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Written By: Cal Kellogg, July 12, 2014
I’m of the opinion that in most situations well-presented natural baits will outperform artificials. Following this philosophy, when the going gets tough or when big fish are the objective, I typically reach past the artificials and rig up with natural baits.
For example, if I’m after a derby winning lingcod, I’ll usually be mooching brined mackerel or a lively rockfish. If big trout and landlocked kings are on the menu, I’ll serve rigged shad and anchovies for the main course. I could go on and on…
I’ve got to be honest, a few years ago when I started reading claims that Berkley Gulp! and PowerBait soft baits were as effective or even more effective than live bait I scoffed. There was no way that an artificial would consistently outperform natural bait! And then I started fishing with the stuff…
Can you see where this is going? The more I used Gulp! and PowerBait soft baits, the more fish I caught across a range of different species and different situations.
Over the past couple years I’ve used Gulp! and PowerBait extensively and the results have been impressive. Since I’m still in the experimenting phase, I haven’t reached any conclusions about the best uses or limitations of these baits. I’m just going to ramble forward and share my results and observations thus far. My goal is to prompt my fans out there in Fish Sniffer Country to pick up some of these intriguing baits and begin experimenting themselves.
Before I start discussing the application of these baits, we should take a moment to distinguish between PowerBait and Gulp! PowerBait soft baits have been around a lot longer then Gulp! and PowerBait has quite a cult following in the bass fishing world.
PowerBait soft baits come in a wide range of sizes and colors including translucent hues that are useful in clear water situations. All PowerBait soft baits put off the deadly PowerBait scent.
What exactly PowerBait soft baits are made of is a closely guarded secret. The compound stores, feels and reacts much like soft plastic.
Gulp! is less transparent then PowerBait. Gulp! is made from soybeans and is water-soluble, meaning it slowly melts in water. Due to the fact that it’s water soluble, Gulp! puts out 400 times more scent than PowerBait.
Gulp! comes in zip seal packages and liquid filled tubs. If you allow Gulp! to dry out the baits quickly shrink and get hard. This doesn’t happen nearly so quickly with PowerBait.
Both baits will draw strikes when still fished without imparting any action whatsoever…just like natural baits will!
On paper Gulp! is superior to PowerBait, but in reality, I’ve enjoyed stellar results while using both products.
Species And Tactics
My first experience using “soft plastics” for trout was when I started trolling with Berkley Power Grubs. They worked then and they still work now. To rig up tip your main line with a quality trolling swivel to avoid line twist. Add a 48 inch fluorocarbon leader and tip it with a No. 6 rig eye hook. Pin a grub on the hook such that the grub’s body is straight. Troll this rig at 1 mph and it will produce fish.
If you want a broader profile bait that resembles a fat minnow or threadfin shad rig up as instructed above and then slide a hoochie down the leader and over the grub. I call this bait The Fat Boy. This rig must scream shad, because I’ve had rainbows grab it on the surface and kings smash it down 80 feet!
This brings us to one of the best and most overlooked landlocked king and trout baits available, the PowerBait Minnow. It’s a drop shot bait designed for bass anglers. Its profile matches that of minnow or smelt closely, but the bait has zero action. Don’t let the lack of action put you off, the fish love this thing.
One way to rig up is to pin the bait on a size appropriate hook and run it behind a dodger to impart a dip and dart action. This rig has been working very well for king salmon at both Shasta and Oroville.
If you run this rig at salmon depth you get salmon. Run it at trout depths and you get trout.
As good as the PowerBait Minnow is, the Gulp! Minnow is even better, albeit tougher to store. PowerBait Minnows only come in a few colors, Gulp! Minnows are available in several natural and super bright hues. The sizes of the baits range from 1 to 4 inches. The 2 and 3 inch models are most useful, but a 12 rainbow will still whack a 4 inch Gulp! Minnow so don’t be afraid to troll the big ones.
Okay brace yourself, these lifeless little baits also works when casted and retrieved. Pin them on a light darterhead style jig head. Cast the bait out, let it fall and then bring it back with an erratic retrieve.
I watched Ron Ballanti of Cousins Tackle use this approach to hook several trout at Bass Lake this spring. It also works on the American River for big educated browns and at Lake Natomas for the lakes legendary monster rainbows.
For the stream trout anglers and anglers that like to target lake and reservoir trout with bait, there are a number of intriguing offerings in the PowerBait line of soft baits including Power Wigglers and Power Nymphs.
As a side note, keep in mind if you take a Berkley Power Worm, break off a 1.5 inch piece and drift it through a stream or drift it in a lake under a bobber trout will grab it just like they do a real worm.
These worms are designed for bass fishing but are easily adaptable for trouters. This is the case with a lot of baits in both the PowerBait and Gulp! lines. The baits were largely designed with bass in mind, but they have applications for many other species of fish.
We are running out of space, so let’s move onto saltwater. Gulp! or more specifically Saltwater Gulp! is deadly in saltwater. For northern California anglers you can catch rockfish, lingcod, halibut, stripers and more on Gulp! Swimming Mullets. These baits come in sizes from 3 to 6 inches long. White and pearl colors work great, but be sure to get some dark and bright colors too.
I often use Gulp! baits on live bait trips when other anglers are hooking up with live anchovies. As long as there is a decent amount of drift, I’ve found these baits just as effective as live bait.
Gulp! Mullet are versatile. If anglers are using live anchovies on three way rigs I use the same set up, but I use a larger hook and thread a Mullet on it keeping it as straight as possible.
When bottomfish are the target pinning a Gulp! Mullet on a 2 or 3 ounce jig head works great. If you want to load up a limit of big rockfish pin a pair of small Mullet onto a shrimp fly rig. Rockfish love Gulp!
The uses for these baits goes on an on. When barbs were banned on sturgeon hooks a while back anglers started having problems keeping their baits on the barbless hooks. Some anglers overcame this challenge by baiting up their hook as usual and then they pinned on a chunk of Gulp! or PowerBait softbait. The chunk of soft bait not only keeps the softer natural baits in place, but it also adds even more fish attracting scent to the rig.
With these examples I hope I’ve ignited a desire to experiment in some of you. The Gulp! and PowerBait lines of baits are extensive and the stuff is relatively cheap when compared to other lures and baits. Seeing the effectiveness of these baits first hand in a variety of different settings has me believing that we are on the eve of a major revolution in terms of how we look at and employ artificial baits.
How can you go wrong with soft artificial bait that gamefish can’t distinguish from the real thing? YOU CAN’T!
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