When fishing in freshwater or saltwater, soft baits deliver many of the same benefits as live bait fish with less hassle or mess. Designed to imitate bait fish, soft baits are plastic or rubber lures that land almost silently on the water, making them ideal for surf fishing and sight casting.
Unlike your grandfather’s lures, today’s saltwater soft baits come in a wide range of sizes, colors, and styles. And much like freshwater angling, landing more trophy worthy fish while fishing in saltwater hinges on one’s ability to accurately tailor their soft baits to the species and conditions.
Saltwater Soft Bait Tip #1: Size Matters
It’s not rocket science that bigger lures attract bigger fish. Larger soft baits also work better when fishing in the ocean because of the stiff currents, windy conditions, and deeper depths. All other factors being equal, the bigger the soft bait is, the more water resistance it has.
In other words, a large soft bait will sink more slowly in the water, keeping it from getting turned around by the current like a smaller, lighter soft bait would.
For example, an 8” or 10” lure like the Castaic Boot Tail—which isn’t just for freshwater applications—will deliver the slow-sinking fishing action that’s needed whether you’re casting from an inland cove shore or trolling in more open, offshore waters.
Boot Tail$8.99 – $14.99
However, bigger isn’t always necessarily better. When sight fishing, if your intended prey seems disinterested in larger lures while feeding on small baitfish, using a “match-the-hatch” strategy with a svelte soft bait like the Castaic Boot Tail Sardine should yield more strikes.
Boot Tail Sardine$10.99
Types of Saltwater Soft Bait Lures
Now that the size issue is out of the way, it’s time to focus on the specific types of saltwater soft baits:
Swimbaits are rubber-based lures that imitate bait fish like mullet, shad, and menhaden. Using a swimbait like the Castaic Jerky J with a slow, steady retrieve on the surface—or just below the surface—will put more gamefish in your live well.
You can even allow your swimbait to sink deep while rigged on a jig head, or combine it with an offset, wide gap hook from the Kitana Hooks series. Although the top-performing swimbait colors are often bone color or white, in murkier water, yellow, chartreuse or a combination of any of the above are coveted lures in any serious saltwater angler’s tackle box. Make sure your hooks, like the Kitana Hooks, are chemically sharpened and resistant to the corrosive salt.
Saltwater swimbaits are effective when using a slow, steady retrieve around a large school of baitfish. Switching to a stop-and-go movement when gamefish aren’t feeding aggressively will attract more impulse strikes. For hooking bigger prey like tuna, tarpon, and cobia, a 5” or longer Super Jerky J paired with an RS Flats Lok Jighead makes a formidable combo.
With its 7” length and snake-like swimming motion, the Jerky J Eel is also an irresistible swimbait for snaring European sea bass in saltwater habitats, or zander in brackish inland coves and waterways.
Much like the average angler, hungry saltwater gamefish love shrimp. There are many kinds of soft plastics that mimic shrimp, whether it’s a full body or just the tail. Some are weighted and rigged with a single or treble hook, but others, like the RS Mullet Jr. in Shrimp, work best when paired with a jighead such as the Stagger Scrounger Jighead.
When using a fast retrieve, this rig darts erratically through the water, attracting the attention of hungry gamefish or encouraging impulse strikes. Suspending a soft plastic shrimp imitation under a popping cork is another tried-and-true technique.
Not only does the popping cork keep your lure in the desired spot longer, it causes enough realistic commotion to promote impulse strikes by disinterested prey. Weighted full-body or tail imitations on a jighead work best on 18” to 24” of fluorocarbon line. Simply cast out your rig and reel it in using a stop-and-go retrieve and get ready for some action!
Larger, soft plastic shrimp lures in colors like red, white, pink, chartreuse, or combinations thereof work best in clear water, while brighter color schemes will yield a higher success rate when angling in stained or muddy water.
Although not as popular as other soft plastics, paddle tails still catch lots of fish in fresh and salt waters. Designed to create plenty of movement and vibration, the flashy finish on your average paddle tail is also hard to resist for most saltwater gamefish.
Brightly colored paddle tails work best in murkier inland waters, while combinations of red and white, pink and white, or roach and chartreuse will put more gamefish in your boat while angling in clear water.
Because of its realistic color choices, wide array of sizes, and lifelike belly roll during the retrieve, a soft bait like the RS Fathead Jr. is a versatile paddle tail that can be used in open water, near docks, through sparse weeds, or along seawalls.
In fact, a Fathead Jr. can be fished in many ways, like with an RS EWG belly weighted hook or Flats Lok Jighead on a medium to heavy casting rod from the Bulldawg Trophy Series. Make sure to take care of your rod properly after casting in saltwater.
Whether you fish the Fathead Jr. with a fast or modest retrieve, pair it with an umbrella rig or use it weightless like a dead minnow, you’ll have plenty of saltwater success stories that you can share with your friends!