I got my first soft plastic fishing lure in the mid 1960s when I was about 14 years old. It was a plastic worm that had a propeller on the front attached to a stiff wire with an eye to attach to the fishing line. It had a heavy monofilament harness that held three hooks through the soft plastic body. It looked just like a live night crawler. The package read, “SENSATIONAL “CATCH ‘EM QUICK” LURE, WITH BUILT IN FISH APPEAL. Effective on Bass, Pike, Walleyes, Trout and Panfish: Ideal for Casting, Spinning, Trolling, Cane Pole Spatting: Retrieve SLOWLY! Made in Marion, Indiana.” There was no zip code on the package in those days.
I remember the first time I used it. We drove down to the flowage (that is no longer there) on an old farmer’s road on what is today Willow River State Park and fished from shore. The flowage was full of bass, pike and panfish. I was catching some nice bass fishing with the new propeller worm lure that my older brother Dean had given me. I spotted a big flat rock just a few steps from shore and got up on top of it so I could cast out a little bit further. I remember being reeled in about half way when a big bass hit. After it jumped a couple times I realized I’d never seen a bass that big and somehow got it to shore. The three hook harness was the best thing about the hook set and the vibration from the little propeller seemed to attract bass. That bass weighed 6 pounds and was 22 inches long. To this day it’s the biggest largemouth bass I have ever caught.
Plastics have come a long way since then and more and more people are using them, especially the younger generation who grew up with them. Tournament bass fishing exploded with bass plastics. Today even the Baby Boomer Generation, my older generations have come around to soft plastics big time. I’ve pretty much replaced all of my live bait with plastics except for walleye.
“Fatheads and jigs are hard to beat when the walleye go deep but I like fishing paddle tails through the shallows and weeds early in the summer,” said fishing guide Ben Elfelt. “The thing I like most about plastics is they are so easy to use. You don’t have to worry about keeping them alive. Sometimes live bait can be hard to find after a hard winter and later in the summer too.”
I remember when “Mr. Twister” came out. That first soft plastic with a thin tail that fluttered in the water when reeled in was a killer on just about everything that swam in lakes and rivers. The plastic was soft but as time went on plastics got better and lasted longer. About the same time Tom Mann came out with “Jelly Worms” with fruity scents added like grape and strawberry. I had great success with the grape flavored baits and they made my tackle box smell great. Bill’s scented worm was a big hit locally.
Today it’s hard to find plastics without added scent. Some of those scents have an odor that smells like fish and others smell like something died in your boat. The bottom line is that plastics catch more fish today than live bait simply because more people use plastics and it’s a fun way to fish.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.