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This week's Feature Blog

Plastic Or Bait?

One of the age old questions surrounding walleye fishing is should an angler be fishing with soft plastic lures or using live bait? Clearly both options have their time and place. Here’s how the Fishing 411 crew attacks the issue and why.

When pulling harnesses, the only choice is a healthy and broad shouldered nightcrawler.


The world of soft plastic baits has changed a great deal over the years. My first experience with soft plastics was not good. I was maybe 10 years old at the time and my Dad had just bought me a new tackle box. I had just enough cash from my weekly allowance to purchase a few jigs and some soft plastic twister tails. You guessed it, about a month later I discovered that those soft plastics I had to have turned the paint on my jigs to a sticky mess and melted a hole in my prized tackle box!

Thankfully, the soft plastics of today are user friendly to jigs and tackle boxes. Soft plastics these days are special for a number of reasons including the designs available, the “life-like” action thanks to the ultra soft textures and of course those fish attracting colors. Some of the best plastics on the market even go a step further by smelling good enough to eat.

Plastics get the nod virtually every time when catching walleye requires casting. Live bait just doesn’t stay on the hook well for casting presentations.

I also like plastic baits when fishing in weed cover that would make it tough to keep bait on the hook. Anytime the water clarity is stained to downright dirty, color matters and soft plastics allow me the option of selecting a wealth of colors readily visible to fish even in off color water.

An Odd’ Ball Jig tipped with soft plastics like this Berkley Ripple Shad have caught the author literally thousands of walleye over the years.


It’s no secret that live bait catches walleye day in and day out. Live bait isn’t mandatory to enjoy success on many days, but those days when the bite is tough things are different. In a tough bite live bait is going to out produce plastics time and time again.

Live minnows are probably the most common live bait used for walleye. Personally I typically use minnows in the spring, winter and fall when water temperatures are cool. In the summer time keeping minnows alive is a chore in of itself.

In the summer months I prefer using nightcrawlers and leeches when it’s necessary to fish live bait. On harnesses and slip sinker rigs a whole nightcrawler is tough to beat most days. For jig fishing or when fishing slip floats a leech is the undisputed king of live baits.

Mari Romanack of Fishing 411 used a clean jig tipped with a minnow to catch this walleye. Sometimes live bait makes a huge difference.


Often I find myself in the unique position to fish both soft plastics and live bait at the same time. I often run into this situation when vertical jigging in rivers. I like to use a soft plastic bait threaded onto hook shank, then top dress the set up by lip hooking a live minnow.

This unique rig hooks me dozens of bonus fish every year when a fish strikes, but I miss the fish. Most times the fish gets the minnow, but by simply dropping back down on that same fish with the jig/soft plastic combination I can often tempt that fish into biting again!

If I had fished with just a minnow, chances are I would have still gotten the fish to bite, but if I miss that fish it’s game over. When fishing with just plastic, I may or may not have gotten the fish to strike in the first place.


There is little doubt that scent entices fish into striking. A lot of soft plastics these days are factory scented to make them more attractive to fish. Those soft plastics that are not scent impregnated can be given the “smell good” treatment by simply top dressing using a favorite fishing scent. I like to use fishing scents that are made of natural materials, oil based and designed to be sticky. Most fishing scent is water soluble which defeats the whole purpose in my mind. I want a fishing scent to be natural smelling, sticky and to stay where I put it for as long as possible.

Pro Cure Super Gels do a magnificent job of helping anglers trigger the maximum number of strikes. Super Gel can be applied to hard baits, soft plastics and even live bait with great success.

For walleye applications I like to match the hatch as much as possible, choosing Pro Cure formulas that are made from popular bait fish including alewife, gizzard shad, smelt, minnows and crayfish.


In fishing I like to say there are no absolutes. There is absolutely never a time that I would feel comfortable saying I always use plastics or I always use live bait. The truth is the fish determine if I should be fishing live bait or if soft plastics are a better option.

On those days when the fish are snapping, live bait is probably not necessary and may well be a waste of time and money. On those days when the fish seem to have lock jaw, live bait might well be the only thing that gets the job done.

What’s the best advice? Keep an open mind and be prepared to fish soft plastics and live bait on your next fishing trip.

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