Randall Tharp on the James River

The big one came from a dock in shallow water at about 10 a.m. on Day Two of the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Virginia’s James River. In truth, I had fished the docks off and on throughout the tournament, and this was the biggest one I caught. Most of them were small. It’d be nice if I could say I was expecting a big bite but I wasn’t.

The area I was in was heavily pressured. Most of the top finishers were in there fishing around the same stuff. I was looking for a bait that would let me make a finesse presentation, something that maybe they hadn’t seen before. I decided to go with a weightless, wacky-rigged trick worm.

I fished it right up against posts that were sitting in the shade. All my bites came from water between 1 1/2 and 3 feet deep. I never fished any shallower or deeper than that. To be specific, the big one hit at almost exactly 2 feet.

Really, I prefer to use a shaky head or a light jig for this kind of fishing — a wacky-rigged trick worm is a fairly new technique for me — but the bottom was a real mess around the docks. It was gooey with some kind of slime on it. It was nasty. I went with the trick worm so that my lure didn’t hit the bottom and I didn’t have to clean it after every cast, and because I could get a slower fall with it.

I tossed my worm out with a spinning rod on light line and then let it fall about a foot. That’d take 4 or 5 seconds. Then I’d twitch the worm two or three times. If nothing happened I’d reel it in and move on to the next pole. Every so often I’d catch one. For the most part I was covering water.

The 6-6 hit a 6 1/2-inch Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin) with a 1/0 straight shank Gamakatsu bronze hook. I used 15-pound-test Daiwa Samurai Braid line with an 8-pound-test Gama Edge Fluorocarbon leader. My rod was a 7-foot Falcon (medium action) with a Shimano Stradic reel.

My leader was tied directly to my main line. I wish I knew the name of the knot I was using but I don’t. Anyway, don’t believe guys if they tell you that you can’t tie fluorocarbon directly to braid. You can.

The thing we should all learn from this is to be versatile. You can’t get stuck doing one or two things.

That was the only fish I weighed from this rig. I wanted to fish a shaky head or maybe a jig but the bottom wouldn’t let me do that efficiently. At the same time I knew there were fish around those docks so I had to change baits even though I didn’t want to do it.