One of the things that make bass fishing unique among other fishing circles is that an angler may use seven or eight totally different techniques in one day. Someone trolling for stripers or trout may change lures and depths during the trip, but – he is trolling, period. The fly-fisherman will change flies during the course of the day, but, again, he is fly-fishing, period. A versatile bass angler may throw topwater at first light, fish spinnerbaits shallow and deep, throw a slow falling Senko, work a jig in rocky structure, flip a tule line with a brush hog, drag a split-shot worm behind the boat, and end the trip tossing crankbaits. Seven totally different techniques requiring different tackle and lures. This can be fun, or utter insanity, depending on how you look at it.
One thing is for sure, a plastic (not rubber) worm will be one of the lures used in nearly every bassin’ adventure. If any group of bass anglers is asked to list his favorite bass lure, a form of plastic worm will always be in the top three. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Most popular worms fall in the 4 1/2 to 12 inch sizes. Using three basic worming techniques, there is a 4 1/2 to 12 inch worm that will work in any fishing situation.
The worm is so versatile that it can be fished deep, shallow, or on the surface. They can be fished slow or fast, cast, flipped, pitched, vertical jigged, and even trolled. I say this because I once caught a four-pound bass on a worm that I was accidentally trolling. I didn’t reel it all the way in when it was moving to another spot with the trolling motor on high. That bass jumped all over it!!
The most common technique for fishing a 6 inch or bigger worm is the Texas rig – a worm weight freely sliding up and down the fishing line, above a worm rigged weedless on a 3/0 to 5/0 hook. A glass bead can be used between the sinker and the eye of the hook to add a clicking sound. This can often be effective in low-light conditions or at night. This is the rig used in the winter when an angler shakes this setup with his rod tip, below the boat, in order to entice a strike from lethargic bass.
Texas rigging is designed to keep the worm slithering on the bottom – following the rise and fall of the lake bottom, or through branches of a tree. Since this technique is preferred when fishing heavy cover, or nasty rocks, the hook needs to be buried in the worm so as not to snag up. This style of worm fishing requires medium and medium-heavy action rods in 6 1/2 to 7 foot lengths to allow for a powerful hookset – needed to drive the hook through the plastic and into the bass’s mouth. I prefer the Mister Twister Keeper Hook on 4/0 and 5/0 sizes when fishing big worms like the 10 inch Berkley Power Worm that I use in my night guided trips. I have found this to be the very best hook when using thick plastic worms and brush hogs. The worm slips off the keeper at the top of the hook easily and penetration is solid with the thin hook tip. Most anglers will use 12 to 20 pound test when fishing large worms. The major advantage when crawling a Texas rigged worm on the bottom is that the bass is forced to suck up the worm, and you will feel the bite nearly every time. It is always more fun to feel the strike!!
When fishing in the winter, as I just mentioned, or in highly pressured waters, a 6 or 6 1/2 foot medium action rod will work fine for fishing 4 1/2 and 6 inch hand poured finesse worms. These worms, such as those made by Magic Worms, are paired with a 1/0 or 2/0 light wire hook, and fished with 6 to 10 pound test line. When these mini-worms are fished Texas rigged in the winter, they are usually shaken’ just off the bottom, and not necessarily dragged. The bite will most often be of the pressure type – the worm just seems to get heavy. Rarely will you feel a pronounced “tick”. The bass will usually take the bait after it is shaken’, and then allowed to rest on the bottom.
The next two styles of worm fishing are familiar to most bass fishermen – split-shotting and Carolina-rigging. Actually, these are variations on the same theme, sort of a weight-forward concept. Whereas the Texas rig keeps the worm on the bottom, the other two styles allow the worm to float about a foot or so behind the weight. This is the most natural way to attract bass, and therefore one of the easiest ways to catch them. If you think about it, everything under the surface of the water, living or not, is buoyant. Fish, crawdads, turtles, beavers, sediment, all appear to be in suspended animation. This is what bass see and prey upon every day – floating food! I wonder why suspending crankbaits and ripbaits are the rage now! So it is reasonable that a worm or lizard drifting just off the bottom behind a weight that is stirring up the bottom is simply too real to resist. Bass just don’t ignore these natural looking morsels very often.
Split-shotting is just what it says: attaching a split-shot weight to 6 or 8 pound test line, about 12 to 18 inches above a light wire hook. Popular hook sizes are 2, 1, and 1/0. Rig a 4 1/2 to 6 inch hand pour worm on the hook, and you have maybe the very best bass-catching system. While you maybe not catch too many huge bass this way, you should have action all day.
This is how you get a quick limit! Since these worms are so easy for a bass to pick up, floating off the bottom, anglers will just feel some resistance – the bait will seem to get a bit heavy. Rarely is there a strike when split-shotting. That is the tradeoff – this rig is easy to fish, but hard to detect the bite. Watching the tip of your rod helps you to determine if there is a fish on. Sometimes there is a telltale twitch or two. When you are convinced that you have a fish on, just sweep the rod to the side, and the bass will be hooked. A big-time hookset used for larger worms is not needed. A good split-shot rod has a limber tip, is 6 1/2 to 7 feet long, and is rated for 6 to 12 pound test.
