Winning Ways To Match New School Soft Plastics and Jigs with
Old School Hair And ‘Maribou
Some of my first experiences fishing walleyes were banner days sinking hair and marabou jigs with my dad. The Mr. Twister was just beginning to hit bait shop shelves, so we dressed our hair and feathers with minnows and caught a lot of walleyes doing it.
Now, some five decades later, we’ve witnessed a new age in fishing—the era of soft plastics. As jig and plastics mold technology has progressed, lure designers have been able to bring anglers smaller, more unique jigs and soft plastics designed for walleyes.
But with the advent of soft plastics —different shapes, colors, and scents—the question is: How do I correctly match the right soft plastics to bucktail and marabou jigs?
My brother Marty and I have spent countless hours experimenting with jig/plastic combos and what we’ve discovered unlocks the handcuffs of live bait fishing. Tipped with the right soft plastic, a ripped bucktail or finessed marabou can often outfish meat.
The Venerable Swimming Grub
Whether you call it a swimming grub or curly tail, it’s my number one choice for tipping hair jigs and rip jigging in natural lakes. The tail swirls seductively at just about any speed and also on the drop, pause, and while sitting on the bottom. My go-to is a Northland Impulse Grub threaded on a Buck-A-Roo hair jig, but there are a lot of other great options. Get out on the water and experiment! Let the walleyes tell you what they want!
Do The Worm
When I fish areas populated with crawfish, I go with a soft plastic worm like the Northland Impulse Jig Worm. Nice thing about the Jig Worm is I can adjust the length, keeping it long or clipping a bit off. I’ll work it along the bottom at a molasses crawl and let the tail float back and forth, which is enough movement to trigger strikes.
Paddle Some Tail
I give 100% credit to walleye brain Bill Ortiz for making the paddletail my number one soft plastic choice for fishing rivers. He once schooled me 4-to-1 on the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minn.—my first lesson in the efficacy of the subwoofer-like thumping soft plastics.
Paddletails give off more vibration than any other soft plastic. Thus, in stained river systems (where walleyes aren’t necessarily feeding by sight) that can mean a whole lot more fish. Plus, paddletails are a bit bulkier than curly tails and worms, so they displace more water and provide a bigger target. New paddletail designs like the Northland Impulse Paddle Minnow have a long and skinny tail that doesn’t require a lot of water to get it going, which means they can be fished slow—or keep rocking without much rod play at all, the river current doing the work.
I typically color-match plastics to act as an extension of bucktail jig colors, white being the only exception. I’ll tip white hair with pink or chartreuse plastics—or black to provide the kind of contrast found in most natural forage.
Bucktail and plastics combos, fished on something like a 6’5” to 7’ medium-fast St. Croix Avid spinning rod is a great power-fishing technique to cover a lot of water. Fluorocarbon or monofilament gets the nod for this technique; 8-pound is my preferred line weight. It’s a must-know search presentation that finds larger, aggressively feeding fish and provokes neutral fish into hard aggression strikes.
Marriage of Marabou and Soft Plastics
What bucktail is to power fishing, marabou is to finesse. I never fish them like I would a bucktail jig – they’re not for ripping. Marabou is best for vertical jigging or hanging below a slip bobber.
Unlike the 1/4- to 5/8-ounce hair jigs we use for ripping, I rarely go heavier than 1/8-ounce in marabou. And a lot of times even lighter: 1/32-, 1/16- and 1/8-ounce. At the end of the day, I want to utilize the properties of the marabou to look insect-like, leech-like.
Less is better when it comes to soft plastics on marabou. The boat and water action alone can make marabou pulse. The whole key to getting the most of marabou is allowing the feathers to pulse in the water like a minnow or leech.
‘Bou: 3 Must-Have Colors
I match marabou jig colors to prevalent food sources, whether it’s mayfly larvae, leeches, young of the year minnows (why white works well) or crawfish. Black is my first choice. My second choice is white. Some variation of orange/brown comes in third. Remember these three color combos and you’re going to score points in most situations.
Au Natural: Soft Plastic Minnows & Leeches
90% of the time I tip marabou jigs with split-tail minnow-type plastics simply to add scent. With bucktail jigs, I want the plastic to enhance the hair—with marabou I simply want the plastic to add scent.
I want the smallest tail I can get away with, too. On 1/32-ounce jigs I like to take the 1-inch scented Northland Impulse Minnow and thread it through to the head of the jig, then add a second Impulse Minnow like you’d hook a real minnow through the head. It pivots and you get a little bit of movement; plus, if it comes off, you still have the other plastic on, which is still loaded with scent.
The only place where I’ll offset the color of my soft plastic is with a white marabou jig. I may add a bright pink, yellow, or a white and black combo. Again, I’ll choose from minnow-type profiles. The Northland Impulse Minnow comes in a wide variety of colors.
This is the perfect combo to sink under a slip bobber or pull on an ultra-slow drift.
Another deadly combo is a black marabou jig like Northland’s Bug-A-Boo tipped with an Impulse Jigging Leech. Again, presented under a slip bobber, it can’t be beat, especially during the height of the mayfly hatch.
Most fishermen fish bucktail and marabou jigs the same way. Big mistake. What you want to do is utilize the materials to your advantage. Remember that a bucktail is made to be fished aggressively, with the rod doing the work. The marabou jig is a finesse presentation that should mimic insect-life and the twitching of small minnows. Fish ‘bou at a snail’s pace and let the feathers do the work!
Experiment with these combos next time you’re on the water. We’ve found that in a lot of situations going meatless with back to the future hair and soft plastics pairings will go head-to-head—sometimes even outperform—live bait!
This story is by by Scott Glorvigen.