Here's how using straight-tail worms can drive hard-to-get big bass bat-crazy.
By Dr. Todd A. Kuhn
The air drapes over you like a wet sheet. The humidity is so thick that you labor to breathe. As summer's heat turns oppressive, getting on the water early, in many cases, is the only option for those bent on boating their limit. As bass seek the solace of shade, a straight tail worm's salacious strut radiates a mesmerizing message — a call-to-feed to those lurking in the shadows.
Savvy bass fishermen know summertime is prime time for catching giant bass on topwater. As summer shifts into high gear, bass begin feeding early and late in the shallows. They move into these areas, seeking to forage amongst the abundance of vegetation and other friendly haunts which harbor their favorite snacks. Minnows, crawfish, baitfish and any number of other staples thrive here, offering bass a buffet from which to sample.
While locating summertime bass isn't too terribly difficult, catching them can be. Topwater baits are one of the best ways to coax these fish into the boat, as their commotion turns collective heads. There's no debating how chuggers, twitchers, wobblers or torpedoes can drive big bass bat-crazy.
However, the structure which concentrates food for fish also provides a sometimes-impenetrable barrier to topwater baits. Matted weeds, stick-ups, lilies, bulrushes, cattails and other nasties provide a rich ecosystem for forage, but they're also magnets for exposed topwater trebles.
OH, SO SUBLIME
Successfully extracting fish from shallow water tangles means getting baits back into the aquatic thickets. While traditional topwater lures will draw strikes when fished near the trash, they are nearly impossible to throw without considerable cussing.
Lobbing topwater plugs into pockets in the vegetation will work. However, once a fish is hooked, especially a big one, the probability of getting it out and into the boat is remote at best. Hooks snag quickly in the weeds, offering the leverage fish need to work themselves free.
Anyone who has hung their lucky 20-something-buck topwater bait irretrievably knows how maddening it is. Instead, why not throw baits which can be fished 100 percent weedlessly through the thickest soup? Enter the straight tail worm.
Pro Tip: Bass in the Grass
During bass fishing's early infancy, all worms were created equal. Every hand-poured worm had a straight tail, which was an attempt to imitate the look of a real night crawler. Ohio's Nick Creme is credited with inventing and manufacturing the first soft plastic worm, his Creme Scoundrel, in 1949. Today traditional straight tails still command respect, as they are capable of reaching and catching fish other soft plastics can't possibly.
Fishing straight tail worms, weightless and rigged weedless, lets fishermen cast into any aquascape, no matter its density. Fishing these worms on top of the structure is easy.
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Probing the nooks-and-crannies from above allows access to otherwise impenetrable structure, helping root out buried fish.
Straight tail worms are naturals at slop fishing, as their slender, straight bodies glide through obstacles like no other bait. Their ability to pull through structure that would grab angular baits (i.e., those plastics with appendages like soft creature baits) can't be denied. While harder to find today, straight tail soft plastics, like Creme's Scoundrel, the Gambler Sweebo 6.5, YUM Mighty Worm and Mann's Jelly Worm (albeit a very small tail) are still available.
When rigging for battle in the boonies, a simple weightless Texas rig excels. The weight of the worm, and its action for the most part, is dependent on what hook you choose and your line selection (both poundage and "type").
There are several factors to consider when selecting a hook. For instance, how long are the casts you're making? What size/weight worm are you using? Generally larger hooks for large worms and smaller hooks for small worms.
However, it is imperative you match the hook wire gauge to your line weight and your rod's action. Heavy gauge hooks thrown on light line will lead to poor hookset ratios, as driving large hooks home on light line is a futile affair.
Your choice of line weight and style should vary according to where you're throwing baits. In the thickest of cover, braid is the best bet. Braid provides the muscle you'll need to pry fish from deep cover without the line stretch of clear lines (i.e., monofilament and fluorocarbon).
When the weeds aren't too terribly thick and open water pockets exist, fluorocarbon shines as it lets you pause and the bait to sink (i.e., fluorocarbon sinks and monofilament floats). This effectively draws strikes from fish staged along the pocket's weedy edges, darting back-and-forth foraging the open water.
WAG THE TAIL
Ask 10 bass fishermen what the "best" color is, and you'll get 13 different answers. While color selection is subjective, when it comes to topwater worms firetails excel. A brightly-colored firetail lets fish in heavy cover zero-in on the bait when striking. While solid colors certainly will work, you'll find your hook-up ratio will double with firetails.
"BIG FISH TWITCH"
Throwing a straight tail into the trash and working it on a straight retrieve works. However, adding an aggressive cadence draws considerably more strikes as the fish you are chasing are very active.
Working a straight tail topwater worm is relatively simple; just sharply snap the rod on a relatively fast-paced, continuous retrieve. However, when fishing small pockets or tightly-confined areas an overtly aggressive cadence spooks fish. When probing "small" water, work the bait with a bit of finesse. As the area opens up, fish the bait with increasing aggressiveness.
Keep in mind when fishing topwater plastics that their commotion is what attracts fish and triggers strikes. Always fish on as long a cast as you can make. Long casts give fish time to find the bait in the underwater maze they're prowling in.
Fishing weightless straight tails on top requires some specialized equipment. Throwing straight tail worms long distances to access remote holes, pockets and across large expanses of greenery requires a long lever.
Typically 7-foot-plus spinning rods are a necessity. Extended lengths offer long casting and the ability to leverage big fish from cover. Limber tips are a must, as they impart the subtle action you'll need in skinny water, and the crisp, sharp action needed when working a snappy cadence in open water. When working straight tail worms, you must add the action. A stiff spinning rod mutes the action, leading to lumbering and sluggish baits.
When shopping for a topwater worm reel, opt for a large capacity model with an oversized spool. Large diameter spools tend to cast further, and the extra payload is necessary when working baits on long lines.