August 2007

Bass Fishing Basics: Plastic Worms

By Margie Anderson

Buck Perry died a couple of years ago at the age of 90.  When he was a teenager, Buck began to think like a revolutionary. 

He started to develop ideas about how bass behave and where they live, and how they move around. These ideas were contrary to how most bass anglers thought, but Buck’s success at bass fishing proved he was right.  He’s considered the father of structure fishing.  He was convinced that a lure needs to hit structure to catch fish.

There are a lot of lures that can hit structure, but soft plastics are the most versatile.  You can use a plastic worm, craw, grub, minnow, snake, or lizard, but the basics remain the same. 


A good worm rod should have a sensitive tip so you can feel bites, but plenty of backbone for stout hooksets.  Most rods these days will tell you straight up what they are made for.  Just look for one marked Aworm@.  A nice long handle will let you hold the rod against your side and keep your fingers on the line.

A fairly fast reel helps with worm fishing because it will help you take up line quickly in case you’ve got a big fish heading for the surface. Get one that holds plenty of line and feels good in your hand.

The advent of fluorocarbon line has been a godsend to worm fishermen.  Fluorocarbon line virtually disappears under water, but the true value of fluorocarbon is that it has almost no stretch.  Hooksets are vastly improved.  This line costs more, but it is definitely worth it. 

You never know when that bite is going to be the biggest fish of your life, so you should always be prepared to boat a 15-pounder.  This means good hooks.  Good hooks cost more than crummy ones.  Again, they’re worth it.  Size your hook to the lure.  Big bait, big hook.

Texas Rig

The most basic worm rig, the Texas rig, is simply a worm on a hook with a weight in front of it.  Most people use a bullet weight.  An offset worm hook is ideal for the Texas rig. 

Stick the hook into the very top of the worm.  After about a quarter inch, stick the point out the side. Turn the worm around on the shaft, then bring the hook through the body of the worm before slipping the point back in, just under the skin. 

This makes the rig weedless.  If you want to, you can peg the sinker in place with a toothpick or a rubber nail.

You can rig any soft plastic like this.  The lighter the weight, the more natural the fall will be, and the fall is everything.  Nine times out of 10, a fish will take the bait on the fall, so you really need to pay attention to what your lure is doing.

Mike Folkstad says that a major mistake of fishermen everywhere is made when they are dragging their lure over a rock.  If you keep the line taut at this point, the lure will pendulum out away from the structure as it falls.  It may land more than a yard away. 

Folkstad says that the instant you feel your lure begin to fall, you need to give it slack.  This may mean leaning forward and sticking your rod out.  Whatever.  Give it enough slack to fall straight down. 

When fish bite a worm, it rarely feels like a bite.  It may feel as if your line has been cut.  Maybe you won’t feel a thing until you go to move the lure, and then you feel a little pressure or some mushiness. 

Maybe you’ll get lucky and feel a little thump or a tick.  Thing is, if you’re not paying attention, you will miss tons of bites. 

When you’re fishing a soft plastic, you have to be concentrating on that lure all the time.  If anything feels different, set the hook.  Don’t just give it a little jerk, either. 

If you’re afraid of being embarrassed, take up knitting or something.  When you set the hook, set it hard.  If it’s not a fish, so what?  If it is a fish you’ll be glad you didn’t mess around.  Practice makes perfect, and after you’ve been fishing a while you’ll quit setting on nothing.

Another mistake beginning worm fishermen make is moving the lure too much.  You don’t want your worm leaping around like a demented frog down there.  Just drag it or give it little hops.  A worm wiggles plenty without being jerked around a lot.

Carolina Rig

A Carolina rig is a worm or lizard or whatever on a hook just like the Texas rig, except the weight is way up the line. You slip a heavy (up to an ounce) weight on your line, then a glass bead to protect the knot, then tie on a swivel. 

You tie another piece of line to the other end of the swivel, and tie the hook onto that.  Most people start out with a leader of about 18 inches.  The slower the bite, the longer the leader.

Sling that thing out there with a sideways cast and let it go all the way to the bottom before turning the reel handle.  Let the slack settle so you know it’s on the bottom. 

To fish the Carolina rig, use the rod to pull the rig a little bit at a time.  Hold the rod in front of you and sweep it slowly to the side to move the rig, then swing it back to starting position as you reel up the slack.

When you go to pull it again, if you notice pressure or weight, set the hook by swinging the rod sideways as hard and as fast as you can, reeling the whole time.  Again, fluorocarbon line will help: You often have a lot of line out, and it can be hard to take up slack if you’re dealing with a lot of stretch.

A split-shot rig is basically a scaled-down Carolina rig.  Instead of a big weight and a swivel, you can pinch a split-shot on the line.  You also use a smaller hook and smaller worm. 

If you’re afraid of damaging your line, use a Mojo weight, or use a small bullet sinker and peg it with a rubber nail. You’ll be able to change the length of your leader at will.

Floating plastics are ideal for Carolina rigs and split-shot rigs.  Strike King’s 3X plastics float beautifully.  You can also get super floater worms (like the ones they used to make Westy’s), but be sure you use really light weight hooks or they won’t float.  The 3X stuff will float a pretty big hook.

Drop-Shot Rigs

This rig has been big news for a couple of years now.  You tie the hook on a couple feet from the end of the line, and put the weight on below it.  Drop-shot weights can be expensive, but you don’t have to use special ones. 

You can pinch a big split-shot on the end of the line, or you can use a bell sinker.  The benefit of the special drop-shot weights is that they incorporate a swivel so you don’t get so much line twist.

Drop-shot fishing is basically a vertical presentation, at least when you are starting out.  You simply position yourself over a good spot, then drop your rig straight down beneath you.  Keeping the weight on the bottom and the line taut, jiggle your rod just enough to make the worm dance around in place. 

If you are a good crappie fisherman, you’ll be a dynamite drop-shotter.  Watch the line.  If a fish takes it and heads up, the line will slacken up. 

Watch for any little tick or twitch on the line, too. Usually the hook is small and the fish will set it himself, so just reel and keep pressure on him.

Weightless Rigs

The Senko started out hot and hasn’t cooled down yet.  There are a lot of Senko knock-offs, but the real thing is pretty hard to beat. 

Most of the time you fish a Senko weightless.  It’s got tons of salt in it, so it’s heavy enough as is.  You can rig it like a Texas rig, weedless, or just stick the hook through the middle and leave it open.  That’s called a Awacky rig@. 

Toss a Senko right up next to trees or rocks or whatever, then just stand there with it.  Let it fall on fairly slack line.  When you give it slack, a Senko wiggles on both ends. 

That’s what gets the bites.  This is another time that you’ve got to watch your line.  If your Senko hits bottom without getting bit, reel it in and throw to the next spot.

You can fish almost any plastic without a weight, but you need patience.  They fall very slowly, and this can be the key to catching fish, especially if they are not aggressive. If the lure is very light, try using a weighted hook or sticking a bit of nail into the bait. 

Soft plastic baits are probably the cheapest lures in your tackle box, but they’re still one of the best — even after all these years.