Marc Townsend Describes Fishing with Plastic Worms
By Marc Townsend
When I first began bass fishing, the thing I found hardest was fishing plastic worms. When you Texas rig a worm, it can be difficult to detect bites when you are just starting out – when a worm bumps into a branch or a rock, it can feel like a bite. Then again, an actual bite sometimes doesn’t feel like anything – your line may just move off sideways. If you are fishing in weeds, then the Texas rig is definitely the way to go, but if you are fishing pilings, rip-rap, rock piles, bluffs, or even mud, there’s an easier way.
An open hook has the advantage of being practically self-setting, if you use the right hook. A straight, light wire hook works well. The reason I like a light wire hook is that it can often be straightened out with constant pressure, meaning that you can get it off most snags. This takes a lot more pressure than a swimming fish puts on it, unless that fish is absolutely enormous. The easiest way to fish with an open hook is to use a small jig head. Jig heads are available in an almost endless variety of colors, weights, and shapes. You can also paint them yourself. One California angler I know starts with plain lead pea heads, flattens them with a hammer, the paints them himself. Sometimes he glues eyes on them, and you can also get eye stickers made for lures. Dart heads are great for swimming a worm – they give it more action and they fall differently than a round pea head jig.
A good dart head or pea head worm rod is a six and half or seven foot spinning rod with a little “give” to it. A rod that is too stiff will tend to make you lose more fish, either by tearing the hook free or straightening it out. Light line is best, and most anglers use 8- to 10-pound-test line no matter how shallow or deep they are fishing. Use a limp line to make casting easy. Some guys use braid, but I’ve always stuck to mono because it has a bit of stretch to it. Berkeley makes a mono that changes color so it’s invisible in the water but easy to see above water. Being able to see what your line is doing helps quite a bit.
FISHING DART HEADS
The biggest mistake you can make with a dart head is to start fishing too soon. When you cast it out, let it fall with the bail open until you see the line go slack – this means it has hit bottom. While the jig is falling, watch your line. If it jumps or bows or moves sideways, a fish has probably sucked it in. Usually they are heading away from you, but once in a while you’ll get one that heads right for the boat. In any case, you should be able to see from the line movement that it isn’t falling naturally. Just reel. I find it helpful to keep a couple fingers on the line ahead of the reel to keep some tension on the line. This goes a LONG way toward preventing those awful loops you sometimes get on a spinning reel.
Once you’ve caught up with the fish, he’ll actually set the hook on himself. Steady pressure makes those small thin hooks just slide right in. A fairly big spool on your reel will help you take up line quickly and catch up with the fish. Just keep pressure on him once he’s hooked, and try not to switch the rod back and forth – that just gives him an opportunity to come off. A net is a dart head fisherman’s best friend – don’t try slinging him in over the side or 10 to 1 he’ll come off. Either lip him or net him.
If you’re fishing vertical structure, cast the lure close to the piling or whatever it is, and let it fall. If the water by the piling is really deep, odds are he’s going to take it on the way down. If there is current, toss to the upstream side and let the current take it around on slack line. We once caught twenty eight smallmouth off a single ledge at Lake Powell over eighty feet of water. The fish were only 25 feet deep, and they inhaled the dart heads every time. They were just annihilating Yamamoto grubs.
Years ago I was fishing a tournament with a Tucson pro and he taught me a fantastic method for fishing those “nothing” banks that most fishermen pass by. This was at Roosevelt Lake and he pulled up to a stretch a bank that just had nothing on it. It was about a 45-degree slope, and had the occasional rock but nothing spectacular. He handed me a Press-Ur-Bite worm. These worms are no longer made, but they were very much like Westy Worms – two hooks on a worm, the first one a light jig head with a gold, bendable wire. He just tossed it to the bank just barely in the water, and let the line go slack. Then he’d reel just enough to pick the lure up, stop, and let it fall. I don’t even remember how many fish we caught off that bank, but it was a lot. I never felt a thing – just when I’d go to reel up to move it, a fish would be on it. Just pressure. Hence the name Press-Ur-Bite.
You can also hop a little jig head on the bottom like this – just reel, let it sink, and reel again. The bite can be simply pressure like it was for us that day, or they may just slam it and take off. The key is to use the reel to move the bait – that keeps it subtle, and it keeps you in position to reel and set. A lot of times you will discover what the fish want by accident. For instance, you may get snagged on a small rock, and when you pull the lure free a fish grabs it. Or you may get a loop in your line and while you are sitting there playing with your reel a fish may take your worm. Sometimes the bass want the lure worked fast and you may not realize it until a fish grabs it as you reel in quickly to throw to another spot. It is important to pay attention to where and how the lure was taken. If you can repeat the process you can probably catch more fish.
The original Westy Worms were made with super floater worms and those are excellent because they float up off the bottom. Colors were limited back then, but we still caught tons of fish on them. When you’re using a little jig head, you can choose any lure you want. Keep it small. For swimming or fishing vertical stuff, grubs are a good choice. Yamamoto grubs are my favorite because the thin tail has tons of swimming action, and they are so salty the fish hang on tight.
For hopping on the bottom or down banks, a 4-inch worm is ideal. Bigger worms can overpower the small jigs. With the old double-hooked worms, we’d often cut the back hook off, slit the worm down the middle about halfway up, then use a Wormizer to weld a piece of the tail in the slit to keep it open. Seriously though, you could just use a small craw and that would work great. There are lots of incredible floating baits out there – and floating means that the claws or the tail will stay up off the bottom, making the lure more visible.
I have known guys catch fish on dart heads and pea heads with almost any retrieve you can imagine. At a tournament weigh-in years ago, John Murray once told me he caught all his fish on a Westy, ripping it like a jerkbait under the tires in the marina. You just never know. Once you have one on, though, don’t give him any slack, don’t change directions, and try not to let him jump. Danny Westfall (inventor of the Westy) just kept his drag set light and used his hand on the spool to reel-set. Once the hook was in, he’d let go and allow the light drag to get the fish ready to boat.
If you’re having trouble catching fish on a traditional Texas rig, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger – a lot of us had the same problem starting out. Just get a handful of small jigs and some light baits and you’ll be catching fish on plastics in no time.