November 13, 2018
By John N. Felsher
Long before I ever heard the phrase “Texas-rigged worm,” people used “harness worms.”
Adapted from a rig designed to tempt walleye with live nightcrawlers, these pre-rigged baits came with two or three hooks protruding from the belly of a soft-plastic worm and linked together with fishing line. On the nose, a straight wire held several colored metal, glass or plastic beads and what looked like a miniature metal aircraft propeller.
Early one July 4 many years ago, Dad took me fishing at a pond near our home. By mid-morning, the sun began to beat down on us and several people arrived at the popular swimming hole.
Dad said, “We haven’t caught anything. Not a bite. Let’s go.” My natural response to that was always, “One more cast, please?”
Without waiting for Dad’s answer, I quickly tied on a bright red harness worm, the first time I had ever used any kind of soft-plastic bait. I tossed it past a sandbar and let the bait sink to the bottom in the trough between the bar and the shoreline. Then, I began reeling it steadily fast enough to turn the propeller.
Soon, something grabbed it. After quite a fight on light tackle, I finally landed a bass weighing nearly 6 pounds, a personal best for many years. Instantly, red harness worms became my new favorite bass bait!
Today, few bass anglers still fish with harness or pre-rigged worms -- if they can even find them! A few companies still make them. If people look through shelves in the back corners of old tackle shops, hardware stores or convenience stores near bass lakes, anglers might find a dusty pack or two.
However, anglers more recently began using something similar, only in reverse. Instead of a propeller on a worm’s nose, add one to the tail of a straight worm, slug-type bait or similar soft-plastic lure.
“I started using tail-spinner worms in tournaments and caught a lot of good fish on them,” advised Keith Poche, a professional bass angler from Alabama. “It’s a very versatile bait that can be fished anywhere. I can throw a tail-spinner worm into fallen trees, flooded brush piles, grass patches or anything that might hold a bass and it won’t hang up. It’s also a great search bait. With it, I can cover a lot more water than just by working a standard soft-plastic stickbait.”
In the old days, many harness worms came pre-rigged with wire weed guards that anglers could snap over their hooks to make them snagless.
Today, most people rig these worms with hook points barely inserted into the plastic like on a Texas rig, but without the weight. Some people add a small split-shot to the line about 12 inches in front of the propeller to add casting heft or to fish it deeper. With the hook point covered by plastic, the worm can slip through most entangling places.
“I like a straight worm or stickbait with a little weight to it,” Poche suggested. “Typically, I’ll throw it weightless with a 5/0 extra-wide gap hook. To the back of the worm, attach a number 1 or 2 spinner blade with a swivel and a split ring. The blade is just big enough to give off some flash, but not too bulky to chase fish away.”
A tail-spinner worm almost combines the effectiveness of weedless worms with fish attracting qualities of spinnerbaits, but in a more subtle package. The flashing spinner and the vibrations it creates draw attention to the bait. When a bass comes to investigate, it sees the enticing soft-plastic morsel and strikes. Since the bait feels soft and lifelike, a bass might hold onto it longer.
“It’s a finesse technique that combines a spinnerbait look with a plastic worm,” Poche explained. “Most spinnerbaits are big and bulky with a lot of metal on them. Nothing in nature looks like a spinnerbait. A tail-spinner worm looks like it could be alive.”
Anglers can work the rig several ways. Toss it into a likely sweet spot and let it sink. Anglers can steadily reel it at any depth to make the propeller spin, almost like fishing a spinnerbait. Occasionally pause to let the bait sink a few feet before resuming the retrieve. Some people even hop tail-spinner worms off the bottom almost like working a Texas-rigged worm or jig.
“I fish a tail-spinner worm really slowly,” Poche said. “I cast it out in water five feet deep or less. I let it fall and then slowly start retrieving it to make the blade spin a little. I’ll bump it forward a little and then let it fall again. The spinner attracts a bass’s attention and allows a person to fish it a lot faster than a Texas-rigged worm. Bass hit it pretty aggressively.”
Tail-spinner worms typically work best when bass feed in shallow water with abundant cover. Run it around or through weed beds, fallen trees, flooded brush, docks, drop-offs, stumps, riprap or similar ambush spots where someone might throw a spinnerbait. When passing a stump, log, rock or other object, let the bait sink to the bottom. Bass might hit it on the fall.
“In the spring, I like to fish in the backs of pockets and coves of impoundments,” Poche recommended. “I look for little ditches with slightly deeper water in shallow flats. Bass get into those ditches to migrate into and out of the shallows. I also look for dark spots that could indicate submerged stumps next to these little tributaries that were once tiny creeks flowing through forests. Ditches with stumps are high percentage places to catch fish.”
Unlike fishing with the old pre-rigged worms, anglers can easily change colors, shapes or sizes on a tail-spinner worm. Experiment with different retrieves, colors and configurations to see what bass want to hit best that day.