While many Japanese trends and innovations are already deeply rooted on American waters, anglers who want to stay on the cutting edge always keep an eye on what’s coming next.
There’s one Japanese rig that’s not necessarily new, but is still a relative secret. It’s called the neko rig, derived from the Japanese word for “by the roots.” It’ll likely never be a dominant technique. But in today’s bass-fishing world, characterized more and more by increased fishing pressure and skittish, conditioned fish, the neko can be a critical addition to a bass angler’s arsenal.
The idea’s simple. Wacky-rig a bait, then weight the nose with a nail sinker or other product, which creates several advantages:
- The bait stands up on bottom. But unlike a shakey-head or jighead worm, the hook-point is turned up for better hooking percentages.
- The bait can be shaken aggressively in place — next to, or under a cover element, or within a nest.
- You can dredge deep water more efficiently, because the bait falls much more quickly.
- The bait skips considerably better than a weightless wacky or jighead wacky.
- If offers a different look to pressured fish that have seen hundreds of wacky worms, jigs and shakey-heads.
- It slays spotted bass, especially with a little chartreuse dip for the tail.
The rig was originally conceived in America as the jighead worm. Then, more than 20 years ago, Haruhiko Murakami of the Tsunekichi Company introduced the more specialized neko rig in Japan.
The term neko comes from the Japanese word “nekosogi,” which means “by the roots.” In translation, you’ll catch “the roots” — meaning everything.
The rig first took hold in the U.S. when Hideki Maeda used it as a co-angler to finish third, second and third in three consecutive 2005 Bassmaster Western Opens. Some of the Western pros took to calling it the “Dek rig” in reference to Hideki. Still, it dwelled in relative obscurity.
That changed in 2010 when Brent Ehrler used the neko en route to winning the Shasta Western FLW Series and Ouachita FLW Tour tournaments. At the same time, Bryan Thrift utilized the neko en route to winning the 2010 FLW Tour Angler of the Year title.
Last year, John Murray used it at the 2010 Bassmaster Classic at Lay Lake in Alabama. Murray finished 31st — the water was so cold, Beeswax was the only creek with biting fish, and he got locked out. But he said the neko was the sole presentation that produced bites for him outside of Beeswax.
Now, with the accomplishments of Ehrler and Thrift under the full spotlight, expect to see the neko this year on your waters. Fish it before everyone else and gain the edge.
NOT A SEARCH BAIT
The neko is a finesse presentation, so it demands some patience. You don’t slam the electric into high and run the banks. Here’s when you use it:
- When you’re on fish, or
- Running a specific pattern, or
- Revisiting specific cover elements over consecutive days.
Thrift first learned about the rig when he signed a title-sponsor deal with Korean bait manufacturer Damiki.
“I see it as just a better version of the shakey-head,” Thrift said. “It makes the worm stand up, and it stays on bottom the whole time and kind of walks across the bottom. I’ve caught them on it on ledges that were 20 feet deep. And actually, when I first got hold of it, I hung one close to 10 pounds and lost it. That was my first experience with it, and I’ve been hooked since. It’s a killer for bed-fish — it looks like a nest robber — and basically, it takes a regular old bait and makes it truly unique.”
Thrift neko-rigs two different Damiki baits — the Hyrda, which is a tube with balls on the ends of the tentacles, and the Stinger, which is a Senko-style soft stickbait.
Ehrler, a California pro who fishes with a lot of Japanese anglers, has known about the rig for a half-decade. He used it on and off but this year worked it into his routine with more frequency.
“I’ve used it a bunch, but it’s not yet a go-to thing for me,” Ehrler notes. “It’s more a situational thing. Like at Ouachita, I weighed several fish on it the first two days — a 5-inch neko-rigged Yamamoto Senko — but then the bite switched over to topwater. There’s no question in my mind it’s better than the shakey-head though, and I need to tell myself to throw it more. The fish are so familiar with the shakey-head, but the neko is something different: You can fish it slower, but it has more action. Every time you shake the rodtip, the bait folds in half and wiggles. Fish have never seen that.”
RIGGING THE NEKO
Create a neko rig using any softbait you like. First insert a nail weight (1/16-ounce and up) or specialized neko weight into the portion of the bait you want to rest on bottom. Then run the hook wacky-style up through the middle portion of bait. Experiment with hooking locations to create different actions.
Preferred hooks include 1/0 and 2/0 finesse wide-gap styles from Owner, Gamakatsu and Nogales, with or without a weedguard.
For Senkos, slide a rubber O-Ring (available at hardware stores) or an orthodontic rubber-band onto the Senko. Locate the O-Ring in the middle of the Senko, then run the hook through the bait behind the O-ring. That way the hook won’t tear out of the bait and you’ll save money.
Experiment with different softbait styles including craws, tubes, swimbaits, floating worms and soft jerkbaits.