Soft jerkbait for smallmouth

Soft jerkbaits are the rage among smallmouth anglers

When soft plastic jerkbaits hit the tackle shop shelves over a decade ago, few anglers realized how revolutionary they would be. Not only were they the most exciting new lure to hit the market in a long time, they were perhaps the most effective at catching bass under the right conditions.

Just when anglers thought that there was nothing left to invent, a new lure has been introduced, and like Slug Gos, which spawned a frenzy among lure manufacturers as well as anglers, this one is the beginning of a new soft plastic craze. Meet the Yamamoto Senko, the Hawg Caller Teezo and the Cabin Creek Salty Sinkin' Worm — the hottest lures to hit the smallmouth world in a long time.

Plastic bait guru Gary Yamamoto invented the first soft stickbait, the Senko, and like every other hot lure, take-offs of that first version are being introduced regularly. Although these baits have been around since 1997, they still haven't caught on among many dedicated smallmouth anglers. But they will.

"I think there is some price resistance among anglers. These lures aren't cheap, and they don't last very long, so some anglers are reluctant to spend six bucks on a bag of 10 Senkos. They are also somewhat difficult to find," says Potomac and Shenandoah rivers guide Tim Freese (703-443-9052). But, he adds, once anglers try one of these lures on their favorite smallmouth water, there is usually no looking back.

If you listen to fans of soft stickbaits, you'd think there was no wrong way to fish these lures. Impale them on a hook, chuck them out and wait for a bite. If that sounds a bit too simple, guess again. That's about all there is to it.

Senkos, Salty Sinkin' Worms and Teezos all have a similar cigar shape with a tapered blunt end and a slightly more pointed end. Although most anglers start by rigging them with the hook through the blunt end, Alabama pro Randy Howell will use the other end when the fatter side gets torn up.

"I haven't seen much of a difference in my catch rates when I use either end. That's a great way to get more mileage out of these lures," he says. "I don't know what it is about these lures the fish like so much, but they work better than many other types of tried-and-true smallmouth lures."

Why are these lures so effective? Those who use them say it has more to do with the salt content than the shape of the lure. Although the profile looks so ordinary, so lifeless, it's the sink rate, combined with a shimmying wiggle, that entices smallmouth to eat this lure with reckless abandon.

Drop one in the water next to your boat and you'll see for yourself. They fall faster than most other soft plastic lures, and they have a slight, tantalizing wiggle as they sink. They look like nothing in nature, but smallmouth don't care. They grab them and hold on, thanks to the high salt content, experts agree. They also credit the soft texture. Whatever the reason, soft stickbaits are hot smallmouth lures.

Rigging

 

 

 

Penny-pincher's guide to soft sticks

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's no secret that Senkos are expensive, but just because a lure is a little torn up doesn't mean it's destined for the dump. They can be salvaged. And they can be altered to last a little longer during their initial use.

 

Potomac and Shenandoah rivers guide Tim Freese wraps a small piece of electrical tape around the middle of his Senkos and runs his hook through the tape. That keeps the hook from tearing through the lure on a hook set or from the thrashing of a smallmouth — a real problem with Senkos.

 

Freese also suggests melting the plastic back together with any of the products meant for such a job. He uses a battery powered Worm Miser, similar to a woodburning tool. The high salt content makes the task of melting the lures back together a little tougher, but it can be done, at least for a few more fish.

 

— David Hart

 

There are indeed a variety of ways to fish these featureless baits, but as Howell says, they are so new, "we haven't figured out all the uses for them yet." Most anglers use soft sticks with either of two quick and easy rigging methods: Texas rigged or wacky style. Most anglers fish them without any sort of weight, although Freese, Howell and Stan Scott, a B.A.S.S. angler from Richland, Wash., will vary their hooks to control sink rates. Heavy-gauge hooks pull the bait down a little more quickly; fine-wire hooks allow the baits to sink somewhat slower.

What they use depends on a few variables, but, according to Howell, sometimes rigging methods don't seem to matter. He's caught smallmouth both ways during a single day.

"I was fishing a tournament on Lake St. Clair right after Hawg Caller sent me a bunch of these Teezos. A couple of my friends on the Tournament Trail raided my boat and took several bags of my favorite color," he recalls.

Halfway through the tournament, Howell, who had been Texas rigging these lures (without a weight), ran out. That is, he ran out of new lures that weren't torn up on both ends. Fortunately, he had enough foresight to leave the used Teezos in the bottom of his boat, offering a ragtag assortment of soft sticks.

"I just started wacky rigging the lures that were too torn up on the ends. That worked just as well," says Howell.

Scott typically rigs his wacky style, running a 1/0 Owner Mosquito hook through the egg sack, an ideal presentation for heavily pressured smallmouth. He claimed second place in a Western Invitational held on the Columbia River in a high-pressured area by doing exactly that.

"I was fishing a well-known community hole that produces a lot of big smallmouth. In fact, there have been quite a few tournaments won from that spot. There were eight or 10 boats working this one small area, but just about everybody else was throwing tubes or drop shot rigs and not catching many fish. I caught a 20-pound bag of smallmouth the first day, all on 5-inch Senkos," he recalls.

Since Freese guides on two smallmouth rivers that have thick aquatic vegetation in the summer, he will rig his Senkos based on the amount of grass he has to deal with. Usually, that means a weightless Texas rig. However, when the water is free of such annoying obstructions, or if his clients are having a hard time detecting strikes, he'll rig his lures wacky style.

"It really depends. Some days, they want a Texas rig. Other times, the smallmouth prefer a wacky rig. Most days, the fish just don't care. I just try it both ways when conditions allow it," he says.

