In Bass Fishing 101, you learned that a worm or lizard with a ribbon or "twister" tail is best when the water is moderately clear, one with a paddle tail works better when it's muddy, and one with a blunt tail is best during cold fronts.
But Bassmaster Elite Series pro Russ Lane has a Ph.D. in soft plastics, and he goes beyond these basics when choosing the right tail style. Use his guidelines next time you break out the soft baits on your home lake.
"What tail style I'll use on a soft plastic lure depends on several factors, including time of year, water temperature, bass spawning phase, water clarity, depth of the fish, whether they're on bottom or suspended, amount of light penetration, what type cover the fish are using, where they are in relation to that cover, and how much weight or rod movement I figure it'll take to activate the tail," Lane told BASS Times.
"I don't want to make this process sound more complex than it really is, but I do put a lot of thought into selecting the perfect tail for the conditions I'm fishing." Lane listed the major tail styles available on soft plastic baits today:
• Ribbon or twister — "A popular tail design for worms, lizards and grubs. The tail ripples whether the bait sinks straight down or swims horizontally, creating a strong visual impression of moving prey. The rippling tail reflects light and sends out vibrations that attract bass, making it a viable choice in clear to dirty water."
• Paddle — "Mostly found on worms and creature baits, the paddle tail displaces more water than the ribbon tail, so it sinks slower and is easier for bass to locate in murky water."
• Craw — "Lures with this style tail are rigged backward — the craw's claws serve as the lure's tails. When a live crawfish is threatened, it throws its claws upward and waves them threateningly, a major visual cue that triggers bass to strike. The buoyant claws at the rear of many creatures and jig trailers capture this look perfectly."
• Beaver — "An elongated paddle tail, a popular style on creatures. Great for flipping because it sinks slowly."
• Spear — "Used on some finesse worms and grubs. The tail is flat and narrow like the point of a spear."
• Shad — "Commonly found on soft swimbaits, this tail is flared out at the sides, then sliced off diagonally to give the lure a natural swimming action when retrieved horizontally."
• Blunt — "Here the tail is virtually identical to the lure's head, with no added trickery going on. Most sinking stickworms and shaky head worms have blunt tails."
• Tapered — "A good style for soft jerkbaits and finesse worms. The tail tapers down to a point and displaces very little water." A recent trend in soft bait design is the use of molded tabs that attach the lure's appendages, including legs and/or tail, to the body. "This is done for two reasons," Lane noted. "One, it preserves the intended shape and action of the bait by keeping the tail and legs from distorting or tearing while the lure is inside its packaging.
Two, it enhances the bait's versatility. To achieve the maximum amount of action, 'unlock' the tabs by separating the tail into two sections or pulling the legs away from the body, which allows the appendages and tail to move more freely.
However, because more action isn't always desirable, you may choose to leave the tail and legs 'locked,' just as they came from the package."
Lane specified what tail style he chooses under common bass fishing conditions:
• Standing timber — "Here, bass often suspend around the outstretched branches. A 10-inch ribbontail worm like Big Bite's Kriet Tail on a light sinker falls slowly with an enticing fluttering action, and they'll hit it on the way down."
• Matted grass — "I love a craw tail in thick grass; crawfish are usually abundant in this cover. My favorite is the Big Bite Yomama creature. I'll leave the tail locked in water 65 degrees or colder, unlocked in warmer water."
• Shallow grass — "Gotta break out a paddletail worm here! But I don't fish it like a regular worm. I'll chunk it way back into the grass, raise the rod and skate it across the surface to provoke a reaction strike. The paddletail gets the worm on top quickly, whereas a ribbontail would reach out like a hand and grab the grass."
• Deep ledges and points — "Visibility becomes critical in deep water, and a big ribbontail worm or lizard flashes and pulses, so it'll get noticed by bass."
• Shallow wood cover — "In slightly stained lakes, I'll target-cast a 6-inch ribbontail worm on a light sinker, popping the rod tip to activate the tail. In murky to muddy lakes, I'll switch to a creature with a beaver or craw tail, crawling/hopping it up to the cover, then shaking it repeatedly."
• Clear water/cold fronts/bedding bass — "I prefer either a blunt, spear or tapered tail in these scenarios — something compact and subtle. Big Bite's Squirrel Tail worm is amazing for bedding fish. The last third of the worm narrows down and then ends in a spear.
The tail is specially formulated to float up and sway with subtle water currents. You can deadstick it and it still moves." Sometimes bass seem intent on nipping at your lure's tail. "Tail-biters aren't always bream or tiny bass.
Lunkers will do this as well, especially when they're bedding," Lane said. "If you gently reel up slack line and put a little pressure on the fish, it'll sometimes eat the lure all the way."
Soft bait designers are paying more attention than ever to the tails of their creations, as evidenced by Strike King's new Rage Tail series and Yum's F2 (Ferocity Squared) lures.
Both come in several body styles, all with hyper-engineered tails that produce incredible action. "The Rage Tail design has flanges on the sides that increase surface area, trap water and give the lure an extremely lifelike look," Elite Series pro James Niggemeyer said. "The slightest rod movement will activate these baits.
I can fish them with sinkers as light as 1/8 ounce and still get awesome tail action from them. My favorites are the Space Monkey creature and Anaconda worm." Oklahoma pro Terry Butcher likes Yum's F2 offerings, including the Salleemander and Mighty Bug.
"The tail has an unusual design that delivers an amazing swimming action, and the craws, lizards and creatures in the series have legs that actually look like they're running when you retrieve them. And, they're all infused with potent F2 attractant, so bass won't let go when they bite."