How different tail shapes move soft plastic baits—and provoke gamefish.

choosing soft plastics

Some common plastic tail forms. Left to right: Westin Megateez, MirrOlure ‘Lil John, DOA Cal Curl Tail, DOA Cal Shad Tail, Berkley Powerbait Jerk Shad.

The soft plastic selection for the inshore fisherman nowadays is abundant to say the least. From big to small and just about every color under the sun offered, you have options. But what plays the biggest role in a soft plastic? The tail. The tail provides all of the action.

There is no lip on these baits, so all the work must be done on the back end. Different tails offer different actions, knowing when to throw the right tail can be the difference in getting a bite or not. Let’s go over the mainstays in the world of soft plastic tails.


shad tail redfish

A nice backwater redfish brought in by a CAL Jig with a shad tail.

The shad tail is one of the most popular. Why? Because it is easy to fish and does just about anything you need it to. When pulled through the water, this tail kicks, giving off a “thumping” vibration and give the bait a “wobbling” action. You know it’s working because you can feel it in your rod tip.

A steady retrieve imitates a bait on the move. Throw a twitch in there and it flashes on its side like a baitfish.

Let it sink and begin to pop it, the tail flutters, mimicking a wounded baitfish. These are often rigged on a jighead and skip very well, perfect for fishing around mangroves or docks.


choosing soft plastics

FS Staffer, Shelby Busenbark recounts, “Snook are particularly fond of a curly tail’s movement.” But don’t let this ‘lil snook fool you, the big girls love ’em too.

The curly tail is a “C” shaped tail. Similar to the shad tail, this tail creates its own action with a steady retrieve. Due to the shape though, it does not put off as hard of a vibration as the shad tail. Spinner blades come to mind when comparing these two.

choosing soft plastics

Spinner blade embedded in Hyperlastics Dartspin lure conveys unique action and flash.

Shad tail is the Colorado blade, curly tail being a willow blade. These can be swam straight, hopped or twitched, as well. A jighead is the best way to rig these. They will not skip so easily, due to the shape of the tail.


skinny water redfish

Paddletails are a favorite among many anglers. It gets down into deeper holes where the fish are hiding.

The paddle tail is flat, often shaped like a spoon or the tail on a manatee. Unlike the tails above, lateral movement of this tail does not create any action. The action comes from vertical movement of the lure. A jighead is the go-to rigging method, as the plastic is typically too small for a weedless hook. Get the most out of these by allowing the bait to sink and pop it off of the bottom with a quick four-inch snap of the rod tip. The tail will “snap,” mimicking a crustacean or injured bait.

Slow it down with small “pulses” of the rodtip if the fish are wary. The bait will stand on its head, due to the weight of the jighead, and the tail will give off small kicks. I like to do this when I know fish are concentrated in potholes or depressions.


The soft forked jerkbait on a jighead, earned a strike in a 4-footdeep pothole.

The fork tail, often referred to as a jerkbait, can be rigged on a jighead or weedless hook. The beauty of the fork tail is the “darting” action when twitched. This V-shaped tail allows the bait to dart erratically, like a wounded baitfish. The tail is stabilizing the bait, making sure it doesn’t spin when twitched. It also slows down the fall of the bait, between twitches, adding to that wounded baitfish look. Be ready, because they often eat it on the fall! FS

Need help rigging that soft plastic? This video may be of assistance.

For more How-To help, check out our YouTube channel here.

Florida Sportsman Magazine August/September 2020

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