As the name implies, weightless soft plastics mean fishing with nothing else than a hook and a soft plastic bait. It’s a great technique to catch bass, pike, and perch. Because of its natural almost neutral buoyancy, weightless soft plastics are a very good lure for catching big fish. There are many different rigging options and lure types for every kind of shallow water fishing condition.
The first technique that comes to my mind is the use of large double tail grub or big paddle tail swimbait for pike fishing. It’s very effective when fishing around or over grass from spring to autumn. More than any other fish, even bass, pike absolutely love to hide and ambush prey in the thick grass bed. In rivers, grass will provide a current break on top of concealment. In lakes and ponds, grass beds are a great fish magnet.
Select lures that have a slow but powerful and wide swimming action. Just throw it out and crank your lure at a constant steady retrieve. If the grass is not too thick, you can slide a 2/0 treble hook on your offset single hook for a better hook-up ratio. An oversized soft jerkbait is also a great option for pike and is seldom used by anglers.
There are a few tricks you can do to custom rig your lure for topwater action. When you bring back the hook point under the belly, punch it in just a bit further than you would normally do. That way the lure is slightly curved. Work the bait quickly and it will jump out like chased by a predator. Be mindful that if you reel it in fast and straight it will twist your line.
If you’re fishing around sparse cover in clear water, you can get an even more natural look by swapping the heavy wide gap hook with a small drop shot hook. This is a light line finesse presentation for finesse size soft jerkbait. Just nose hook the lure like you would on a drop shot. You’ll be surprised at how much more freedom to lure has.
On the opposite end, you can add extra weight to your rig. One way is to use a weighted hook, but the keel effect tends to calm down the wild action this lure is known for. It’s better to insert a nail weight in the lure. You can stick it in the head for a nose-down action. This is the best way if you want to fish deeper. Or you can shove it in the anal area (!). You’ll get extra wild side-to-side action and the lure will slide backward on the pause!
Another option for weightless soft plastics is to use them as a topwater presentation. You can use any but several baits are made specifically for that purpose. I think of toads and some grubs. They can be skipped and thrown in the nastiest cover, under docks, and overhanging vegetation.
The benefit of using a soft bait instead of a floating hard bait is twofold. As mentioned the lure can be fished in the nastiest cover. But the second benefit is that in case of a short or missed strike, the angler can let the bait sink a little bit which might often trigger a second hit.
An old fashion and forgotten lure is the lizard. It’s a great summertime lure to fish on top. Get a smaller size and fish it on a spinning rod. That bait is overlooked even by bass anglers and it will catch perch, bass, and even chubs.
Probably the best weightless soft baits are Senko-type stick baits. These lures are quite remarkable because of their simplicity and yet deadly effectiveness. The key to their success is the lack of tell-tale moving parts and sink rate. They sink faster than any other weightless lure type but slower than a lure with a sinker. The other triggering ability is that subtle shimmy and movement as they sink.
In heavy cover and for a slightly faster sink rate they can be rigged with a weightless wide gap worm hook. You can fine-tune the sink rate by adjusting the hook size and wire gauge. I tend to prefer heavy line and heavy hook for a little extra action as the lure sinks. For the bait with high salt content, you can rub and massage the tip of the tail and loosen the salt. It will give the plastic a different color that will contrast the tail.
For fishing around vertical structures like submerged trees or boat docks, you can rig your stick bait with a wacky rig. It will allow both ends of the bait to wiggle as it sinks and give more action on the retrieve with less forward movement.
Weightless soft plastic is a great technique to catch big fish in shallow water. It’s fun and enjoyable for beginners and experienced anglers alike. As soon as fish come up in the spring, keep a weightless soft bait tied on!