If you haven't heard of a Yamamoto Senko, Yum Dinger, Gulp Sinking Minnow or any of the dozens of soft stickbaits on the market by now, you should consider trading in your fishing tackle for a set of golf clubs. They are the hottest baits to hit the bass fishing scene in a decade or more and are a staple among tournament and recreational anglers alike. Soft stickbaits catch bass when other lures won't. Cast it, wait a few seconds as it settles toward the bottom and set the hook when a bass inhales the lure. They are the ultimate shallow water finesse bait and bass just can't seem to resist them.
What hasn't caught on, however, are the numerous ways these lures can be fished when bass are sulking in 10, 15 or even 20 feet of water. Sure, on a calm day you can allow a salt-laden soft stickbait to fall all the way to the bottom of Lake Erie, but you might as well take a nap while the lure sinks. Add a split shot, however, and you've just created a new look few deep bass have ever seen. Slide a bullet weight on the line before you tie on a hook and you've got a deadly bait that only a handful of other anglers have used. Or try one in place of a standard 3-inch drop shot bait.
That's exactly how Florida pro Bernie Schultz used a 4-inch Senko during a recent Bassmaster Tour event to outfish a crowd of boats in a community hole not much larger than a typical suburban yard. But while other anglers (Schultz recalls there were at least 10 of them) were throwing traditional soft plastics or stickbaits rigged without any additional weight, Schultz rigged his Senko on a drop shot rig and caught larger bass than the surrounding competitors.
"I don't know why I was catching larger bass than the anglers who were using unweighted stickbaits, but I was definitely outfishing the guys around me. And these fish were getting pounded," he says. "I think it was just a different look. I had that same action that makes these lures so effective, but it was being presented in a different way."
Instead of rigging his drop shot Senko so the lure extended straight out from the line (like a drop shot bait is normally rigged), Schultz simply stuck the hook through the middle of the bait, wacky style, and fished his way into the top 10. He'll also rig it the same way most anglers rig a drop shot bait. but for no other reason than to offer the fish an entirely different presentation, Schultz decided a wacky rigged Senko was the right thing to do during that tournament.
Drop shotting a soft stickbait is an excellent technique in virtually any situation another drop shot bait would work, and, as Schultz stresses, it's simply another option that few bass have ever seen before.
When heavy fishing pressure dictates a lighter, more subtle presentation, Alabama guide and tournament angler Barry Wilson split shots a 4- or 5-inch Yum Dinger in anywhere from 3 to 20 feet of water. It's an excellent prespawn tactic and Wilson often uses a soft stick in place of a lizard, French fry or virtually any other soft plastic that would work on a finesse rig. The slim profile of the stickbait coupled with the delicate vibration of the tiny sinkers hitting objects is often the ticket to a successful day.
"It's just a different look that the bass have probably never seen before because hardly anybody uses these types of lures on a weighted rig," says Wilson. "It also works great when it's too windy to throw an unweighted Yum Dinger. If it's breezy, the wind will pull your line and the lure so you don't get the slow fall that makes these lures so effective. A split shot crimped above your line will help you stay in contact with the bait, and it will help the bait fall straighter."
He varies the distance between his hook and the weight based on the depth he expects to find fish. The deeper the water, the longer the leader, although he rarely crimps the split shot more than 2 feet above the hook. He favors a longer leader in deep water so the lure will have a few extra seconds to sink to the bottom. In other words, once the lead touches bottom, his Yum Dinger will sink the last 2 feet with the slow, tantalizing fall that is so irresistible to bass.
"When I'm fishing in a few feet of water, I'll put the sinker closer because I don't really gain anything by moving it farther away. I'll also put a split shot right against the hook if I'm sight fishing for bedded bass," he adds.
Wilson favors a 1/0 or 2/0 Excalibur TX3 hook and a heavier weight, either a 3/16 or 1/4 ounce, so he can stay in better contact with the bottom as he moves the rig. But, he adds, if you want a slower fall, there's nothing wrong with using a smaller split shot.
Stickbaits were the hot lure during a major tournament on Lake Champlain a few years ago, and Schultz was one of many pros catching quality smallmouth on those baits. But one angler was doing even better, recalls Schultz.
"On the second day, I was paired with a guy who fished with Gary Yamamoto on the first day. I knew Gary was catching some real nice fish on a Senko, but I didn't know exactly how until his first day partner showed up with a bunch of rods rigged with slip sinkers and hooks," recalls Schultz. "I started fishing a Senko unweighted while my partner was throwing them on the weighted Texas rig, which is what Gary was doing."
The key, he learned from his Day 2 partner, was to drag the bait across the bottom instead of retrieving it with the standard lift-reel technique every bass angler uses for a Texas rigged worm. There was something about that method the smallmouth couldn't resist, although Schultz admits he's not sure why that made a difference to the bass. Perhaps it did a good job of imitating a crawfish, he figures. The average size of his catch increased as soon as he started using that technique, and Schultz ended up earning a check, something he likely wouldn't have accomplished if it wasn't for a 1/4-ounce slip sinker.
Texas rigged soft sticks are also excellent flipping baits, adds Schultz, and he often uses them in place of other soft plastic baits, or even jigs. He typically uses a 5/16-ounce Extra Edge bullet weight, a 3/0 or 4/0 VMC wide gap offset worm hook and a 4- or 5-inch Senko.
No matter how you fish these baits, you'll catch bass. Wilson and Schultz agree that the only limitation to how these baits can be fished is your imagination. Add some weight to your soft stickbaits and you'll catch fish other anglers might not.