Soft Plastics

How It's Made

FSF Staff August 10, 2009

Have you ever wondered what goes into manufacturing the tackle, gear and accessories we all use today? Anglers often take for granted the tremendous effort required to engineer, design and build all of the equipment and countless components that combine to enhance our boating and sport fishing experiences. You name it, and somewhere in Florida there is a team of professionals investing long hours to produce the assortment of fishing and boating gear we so cherish. We wanted to learn more about these people and about the products they specialize in and are confident that you, too, will be fascinated with what we discover in our ongoing investigation to reveal “How It’s Made.”

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The color pigment is mixed in a 5-gallon bucket (Image 1).

In the realm of sport fishing the term soft plastic refers to a wide range of fishing lures, aptly named due to their soft and flexible texture. While highly debatable, nothing may be more exciting than fooling an intelligent predator into striking nothing more than a brightly colored piece of plastic. Soft plastic baits came to fruition in the mid 1900s and since then, manufacturers have been integrating the newest technologies and advanced materials to create the most lifelike soft plastic baits ever. With the aide of modern technology soft plastic baits now look, feel, smell, sound and taste more like the real thing then ever before. Thankfully, these petroleum and silicon based baits are affordable and easy to rig so it is possible for anglers to experiment with multiple offerings on a single outing.

The injection-molding machines used at Saltwater Assassin were handmade to exacting specifications to create a product of unrivaled perfection…

Soft plastic lures are designed to perfectly mimic every possible forage including, crab, shrimp, crayfish, eel, sand flea, grub, squid and also every baitfish known to man. Whether you’re fishing a soft plastic on its own, or using it as an enticement with another lure, these baits regularly fool Florida’s most sought after game fish. With a wide gamut of baits and numerous rigging options available there’s clearly a soft plastic presentation for every fishing situation you may encounter. From the cobalt blue depths to Florida’s shallow estuarine habitats, soft plastic baits will never lead you astray.

To get an insider’s look at how soft plastic baits are manufactured we visited Bass Assassin, based in Mayo, Florida. An industry leader for more than 20-years, Bass Assassin is family owned and operated by the Shivers, who pride themselves on producing the most deadly effective and realistic soft plastic baits on the market. Bass Assassin opened its doors in April of 1988, and originally manufactured only one product – a 6-inch worm. Within a few years the Shiver’s designed a 5-inch shad. Big Bend locals targeting largemouth bass in the Suwannee River discovered that the local fish population found the bait simply irresistible. Its effectiveness was also proven in the nearby saltwater ecosystem of Steinhatchee, enticing savage strikes from seatrout, redfish and flounder, just to name a few.

Soon after the epiphany that these lures were equally as effective in saltwater, tackle retailers and distributors around the state were complaining that saltwater anglers were clearing their stocks of freshwater offerings. While bass, walleye and crappie anglers make up a large portion of Bass Assassin’s loyal customer base, President Robin Shiver was quick to recognize the popularity that soft plastic lures were gaining among saltwater aficionados. The recent boom in shallow water angling also contributed to a higher demand for plastics designed to mimic local saltwater forage.

It wasn’t until 1993 when the Shiver’s decided that they were ready to take the saltwater market by storm. The Saltwater Assassin label was launched and immediately became a household name, however, this family owned and operated business had a major obstacle to overcome. One of their injection-molding machines caught fire during production and their entire manufacturing facility burnt to the ground. After the damage was assessed, the Shiver’s were almost forced to close their doors for good. The catastrophe accounted for approximately $1,000,000 in damages, and while this setback definitely affected their production numbers, today their success and stronghold on the market is so distinct that you’d have no idea they almost ceased to exist.

While soft plastic baits are relatively simple offerings, the manufacturing process is rather in-depth and detailed. The pouring process starts with vats of liquid petroleum. This clear gel has a specific density and hardness that is predetermined for the specific application. Depending on the recipe, softening or hardening agents can be added to adjust the bait’s texture. The right amount of softener increases elasticity, enabling baits to stretch without snapping. On the flip side, it is essential that soft plastic baits are relatively hard so they can withstand fierce strikes from tough game fish. Once the liquid plastic has reached the manufacturer’s predetermined specifications, it’s time to add color. From Drunk Monkey, Electric Chicken, Albino Fire, Bone Diamond, Space Guppy, Purple Passion, June Bug and Fire Tiger, the color combinations at Saltwater Assassin are endless. In fact, there are over 100 unique color combinations available as of press time.

The color pigment is mixed in a 5-gallon bucket (Image 1), and there’s no fancy pigment here. The ink is similar to what’s used in T-shirt and manuscript printing. The liquid plastic and color pigment are then placed in a 40-gallon drum (Image 2). From there additional fish attracting features like scents and glitters can be added. These attractants appeal to a fish’s senses, and can trigger strikes as well as cause game fish to hold onto baits longer.

Once the liquids are mixed and have achieved the desired color and consistency, they are placed in a corner of the warehouse where they sit until a recipe calls for the specific color (Image 3). When it comes time to start pouring, a skilled craftsman selects the colors for the desired recipe. The selected barrels are wheeled to the pouring room where the synthetic plastic is heated and injected into two-piece aluminum castings. During the injecting process the drums are stirred with commercial grade electric mixers to ensure the angling concoction has a uniform consistency (Image 4).

The liquid plastic is engineered so that after cooling, it will have a certain density, texture, and color. The injection-molding machines used at Saltwater Assassin were handmade to exacting specifications to create a product of unrivaled perfection with consistent shape, color and texture. While some of the lures manufactured are solid colors, many of the most effective offerings are derived from twin and tri-color pallets and include a variety of opaque and translucent effects.

The automated machines were built so they can simultaneously inject the desired amount of a particular color. It is also possible to create baits with gradual color changes, which is achieved by using castings with multiple color cavities. By utilizing injection gates and side cavities (Image 5), manufacturers can create baits with tails of different colors than the main baits’ body. This effect is accomplished best with Saltwater Assassin’s unique 3-color molding process. When compared to typical machine-cutting processes and time-consuming hand pouring, injection-molding offers exceptional quality control.

Once the liquid plastic is injected into the casting it is heated to 370˚ Fahrenheit. The exact baking temperature depends on the size of the bait, and after an approximate two-minute bake time the lures are removed and placed in cold water (Image 6). The water cools the freshly poured baits and enables the plastic to set and solidify. The castings are formed in a way in which the baits create a stringer of offerings. This helps to minimize wasted material and also to facilitate easier post processing (Image 7). The chain of baits is then taken to the production room where they are removed from the chain and placed in Saltwater Assassin packaging (Image 8). The packages are then sealed and moved to the shipping department (Image 9). It is here where the baits are boxed and labeled (Image 10) for anxious anglers around the world.

From casting 11-inch eels to cruising cobia, to fooling sneaky snook with shrimp-shaped and flavored offerings, soft plastics baits have worthy applications in every angling venue. Unlike typical lures, where size and shape often limit working depth and action, soft plastics can be rigged to suit nearly any situation. The next time you toss out a soft plastic, stop and think about the time and effort that was put into manufacturing your most reliable and economical offering.

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