of the berley trail that often constrain the land based fisherman and of course that creeping sense of anticipation tinged with excitement as you make the first cast into a new fishy bit of water.
JOEL WESTCOT PROSPECTING SOME FISHY LOOKING TERRAIN. LET THE LURE SINK A THIRD OF THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM BEFORE BEGINNING A SLOW RETRIEVE.
It’s not dissimilar to spinning or nymphing blindly for trout and the similarities don’t end here. Like trout fishing it is often the first or second cast in a gut or likely looking area that will yield a fish and if you are not successful in the first few casts or so it can be good to move along and return to the spot later in the day.
Again taking a leaf from the trout fisherman’s book it’s good to bear in mind that whatever technique you employ, snapper will often be lurking in guts and deep pools just meters from the rocks. It doesn’t take much to spook them so on your initial approach and at least for the first few cast stay low to the water, especially if it is a clear day.
It is also best to avoid casting shadows across the water so where possible avoid having your back to the sun. Clothing choice may even play a role here and although I don’t go as far as camouflaging myself in seaweed and gull crap I do avoid wearing white or other reflective colours.
Sight fishing for snapper - this will be nothing new to many land based anglers who stray-line berley trails and it is also a well-used technique with saltwater fly-fishers. A good pair of Polaroid’s is useful here as is patience and stealth.
Snapper will swim into a berley trail attracted by scent and the activity of baitfish but the same effect can be achieved with just a few chunks of pilchard. The pilchard technique is amazingly successful and on this trip Michael had snapper swimming up through several meters of water to take bits of ‘pillie’ from the surface.
One panny was so fired up it was attacking floating pieces of weed! When presenting lures to visible fish employ similar techniques to prospecting by bringing the lure past the feeding fish on a downward path. If you can present a lure successfully, then watching a good-sized snapper grabbing your soft plastic is something that is sure to get your blood pumping!
FISHING FOR SNAPPER OFF THE ROCKS IS AN EXCITING WAY TO USE SOFT PLASTICS.
Where to go & what tackle?
Choosing where to fish land based can be a challenge and is often a case of trial and error in getting the right combination of wind direction, swell direction, tide and time of day. Every spot has its own idiosyncrasies but you can find some good leads by combining information from Google earth, weather reports and sea charts.
Look for rocky areas that have a lot of foul preferably close to deep water or current lines. Points that dissect current lines can often be very productive. It is easy to over look spots because they are only accessible an hour or two over low but they can be locations that prove to be very productive.
We had never fished the area shown in the photos you see here but we applied the principles above and estimated we had a pretty good shot at pulling out some fish.
Good gear is all-important in any kind of fishing and the downfall of many a savings plan. Land based soft plastic fishing really only requires one specialist piece of equipment and that is the rod. It is of course possible to fish with a conventional soft plastic rod but they often lack the length needed to cast light lures and keep fish out of the weeds at your feet. 2.55 – 3 meters long is probably ideal and 6-10kg a minimum line rating as you want some power to keep fish out of the foul.
I personally fish with a St Croix Avid, 2.85 meter 6-12kg rod originally designed for salmon fishing, paired with a Shimano Calcutta or Curado 200 size reel, spooled with 20lb Sufix 832 and an 8-15kg fluorocarbon (fluro’) leader.
On this day Michael was using a 3 meter Daiwa lateo Q, 100mh rod paired with a Shimano Sustain 5000fg, spooled with Berkley Fireline Exceed 6kg and a Black Magic 15lb fluro’ trace. Rods available on the New Zealand market include the Shimano Jungle Stix 2.70 meter 5-10kg, the Daiwa Aird 2.55 meter Spin and the Shimano Catana Nano xg 6-8kg 2.7 meter rod.
Soft plastic fisherman across the board seem to agree that the lightest jig heads are usually the most effective and most try to use only enough weight to get the lure to where the fish are. Casting distance can be integral to land-based success so at times the weight of the jig head may need to be increased.
¼ ounce heads are a good go to weight and in some situations heads as light as 1/8 of an ounce are useful. In places where a long cast or strong currents are an issue heavier weights may be required but as a general rule the lighter the better.
Land based fishing was once only associated with heavy gear, surfcasters and ledger rigs and for some this was the recipe for success. Soft plastic fishing from the rocks however offers a light weight alternative that requires the angler to develop different skills that are more akin to trout fishing.
Like every form of fishing instant success is not guaranteed. Learning what works and what doesn’t is an ever-evolving process, part of the challenge and part of the reward. For anyone wanting to give it a go the ideas here should be a helpful foundation. Like all fishing the rest of the learning process revolves around the part we all love, getting out there as much as possible and doing it!