June 13, 2023
- This article on bass fishing is featured in the East edition of the June-July issue of Game & Fish Magazine, now on sale at newsstands across the country. Learn how to subscribe
A resounding "Yes!" was my answer when my college-aged daughter asked if I'd take her fishing during the first week of summer break. Now understand, she might fish one time per year. Therefore, I needed a lure that would give her (and me) the best chance of catching bass with the simplest means possible. The clear choice was the curiously versatile 5-inch soft stick bait.
When Gary Yamamoto introduced the Senko more than two decades ago, he initiated a genre of soft plastics that has likely become the most effective bass-catching worm of all time. The simplicity of its design (based on a ballpoint pen of all things) lends itself to multiple rigging methods that can produce bites when bass simply won't eat other lures. The method that produced multiple spotted bass for my daughter and me that day was the weightless wacky rig, one of three highly effective techniques with a soft stick worm.
How to Rig It
The wacky rig may be the most unorthodox means of rigging a plastic worm, yet it is amazingly effective and very simple to use. Rigging a Senko "wacky" style is simply a matter of sticking the point of a #2 finesse hook into the mid-section of the soft plastic, allowing the midpoint of the worm to rest perpendicularly within the bend of the hook. As the rig falls slowly through the water column, the ends of the Senko will give a slight quiver as the midsection is pulled down by the weight of the hook, causing the worm to fall in a "U" shape.
Though the wacky rig can be fished effectively with baitcasting gear, spinning tackle is ideal for handling the light line necessary in clear water. A main line of 10- to 15-pound braid tied to a 6- to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, has become standard for most spinning techniques. Braided line doesn't twist, and fluorocarbon is virtually invisible underwater, making it a better leader material than monofilament. Rod choices vary by angler, though 7-foot medium-action rods are well suited for casting the weightless worm and battling bass with lighter lines.
Why It Works
In truth, the wacky-rigged stick worm resembles nothing in nature, yet the odd-looking little rig is absolutely deadly for catching bass when other lures fail. The success of the wacky rig is likely derived from its inconspicuous appearance and minimal action, making it ideal in ultra-clear water, on days with heavy fishing pressure or on days when bass are just uncooperative. Because the lure settles slowly, depths of 10 feet or less are optimal, though it is possible to fish the bait deeper in calm conditions. Bites are typically very subtle, as bass simply inhale the falling worm, noted by either a slight "tick" as the worm settles or a spongy heaviness as you lift the rod tip.
When to Use It
Smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass are all susceptible to the tantalizing fall of a wacky-rigged stick bait, particularly during the spawn or the days immediately thereafter, when bass refuse to chase fast-moving lures. With the bass spawn kicking off progressively later in the Northeastern states, June and early July are well within the window of time when a wacky-rigged soft stick bait will dominate.
Simply cast the wacky rig across shallow spawning flats and allow it to fall next to shallow dock pilings, small stickups or near patches of shallow vegetation. Late spawners and post-spawn bass will hold next to shallow cover. On the memorable outing with my daughter, she caught multiple spotted bass by allowing the bait to settle along steep, rocky bluffs, as the post-spawn bass were hanging over shallow rocky outcroppings along the bluff walls.
How to Rig It
The Neko rig is an adaptation of the wacky rig that allows the worm to nose downward on the fall thanks to a small nail weight or screw-lock weight inserted into the head of the worm. The weight can be as small as 1/32 or 1/64 of an ounce; however, weights of 1/8 to 3/16 ounce can be utilized effectively in 30 feet of water or more.
Like the wacky rig, a #2 finesse hook is placed within the midsection of the worm; however, the hook point is rotated 90 degrees to lie in line with the worm rather than perpendicular to it, preventing line twist after repeated casts. This rigging alteration is aided with the addition of a small O-ring band around the midsection of the worm, which supports the hook and prevents the soft-plastic bait from tearing. Rigging the hook with the point facing up toward the tail of the worm, opposite the weighted head, allows for more consistent hooksets and assists with reducing snags around brush. Applying firm pressure to the rod tip is all that’s required for hooking the bass, as the exposed point of the thin-diameter hook quickly punches through the bass’ mouth. The Neko rig can be utilized with the same rod, reel and line setup as the wacky rig, though some anglers employ rods of 7 feet 3 inches to 7 feet 6 inches and medium-heavy actions for better hooksets in deeper water.