Carolina rigging is used for larger baits, such as lizards, brush hogs, and 6 to 10 inch worms. Gitzits and grubs can be fished in this way also. Instead of a split-shot, a swivel is used to hold the sliding weight in place, with a 12 to 18 inch leader attached to the hook. Since this rig is often used to target larger bass, 10 to 15 pound test is popular. The weight can be as heavy as the angler wishes, since it has no bearing on the action of the bait. Obviously, the Carolina rig can be fished in very deep water, or in windy conditions. I like to use a braided line (Berkley Fireline) of about 14 or 20 pound test, with a Sugoi fluorocarbon leader (12 pound test) of about 16 inches. The thin diameter Fireline sinks quickly and gives me incredible sensitivity!
Both of these rigs can be cast to the shore or to an underwater structure, and retrieved slowly back to the boat. They are commonly towed (notice I didn’t say trolled!) behind the boat with the trolling motor on the slowest setting, or with the breeze moving the boat along. Casting would probably be the preferred way to go in the winter and spring, while dragging behind the boat is most effective in summer and fall, when most of the bass move off-shore. Two clients and I can do this very well together – one rod to the port side, one to the starboard, and one straight off the back, over the engine. When you are dragging, make sure the rod tip is pointed towards the back of the boat, so as to get a good forward sweep of the rod to set the hook. You don’t need to give the rod any action at all, just hold it. It is necessary once in awhile to give it a slight twitch, which causes the worm to dart around. Sometimes this will trigger the strike.
Plastic worms can be fished on or near the surface too, being especially deadly during the warm water months in shallow bodies of water like the Delta, Clear Lake, and in many farm ponds. Bass will not only eagerly hit lures that suspend, but lures that slowly float down to the bottom, much like a small leaf fluttering down from a beautifully colored tree in the fall. To be honest, the Yamamoto Senko has stolen a little thunder from the weightless plastic worm in the past year. This fine bait has helped anglers see how attracted a bass is to a bait that slowly falls, maybe moving side-to-side, or in the case of the Senko, having both ends of the bait quiver. This is a meal just too easy to pass up. The floating worm is fished with a 7 foot (easier to cast) medium-heavy action rod using 12 to 17 pound test line tied directly to a heavy 4/0 or 5/0 hook, which acts like a tiny weight. Some anglers like to use a swivel about 18 inches above the worm, to keep it from twisting. If you do that, check your knots often – there are now three of them! While most worms float, the 8 inch Zoom Trick Worm is often the worm of choice for this most exciting style of worm fishing. Bright colors are used most often – white, bubblegum, and methiolate – to help the angler follow the path of the worm and react to it being sucked in by a bass. Throw this set-up into any type of heavy cover that is in shallow water. A favorite technique of mine at Clear Lake is to throw it parallel to a tule bank. The bass will pick up the worm on the fall, or as it twitched back to the boat. The 10 inch Berkley Power Worm is also an excellent worm to work weightless over and around grass mats, cheese, and tule clumps. Pumpkinseed and junebug are excellent colors for these monster-catching worms.
Worm colors are always a personal choice. The best color, of course, is the one you have confidence in. You will always fish that color with the most concentration. The general rule is to use darker colors early and late in the day, and at night. Bright days call for translucent colors (see through) in blue, green, pink, and cotton candy. Cloudy days are a tossup – you need to experiment. Some of my large worm favorites for first and last light are black, junebug, and especially red shad – terrific in the evening at Amador and Clear Lake. Black is the standard color at night, with black/chartreuse and black/red being good during moonlit nights. The same colors apply to plastic lizards too. Three wonderful colors during the day for all larger plastic baits are watermelon with red flake, pumpkin with black flake, and the previously mentioned cotton candy. I use Magic Worms for a lot of my small worm needs. Some of my favorite colors are: morning dawn, witches T, junebug II, summer moss, crawdad, and blue ghost. These are really the only colors you need – yea, right!! I probably have 20 colors in the boat – JUST IN CASE!! I might mention that the 4 inch Berkley Pulse Worm (pumpkin) is a sleeper. It is working well for folks that are using it.
In closing, the plastic worm is the one bass bait that is really hard to fish incorrectly. If the presentation or size you are throwing is not working, do something different. In most cases, the slower you fish these hunks of plastic, the larger bass you are likely to catch. Fishing smaller worms will put school size bass in your boat as a rule. Giant bass are usually caught on large baits. Fishing the 10 inch Berkley Power Worm may limit the number of bites you get, but braggin’ rights at the end of the trip could be yours. Remember, there is a big difference between a lot of bites, and THE BITE!!! Which would you prefer?