Part III – Paddle tails
Soft-baits come in a myriad of shapes and sizes to suit all sorts of situations and purposes. In previous issues, Mark Kitteridge has discussed the advantages associated with curly-tail and jerk-type soft-baits; this month he moves on to paddle-tail soft-baits and why they are so effective at ‘pushing the right buttons’ of big, bad predators...

My earliest memories of paddler-style soft-baits come from Mangonui
Wharf around 1980. At the time, we were facing a potential dream scenario, with many dozens of kingfish charging around the wharf in pursuit of panic-stricken mackerel, which sprayed across the surface as the kings crashed among them, white water going everywhere. Only one thing was missing: livebaits. With our usual kingfish offerings currently more interested in self-preservation than eating one of our sabiki flies, my friends and I could only watch on, excited but frustrated.

Then I remembered the packet of Mister Twister ‘Sassy Shad’ soft-baits I’d stored away in my tackle box for just such an occasion. Shaking hands slowed the knotting process, made worse by the yells and curses of the onlooking anglers and spectators as the carnage continued unabated, but finally I was ready for action.

Elbowing my way to the front of the crowd, I lobbed my paddle-tailed lure around six metres out and watched as it rapidly descended, its tail thrashing hard – and with several kingfish chasing down after it. Split seconds later, the line abruptly slackened and, upon engaging my reel and striking, my rod hauled down hard as line started accelerating off the spool. Hook-up!

Almost four decades have gone by since that day, but paddle-tailed soft-baits remain remarkably unchanged and
just as lethal. Having said that though, there was a protracted period in between when soft-baits of all styles largely went out of favour, due to the weighty, clumsy outfits available at the time, the relatively thick, stretchy nylon we all used and a lack of suitably weighted lead-heads with strong hooks.

Then along came braided lines and, like so many other aspects of fishing, a whole new world opened up for soft-baiting techniques, including those used with paddle-style lures.

An early Basstrix
paddle tail lure.
The more buoyant paddlers can prove effective when dragged; the writer with a decent North Channel victim.
Gulp! was the only significant soft-bait brand on the scene early on, but my reasonably shallow-water fishing techniques suited jerk- and curly-tail-type shapes better.

My friend Paul Senior was one of the first to see the potentialor fishing paddler-type lures in deeper waters, and was in the ideal position to uncover a lot of useful information in a very short time. Thanks to his charter-skipper role, which mostly involved chasing deepwater work-ups, he set his clients up with all sorts of rigs and lures to see which ones performed best on a regular basis.

Note the strategically placed slices in the wrist of this paddle-tail; this allows the tail to waggle more readily.
This pink and white paddle-tail was irresistable in deepwater, the colouring combining nicely with the thrashing tail to entice a smashing strike.
Paul loved how the paddle-tail sprung to thrashing life when descending quickly, with the vibrations they produced adding to the falling lure’s attractiveness. Indeed, so effective was this style of lure, his anglers often hooked big snapper and kingfish during the initial descent, despite the attached four to six-ounce Cyclops rigs!

It was this particular aspect that really got me thinking, and I’m now convinced that much of the paddle-tail-type soft-baits’ success comes from being forced through the water at a decent pace, as this activates the thrashing tail. Such movements are achieved by the angler lifting or retrieving the lure, or while the paddler is being dragged down by a weighted lead-head during descent. To see what I mean, place a paddler-type soft-bait on a lead-head of at least 5/8oz (2-8oz with kingfish-size paddlers) and repeatedly lift and drop it next to the boat. Those soft-bait brands made from more flexible materials are especially impressive, looking for all intents and purposes like a live fish as they rise and fall!

But, as already mentioned, it is not just what they look like when moving that triggers
all manner of predators into biting them. Their thrashing tail creates powerful water disturbances that get picked up by fishes’ lateral lines, bringing them in for a closer look and often exciting them into biting. It’s a quality that also makes them easier to detect in water with limited visibility, perhaps caused by natural turbidity, the time of day and/or the depth.

And, fortunately for us, this same thrashing tail also creates friction that can slow the descent when lighter jig heads are used, allowing valuable extra time for fish to detect the lure’s presence and react.

No luck on the descent? No worries. Just lift and drop the paddler yo-yo style near the bottom if targeting snapper, perhaps incorporating sporadic jiggles and twitches for added interest, or try a short series of mechanical jigging movements (a lift and drop of the rod in synchronisation with a single reel-handle turn) for maybe five metres before dropping back down. These movements are designed to get the best from paddle-type tails, but don’t discount dragging, especially if the brand has inherent buoyancy to lift the wagging tail off the bottom for added visibility – I hooked my biggest ever snapper this way!

Or, for those chasing kingfish with 7-12” paddlers, speed up the mechanical-jigging series of movements, or crank fast upwards with just the occasional short, sharp rod jerk every five seconds to create more interest, concentrating these efforts in the lower half of the water column in deeper water (unless your fish-finder suggests otherwise!).
Paddler-type soft-baits do have their disadvantages though. For example, in addition to being harder to effectively activate when placed on lighter jig heads, the much bulkier paddle tail (in relation to jerk and curly tails) can be grabbed by the fish and hung onto firmly. With just the soft-bait tail in the fish’s mouth, striking anglers can break that part off (if not especially elastic) or elongate the product like an elastic band before it’s finally let go. The latter action can see the soft-bait catapult back at high speed, resulting in bizarre hook repositionings that rarely attract another bite afterwards, or get dragged down the shank to the hook’s bend where bites are alsounlikely to occur.

Similarly, the paddle-tail’s bulk works against it when cast with some effort; 
Large paddle-tail baits did the job on snapper and kings when charter anglers fished them on heavily-weighted rigs such as Berkley Nitro Elevators and OA Cyclops.
the resulting crashing impact with the water sometimes causes the hook to be displaced so the lure won’t swim properly afterwards. This is especially the case when using the larger paddle tails – perhaps targeting kingfish with stick-bait gear. The problem is made worse if the angler’s hook lacks a system to firmly hold the product in place. Typically, this means the incorporation of various wire ‘snaggers’ or lead ribbing, with the more elastic Z-Man baits requiring bigger ribbing than the denser Gulp! products. It is one of the few times when super glue can provide the answer. Otherwise, stick to just dropping the paddle-tail down and jigging it as described earlier.

Next month, Mark deals with the ‘other shapes’ in this series’ concluding feature.

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