David A. Brown|Mustad
Fall sees those hard baits getting lots of reps and no one’s going to complain about a hot topwater bite or steady crankbait spinnerbait action. But don’t forget about your soft plastics, as they’ll fill in several key spots for your autumn game plan.
Soft Swimbait: It’s not the real thing, but it’s a very good impostor. Indeed, a paddle tail swimbait on a Mustad Swimbait Jig Head can be wildly effective on fish chasing bait in open water, while a Mustad belly-weighted hook is your better call for escorting swimbaits through grass edges, over brush or around laydowns.
With either option, be sure to match your bait to the lake’s dominant forage, both in size and color. Also, don’t let your presentations become one-dimensional. Plenty of fish are caught on straight-line retrieves, but think about the likely course of a real baitfish. They know they’re constantly being watched and likely followed, so occasional pauses and twitches can mimic a nervous bait. When all else fails, try killing the bait, letting it fall and then snapping it back into motion.
Dropshot: When we think “finesse,” many will instinctively envision a dropshot — and for good reason. Whether it’s a short leader deal for fish pinned to the bottom, or a longer leash for those running baitfish higher in the water column, a 4- to 6-inch finesse worm, baitfish imitator or even a small creature bait rigged on the Mustad Wide Gap Dropshot Hook can prove strategically beneficial for cleaning up after more aggressive baits, or earning tough bites when fall cold fronts stymie the action.
Remember, too, that upsizing your hook, bait and line gives you another tool for the heavier cover of laydowns, docks and gaps in dense vegetation. You might hear this rig called a “power-shot” or even a “Bubba-shot”; either way, it allows you to make that same finesse-type presentation with more backbone.
Texas Rig: Unquestionably, the most utilitarian of soft plastic setups, this rig allows you to swim, pitch, flip or skip a bait; as the scenario dictates. Maybe you’re picking apart those isolated laydowns that were deep enough to remain in play during the fall drawdown. Or perhaps it’s a handful of stumps along the creek channel you’re tracing. Whatever the case, match your hook size to the bait and the weight to the depth and cover you’re fishing.
Wacky Rig: Another proven finesse performer, this deal places a Mustad TitanX Wacky/Neko Hook through the middle of a soft stick bait or a finesse worm for a tauntingly slow fall during which both ends of the worm wiggle with lifelike display. Skip this rig under docks, drop it along the edge of grass lines or let it free fall along a channel swing bank and simply reel tight when you feel the tap.
Bonus note: Diversify your wacky rig presentation by sticking a nail weight in the nose and going with an in-line hooking option that transforms the old standby into a more strategic Neko Rig. That weighted nose is the key, as it pulls the leading end down first, as opposed to the double-ended wiggle of a wacky rig. The Neko proves advantageous for deeper scenarios in which waiting for a wacky rig’s glacial pace becomes counterproductive. Also, the heavier nose yields a head-down pecking motion that resembles a bream or some other forage fish feeding on the bottom.