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Tired of spending money on live bait? Then this is for you. Soft plastics are a powerful and versatile alternative for crappie and bluegill, and are highly underutilized by most anglers. These lures mimic the panfish’s natural food and can be rigged in countless configurations to match any situation. Plus, unlike live bait, soft plastics are durable, allowing you to spend less time rebating and more time fishing. This article will delve into the best rigging methods to help boost your success on the water.

Why You Should Be Using Plastics for Panfish

Plastics offer a combination of versatility, durability, and affordability when targeting crappie and bluegill. Their lifelike action mimics the movement of live bait, without the worry of being nibbled apart or torn off. You can find plastics in an endless variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, allowing you to tailor your presentation to the specific conditions and preferences of the fish. The durability of plastics is what makes them deadly. You spend more time fishing and less time rebating.

However, just like with anything, the quality of plastics matters. They need to be soft enough to be lifelike but durable enough to stay on. What’s the point of plastics if they are constantly falling apart and falling off? Quality really does matter.

Below I list a few of my favorite plastics that I’ve always been very vocal about. However, you can rig any plastics you have on hand using the techniques below.  If you are looking to add some new ones to your arsenal then be sure to check out the ones below.

Use code nicole15 at Lurenet if you wish to pick up any of these baits at a discount. Otherwise, be sure to check out your local retail store.

  • Bobby Garland Mayfly: My favorite spring bait from 2023. Use code nicole15 for 15% off your purchase on all Lurenet baits. 
  • Bobby Garland Live Roam ‘R: Durable, realistic minnow plastic. Mimics a baitfish, loved by crappie and bluegill.
  • YUM FF Sonar Minnow: Larger grub body with a curly tail provides enticing action panfish can’t resist. Especially deadly during the warmer more aggressive months of summer.
  • Bobby Garland Slab Hunt R: The one plastic specifically made to be paired with live bait. A must-have for any arsenal.
  • Freedom Baitz Apache: A realistic baitfish profile can tempt even the wariest crappie. This bait has become very popular in the last 3 months, you can get it at a discount by using code nicole20. 
  • Freedom Baitz Bonita: This split-tail baitfish imitator drives bluegill wild. Made with the softest plastic, these minnow style baits exhibit incredible movement.

Below I breakdown how to rig these baits 5 different ways, as well as their recommended line and rod setup.

1. The Classic Bobber Rig

Bobber fishing has landed me some serious trophies. It’s a fantastic presentation for pinpointing your bait at the perfect depth and enticing tight-lipped fish. While many anglers think bobbers are just for live bait, they’re incredibly versatile. Plastics can be just as effective under a float. The secret? Keep your bait slightly moving.

When using this setup, choose a small bobber and the lightest jighead or plain hook (and lightest split shot) you can get away with. The key will be letting your soft plastic flutter naturally with even the slightest movement. When working the presentation, give it small twitches – helping to create the slowest natural movements from the plastics.

Bobber type can matter in these situations. For the most finesse spring fishing grab these pencil bobbers (code nicole15 for 15% off ). They allow for precision when fishing weeds and greater sensitivity to detect the slightest bite. 

When fishing deeper water in the heart of summer and fall, be sure to stock up on these Thill slip bobbers instead

One of the biggest benefits of bobber fishing is they can work well with a variety of rods. However, my favorite for this setup is the St. Croix Avid Medium Light Extra Fast Action. A very versatile rod for bobber fishing, rigging, jigging, and more for a variety of species. 

2. Plain Hook

Sometimes all you need is a simple hook and plastic. This slow presentation can be deadly when casting at shallow spring crappies.  Cast near brush piles or docks and subtly retrieve with little twitches. Vertical jigging around a structure can also be deadly for crappie with this method.

The key is to have plastics with a lot of natural movement. That’s why I LOVE the Bobby Garland Mayfly and Freedom Baitz Apache for these applications. Pair these baits with a St. Croix Panfish Series Light Fast Action Rod and 3 to 4-lb line, giving you the ability to pinpoint your casts and get away from the boat, and you are set up for ultimate success. 

3. Spinner Rig 

Looking to efficiently cover water and entice fish? A simple spinner can be the perfect way to rig soft plastics. The flashing blades and water vibrations grab attention, and trailers like the Bobby Garland Mayfly (nicole15) or Yum FF Sonar Minnow add an irresistible touch.

The setup is easy; all you need is a classic spinner and a small single split shot. We want the bait to skim just above weeds, not snag in them, so keep the weight light.

My preferred technique is slow trolling behind the boat. It’s perfect for beginners and kids because it offers constant action without needing constant focus.

This technique isn’t just for beginners. Trolling a spinner rig can help you locate larger fish without fancy electronics. Often, I’ll stumble upon a group of bigger fish by catching one on the spinner. Then, I can switch to a bobber setup to target the entire pod.

This presentation works best with a Medium Light, Extra Fast action rod, I like the St. Croix Avid series.  This allows for a little more strength on the troll while the extra fast action end makes any bite noticeable.

4. Underspin Advantage

The underspin jig adds weight and flash, getting your bait down deeper and getting it noticed. The Live Roam ‘R, Apache, or Bonita will all work well with this technique.  The biggest key when working this presentation is to make sure you retrieve it slow! Take note of the depth of the fish then pull the bait through the pod slow and consistently – just enough to keep the blade moving. This is a deadly combo for any panfish during nearly any time of the year. If there is one setup I’d keep on hand at all times, it’s a plastic paired with an underpin jig.

As for the setup, to cast this light of a bait efficiently you will need a very light rod. I recommend the Panfish series Light Fast Action rod paired with a light 4 to 6 lb monofilament line.

Be sure to check out my guide to finding panfish all year long right here.

5. The Livebait Combo

When finicky fish ignore your plastics, try adding them to live bait presentations. Thread a small minnow, leach or crawler onto your hook, then pinch off a bit of your soft plastic and add it to the hook. This boost of color, scent, and action can be irresistible. Not to mention, if you lose your live bait, and don’t realize it, you aren’t fishing with a bare hook.

Lurenet has the Slab Hunt R – which is designed specifically for this purpose. This bait is made to be paired with live bait, making it a complete presentation of scent and durability.

As for rods, the extra weight from the plastic, live bait, and an additional jig can give you a little more leeway on cast-ability with heavier rods. Opt for either the Medium Fast Action Avid or the Panfish Series Light Action rod.

RIG SOFT PLASTICS: THE POWER OF CHOICE

With these five effective rigging techniques in your arsenal, you’re well-equipped to conquer the spring panfish bite. Remember, experimentation is key! Don’t be afraid to mix and match colors, plastics, and retrieves to find what works best in your local waters. Soft plastics offer incredible versatility, so have fun and get out there to catch some fish!

Comment below what other rigging techniques you’re interested in – Happy Fishing!

Looking for more tips? Be sure to check out Nicole’s full archive for tons of in-depth resources.

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