Why It Works
Like the wacky rig, it's hard to understand exactly what the Neko rig imitates in nature. However, the upright appearance of the thin-profile worm falling through the water is unique among other soft-plastic techniques. And when bass are reluctant to eat bulkier lure offerings, the thinner profile "finesse" tactics often prove effective. As the bait is lifted, the hook being in the center of the worm imparts a subtle flex in the plastic body. When hopped along the bottom nose-first, the worm appears alive.
When to Use It
The Neko rig can be used shallow or deep. The added weight in the nose makes it an especially good choice as a finesse presentation in depths of 10 feet or greater, where the weightless wacky rig becomes inefficient. Many offshore anglers utilize a heavy Neko rig as a "clean up" technique following a rotation of fast-moving, bottom-bouncing lures. Reluctant bass will often inhale the straight-tail Neko rig when they refuse crankbaits and heavy jigs. Because bass almost always eat the lure on the fall, a high lift of the rod tip will create more opportunity for the bass to catch the lure on the descent.
How to Rig It
The Texas rig is one of the oldest and most reliable methods for catching bass. It excels in shallow or deep water, especially when bass are holding tight to cover. The Texas-rigged stick worm has a bullet-shaped lead or tungsten slip sinker threaded onto the line above the hook. With the weight free to move up and down the line, it will separate from the lighter soft plastic as it falls through the water column, creating an enticing darting action on the descent.
The slip sinker can vary from lighter weights of 1/16 to 1/4 ounce in shallow water (10 feet or less), to weights of 3/8 and even 1/2 ounce for greater depths or when wind dictates a heavier weight to maintain contact with the lure. The soft-plastic worm needs to be matched appropriately to the size of the hook. A 5-inch worm is best paired with a 3/0 offset hook. However, some soft stick worms, like the Senko, are also available in 6-inch and even monster 7-inch sizes, which require 4/0 to 6/0 hooks.
Because the Texas rig is typically fished near or within cover, fluorocarbon in 14- to 20-pound test is needed to absorb the stronger hooksets, as well as pull stubborn bass out of cover. Baitcasting gear is preferable for handling the heavier line, with 7-foot to 7-foot 6-inch rods in medium-heavy actions ideal for driving home the larger hooks.
Why It Works
The success of any Texas-rigged soft plastic lies in the ability of the weedless design to extract bass from heavy cover, be it wood, rock or vegetation. Quite frankly, the movement of a Texas-rigged stick bait in the water is not that impressive. With no fluttering appendages or curly tail, the only action is derived from the soft flex of the worm when hopped along bottom, yet the stick worm catches bass despite its simplistic shape. When matched with a 5/16- to 3/8-ounce slip sinker, it shoots to the bottom very quickly, often causing bass to grab the passing lure out of instinct. Conversely, light 1/16 to 1/8-ounce sinkers cause the stick worm to descend on a softer glide, perfect for fishing light cover or extremely shallow water.
When to Use It
In early summer when many bass are still roaming the shallows, pitching a stick worm with a 1/4-ounce weight into shallow brush in 3 to 5 feet of water can be highly effective. As bass move progressively deeper with the advance of summer and warmer water temperatures, a Texas-rigged stick worm with a 3/8-ounce weight is perfect for dragging across offshore brush piles or dropping into holes of thick vegetation.
STICK TO IT
Regardless of rigging method, one can use the soft stick worm for catching bass every day of the year. With myriad designs, shapes and actions available for fishing soft-plastic worms, the simplistic profile of an ink pen has proven the most versatile and, quite often, the most effective of them all.