Plastic Worms (Soft Baits)
Fishing plastic worms is one of the easiest, most relaxing and productive bass fishing methods, as well as one of my favorites. Also, fishing plastic worms is one of the most difficult, demanding and unproductive bass fishing methods.
Fishing plastic worms is easy and productive, but not until you learn the ropes. Fortunately, the learning curve isn’t all that hard to accomplish. Becoming an expert worm fisherman requires patience and practice, but so does becoming an expert at anything else. It does take long before you’re finessing the worm just right and start feeling the “tick, tick” on the other end…..patience is the key.
Let’s begin by agreeing the term “plastic worms,” in this discussion, covers everything from those giant, snaky, 10- and 12-inch monstrosities used for big bass in Texas, Florida and Mexico down through more reasonably sized 6- and 7-inch worms, lizards, salt craws and salamanders, as well as eels, grubs and beetle-type lures no more than two inches long. All can be fished in much the same fashion.
Which is not to say that these lures are interchangeable; there are times when each of them is the right choice. It’s also not to say that there’s only one way to fish a plastic worm. There are, literally, dozens of ways…..here are 5.
The Texas rig is easily the best-known method of presenting a plastic worm. It consists of a free-sliding, cone-shaped weight on the line above a bent-shanked worm hook, the barb of which is threaded through the head of the worm, then turned back and imbedded in the body to make it snag-resistant. Most fishing situations call for a weight of about 1 ounce, but sometimes 1/16-ounce is plenty and other times 1-1/2 ounces isn’t enough. Some anglers peg the weight to keep it from sliding on the line by inserting the point of a wooden toothpick into the hole of the weight and breaking it off. This is a good idea in extra-heavy cover, where a sliding sinker will be snagged more easily. The Texas rig is an excellent choice for fishing brushy or heavily timbered areas, because it allows you to fish right where the fish are with minimum hang-ups. Most of the time, you can jiggle or twitch your lure out of most problem areas.
The Carolina rig is better for deep, relatively open-water situations. It consists of a heavy egg sinker (usually one ounce, sometimes a little heavier or lighter, depending on water depth and other factors) above a double-ended swivel. A shorter leader line (18 inches to three feet) is tied to the other end of the swivel, and the hook is tied to the end of the leader line. Most anglers use lighter line for this, to keep from losing everything if the hook snags. For example, if your reel is spooled with 17-pound test, use 12- or 14-pound for the shorter line. Use a floating worm for best results with the Carolina rig, and leave the hook exposed. As the heavy egg sinker bounces along bottom, it makes noise and stirs up silt. Both of these attract bass. In dirty or discolored water, use a shorter line between the swivel and the hook—say, 12 to 18 inches—and as much as three feet in clear water.
While the Texas rig is for slow, deliberate fishing, the Carolina rig is good for faster fishing. It’s a good drift-fishing technique for lakes or rivers, and it’s an excellent way to cover a lot of water when searching for concentrations of largemouths or smallmouths. The worm floats off bottom and stays away from most snags, while fluttering and dancing in an enticing manner.
Free Swimming Rig
The free-swimming rig is good for calm, shallow water with little current or on streams that have lots of boulders, log jams and other structure to provide calm-water pockets for smallmouths and largemouths. For this rig, use a small ball-bearing swivel rigged like the Carolina rig above, but leave off the weight. Rig the worm on the hook either Texas-style, with the hook imbedded in the worm (best if there’s vegetation present) or Carolina-style, with the hook exposed (best if weeds and snags are scarce.) Fish the worm erratically and slowly around boat docks, weed lines, or other cover, but don’t let it sink too far. Your goal is to try to make the worm look like it’s leisurely swimming through the water.
The floating rig is just what it sounds like….a floating worm fished with a light wire hook (rigged Texas or Carolina style, depending on the vegetation) without a weight. It can be used with or without a swivel, but if you use one, make the attachment line short (not over six inches) and keep the swivel small. Fish the worm like a surface plug, with intermittent twitches, jerks and pauses. This is mostly a clear-water, calm-water fishing technique, since a floating plastic worm doesn’t make much noise and the fish need to see it to find it. It’s an excellent method for fishing shallow water around brush, logs, lily pads and other cover.
One last technique for fishing plastic worms (especially the smaller versions like grubs, crawfish, small salamanders and four to six inch worms) is the jig rig, which is simply threading the worm onto a jig head and bouncing or swimming it off the bottom. This can be done over deep water by fishing vertically below the boat, or you can cast the lure conventionally. This is an excellent technique for catching stream smallmouths, but it also works well in larger lakes, especially when fishing steep drop-offs or cliff faces.
One of the hardest things for newcomers to learn when fishing worms is what a strike feels like. At first, everything feels the same whether it’s sticks, stumps, rocks or bass. After a dozen fruitless swipes of the rod with nothing but hang-ups as a result, many fishermen give up on worming and go back to more familiar lures. However, a strike is distinctive once you’ve had a few of them, so keep trying. The safest thing to do, though, is to set the hook if there’s any doubt. Sometimes when you feel a bump or two as the bass is nipping at the worm, it’s best to stop forward momentum and simply twitch the rod tip slightly. Think of it like this, If you’ve ever touched a worm on the ground, it’s first response is to twitch or coil up….often times that will trigger a strike
If the barb of your hook is imbedded in the worm body for weedless purposes, the proper hook-set is a long, hard, violent yank. Not only do you have the normal line stretch to deal with, but you must also drive the hook through the body of the worm and into the mouth of the bass. That requires a lot of pull during the hook-set. If your hook barb is exposed, don’t be quite so violent. Rather, a long, sweeping pull of your rod is the ticket. If possible, make the sweep sideways rather than overhead, so you can pull more line through the water.
The Rod or Pole
For almost all worm-fishing situations, a long rod is desirable because it provides more leverage. Six and a half feet is the minimum for effective worming, and a foot longer is better. Usually a medium, which is the rod that I prefer, to stiff rod is the best in most situations. Rod action is largely a matter of personal preference, as long as there’s some authority in the butt section for getting some muscle into the hook-set and for horsing heavy fish away from cover. Some anglers prefer a sensitive tip so they can detect light strikes by sight, and others like pool-cue rods so they can feel the strike better.
Sure, it may be more thrilling to have a bass hammer a fast-moving spinnerbait or crankbait, or to see one blow up on a topwater plug. But many times, only aggressively feeding bass will attack these lures. Consider the fact that bass spend most of their time in a neutral to negative feeding mode. This is when worms and other soft plastic baits really shine. And worms are at their best in the heat of summer, when bass can get so lethargic that “power lures” may be a waste of time. These and several other factors make soft plastics standard equipment in any complete bass angler’s arsenal.