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Pliable and Reliable
By John Kolinski
Editor's note: John Kolinski is the 2002 Professional Walleye Trail Angler of the Year, last year's Illinois River RCL winner and a 15-time championship qualifier on the PWT, RCL and Masters Walleye Circuit. His articles can be read in numerous Midwestern outdoor publications and at several web sites. Kolinski is sponsored by Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Lowrance Electronics, Normark/Storm Lures, MinnKota, Lindy Legendary Tackle, Tempress Rod Holders, Off-Shore Planer Boards, Berkley Trilene, Optima Batteries, Panther Marine and Headlight Lures

Most of us aren't as flexible as we used to be. The days when we could dunk a basketball or do a back flip are long gone. However, when it comes to fishing, the opposite is true. Never have we been more dexterous and adroit than we are today. One of the biggest reasons for our continued and even growing versatility is soft plastics. There isn't much we can't do with the variety of plastic products available today. We can drag 'em, cast 'em, flip 'em, bounce 'em and troll 'em effectively to catch everything from walleyes and bass to panfish and pike. Soft plastics are part of my angling arsenal year-round, but particularly in late summer and through the fall when a variety of factors challenge even the most seasoned anglers. While warm water temperatures increase a fish's metabolism and its need to feed more often, there is a tremendous quantity and variety of forage available to predator species. Water clarity is often greater than it has been for months, and in a lot of cases fish are far more wary and light-sensitive than they were in earlier in the season. It's a time of year when it pays to cover water, fish aggressively, fish bulky baits and choose locations carefully. It's also a time of year when hot weather can make it challenging to keep live bait fresh and lively. Soft plastics are often the answer. The number of ways that soft plastics can be used is limited only by an angler's imagination.

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Sometimes, it's hard to beat traditional presentations like a three- or four-inch Berkley Power Grub, Gulp! grub or the new Lindy Techni-Glo Munchie grub on a long-shanked Lindy Max-Gap jig. The long shank is an important advantage when fishing a soft bait aggressively because the hook is closer to the tail of the plastic where fish are more likely to get it into their mouth, even when slash-feeding. Some situations call for more finesse or a closer match to whatever the preferred forage might be. A lot of bodies of water, shad are the primary forage. It follows that deeper-bellied soft baits like Berkley's Power Minnows are a good choice.In many lakes, leeches make up a good share of the diet for species like walleye, bass and panfish. While the real deal is hard to beat, it's also hard to fish aggressively on a jig head. If an angler tries to cast them any distance or jig them at all, ribbon leeches tend to get impaled on the hook where they don't flow in a natural and tantalizing manner behind the jig. That's when Berkley's Power Bungee Leeches shine.

They cast, and they last. On a lot of the western reservoirs, Berkley's Swimmin' Minnows are the way to go. They closely resemble the smelt that get caught up and injured in the turbines at the dams where they make easy meals for hungry predators. While I'm not ready to declare soft plastic as a permanent replacement for the real thing, I find myself expanding my use of plastics every year. Last summer, I was invited to participate in the Berkley Cup Walleye Challenge, a one-day contest featuring a number of Professional Walleye Trail anglers and a group of media representatives. Using strictly Berkley artificial baits, nearly every boat caught its share of walleyes, as well as numerous white bass and other species. The more I work with plastics, the more applications I find for them. I've caught walleyes on tube tails. I've knocked 'em dead with 6-inch Berkley Power Nightcrawlers. I've found situations where jigging worms or ringworms put fish in my boat when nothing else worked. I've Carolina-rigged Power Crawlers with success on the tapering points or along the weedlines in some of the lakes I've fished. It's a great way to put a bait in the strike zone and keep it there while inching it down a gradual slope or along a weed edge in search of walleyes or bass. Texas-rigging plastics is an established presentation for bass in weeds and lily pads that has its place in walleye fishing, too.

John Kolinski with a fine walleye Shallow fish are typically aggressive fish, and they find a pulsating plastic crawler hard to resist as it glides and slides weedlessly through the vegetation. In most walleye fishing situations, I prefer plastics with Berkley's Power Bait Tournament Strength Formula for Walleyes because the only thing better than a bait that looks almost exactly like the real thing is one that smells like it, too. When I'm fishing deep or stained water, I've had good success using plastics on Headlight Lures' fiber optic line of jig heads that light up a jig for maximum visibility. There are even a few ways to use plastics effectively while trolling. On many lakes, spinner rigs tipped with crawlers and trolled with Off-Shore planer boards are a favorite presentation of summertime anglers. However, the areas where we fish these rigs quite often hold numbers of both white and yellow perch. While that's what attracts the walleyes, those "nuisance" fish have a nasty habit of nipping off the tail of a crawler without giving themselves away, which can lead to unproductive fishing time. A Power Crawler can be the perfect solution. Anglers have long appreciated the performance of big plastics on big jigs as the dropper on three-way rigs, but some anglers are also using plastics in conjunction with hard baits.

Pick a crankbait that dives to the depth you want to reach and use it as your dropper on the three-way, then trail it with a plastic grub or crawler on the other line. Fish that can't pull the trigger on the crankbait will often whack the trailer. Technology has given us a lot of tools to work with these days. Soft plastics rank near the top. Choose them, use them and abuse them. You'll find they are pliable and reliable.

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