They taste better, they swim better and they even look better.

No, we are not talking about the latest hatchery hybrid coming to a pond near you, we are talking about innovations in soft plastic baits, plastic baits that have anglers rethinking what they place in their tackle box and just how they fish.

“In the last decade, there’s been an explosion in the number of styles and coloring and dedication to this category of products from manufacturers,” said Chris Henson, hunting and fishing product line manager for L.L. Bean. “Soft plastic baits have become such a big part of the fishing business overall.”

For those of you who haven’t fished soft plastic lures lately, they have evolved dramatically. They look and taste more like the real thing, triggering strikes from fish that may be reluctant to strike traditional lures. Brand names such as Gulp!, Powerbait, D.O.A,, Senko, YUM and others crowd store shelves, featuring flashy images, intense flavorings and life-like feel.

“I would say that one of the big innovations has been the addition of salt and the amount of salt in the baits,” Henson said. “We’ve seen a lot of baits that have addressed the primary senses of the game fish. Manufacturers are looking to add a different feel to the baits, different scents to the baits, different flavors or compositions to the baits. You name it, we have seen all of it over the last decade.”

And with this evolution of soft plastic baits has come an evolution in just how we use these baits. Bass fisherman were the first years ago to use what were once called “rubber worms,” but now the possibilities seem endless.

“We have seen an explosion in the use of soft plastic baits for saltwater. Locally, they are also being used extensively for all warm-water species and a lot of cold-water species,” Henson said.

There seems to be no limits on how many different species are attracted to these soft plastic baits.

“We’ve certainly witnessed the manufacturers going after different species of fish, with different styles of baits that specifically target those fish,” Henson said. “Baits are specifically shaped like crayfish for bass, to baits that are shaped like mealworms, insects or other bait offerings for small panfish and cold-water species.”

Different baits work best in different situations. Denser salt-impregnated Senko baits work best for rigging worms wacky-style since they sink fast in the water, and you’lll want to make sure that you have the right holographic pattern when stripers are blitzing baitfish.

“It really depends on the fishing situation. If you have stripers crashing a school of tinker mackerel, then it becomes more about the ability of the bait to match the appearance of the natural baits with a little flash, and a little bit of darting motion,” Henson said. “If you are dropping a bait down the water column, it is a lot less about the appendages and a lot more about the density of the bait.”

Of early concern with these plastic baits was the fact that they were not biodegradable. A joint study by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Unity College showed that non-biodegradable plastic lures that were ingested by trout and salmon caused the fish to lose weight and develop other potential problems such as stomach ulcers. As a result of the study, L.L. Bean stopped selling the non-biodegradable lures in August 2009.

“We had some concern with the reports that we had seen, and we felt that it was the right move for us to make,” Henson said. “The industry has an ever-growing range of choices in color and styles in biodegradable baits, and we are working with our manufacturing partners to broaden that choice even more.”

And it is that vast variety of soft plastic baits that has anglers utilizing them in a wide variety of fishing environments.

“We have seen folks bottomfishing that have adopted these food-based biodegradable baits as teasers for cod and haddock because these baits give off a fantastic amount of scent and they certainly are a lot more convenient for anglers to keep on hand,” Henson said.

And there seems to be no end to just how many different uses there are for these baits.

“We’ve seen a fairly high adoption rate among ice anglers, adding them as teasers to jigs and fishing them all by themselves as an alternative to bait,” Henson said. “Like anything effective, creative people are going to get their hands on it and they are going to find really cool uses for these baits. We’ve even seen them used offshore in various forms for big game fish such as tuna and sharks.

“The uses are limited by your creativity, and that is what fishing is all about,” he said.

Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at:

[email protected]