Howell utilizes both rigging styles as well, preferring the wacky rigged Teezo when the fish are less active and less eager to chase a bait. He'll Texas rig it on a 4/0 Daiichi Bleeding Bait wide gap hook when the bass are more active, and he'll work it a little faster.

Fishing methods

All three experts agree that these lures shine when they do nothing. That is, Freese, Scott and Howell prefer to deadstick these baits and let the lures speak for themselves. Again, they have a subtle shimmy as they sink, which seems to be all the action a smallmouth needs to see.

"I just throw them out and let them sink," says Howell. "They cast a mile, which is ideal in heavily pressured water or when the water is real clear. That's pretty typical of most smallmouth lakes, anyway. The fish will come from a long way to eat one of these baits."

Scott agrees. He typically throws his lure out and lets it free-fall toward the bottom, keeping a close watch on his line as the bait sinks. He prefers to fish these lures with Power Pro braided line tipped with a fluorocarbon leader because the braided line floats, acting like a bobber of sorts.

  • Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, 800- 645-2248, www.yamamoto.baits.com.
  •  

    "I can also cast much farther with Power Pro line and I can detect real soft bites, which are pretty common with these baits. The fish often just swim up and suck it in. They don't always slam it like they do other lures," he says.

    The key, all three experts agree, is to fish these lures on a fairly tight line, keeping an eye out for subtle twitches or other movement in your monofilament. You can't keep it too tight, warns Scott, because that will ruin the free-falling action of the lure.

    "The trick when using them in rivers is to watch your line. I throw them out and just let them fall as the current carries them downriver," explains Freese. "I keep my rod tip high, which keeps my line off the water."

    Howell will twitch his lure to bring it back up toward the surface and then let it fall again as he works it back to the boat. Scott utilizes a similar twitching method, but he says the vast majority of strikes come on the fall, so it's important to get the lure above the bottom before allowing it to sink again.

    "I won't fish it on windy days because I just can't detect strikes. Other than that, there aren't many limiting factors to when I'll use a Senko," says Scott.

    No better time than now

    So when's the best time to use a soft plastic stickbait? Right now, this summer, in the fall or whenever you find yourself on a smallmouth lake or river, say Howell and Freese. Howell says the only limiting factor to the effectiveness of these lures is ice. In other words, if you can get a lure to the fish, they will likely eat it. Scott, however, won't start chucking Senkos until the water reaches 60 degrees, although he admits there is no reason they won't work in cooler water.

    The time of year only serves to dictate the location of the fish. And for anglers who are capable of locating smallmouth throughout the seasons, catching a bass on a soft plastic stickbait comes down to putting it in front of their noses.

    Advanced sticking

    Gary Yamamoto's Senkos originally came in 4-inch and 5-inch versions, but a demand for finesse-type baits coaxed him to develop a 3-inch stick. Although they are far less popular among smallmouth anglers, 3-inch soft sticks have a dedicated following. Tim Freese is one who uses the smaller Senko.

    Deep bass are a little tougher to reach, but Howell will rig a Teezo on a Carolina rig, and he's heard of reservoir smallmouth anglers rigging them on an open-hook jighead and using them in place of finesse worms. Others add a nail weight to the tail of the lure to hasten the sink rate and to give the lure a different look as it falls.

    Color matters … sometimes

    Although these lures come in a variety of colors, Freese sticks to a few basic shades for pretty much all of his fishing. If he had to narrow down his choices, he'd use blue, green pumpkin with black flake, blue pearl, smoke and motor oil.

    Scott uses just a few colors as well, adding that dark lures work best in stained water and natural colors work best for clear conditions.

    "Some days, color does matter, but most of the time, it doesn't seem to make much difference," says Freese. "These lures work so well they have become my go-to bait."

    A salty slug bait

    Timing is everything. Almost 10 years ago — in the height of the Slug-Go craze — Gene Larew created a slender soft plastic bait that was loaded with salt. Larew's Sinking Slugger developed a loyal following among bass anglers who recognized the value of a fast-sinking soft jerkbait.

    But those who knew what the bait could do remained tight-lipped, according to George Toalson, a lure designer and part owner of Gene Larew Bait Co. Consequently, the Sinking Slugger remained relegated to the bottom shelves in tackle stores.

    With the resurgence in sinking stickbaits, like Yamamoto's Senko, the Sinking Slugger is back in action. The Larew lure contains even more salt than before, thanks to advancements in the company's proprietary injection molding equipment. (Larew patented the salt impregnation process years ago.)

    The Slugger is different from cigar-shaped stickbaits, however. Its design gives it a great jerkbait action, due largely to a special half-inch-long oblong hole in the middle of the bait. The hole serves as a "joint" — making it twitch much like a jointed jerkbait. Deadstick the bait, and it sinks like a dying baitfish. But twitch the rod tip, and it comes back to life, cutting and darting like the real thing.

    It also has a slit in the top of the bait that hides the hook to make it weedless, yet enhances hook sets because the hook doesn't have to penetrate lots of plastic to make contact with the fish.

    It comes in 4- and 6-inch sizes and a variety of realistic colors. Contact: Gene Larew, www.genelarew.com; 800-YES-SALT

  • Hawg Caller, 800-842-0582, www.hawgcaller.com.
  •  

  • Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, 800- 645-2248, www.yamamoto.baits.com.

     

    "I can also cast much farther with Power Pro line and I can detect real soft bites, which are pretty common with these baits. The fish often just swim up and suck it in. They don't always slam it like they do other lures," he says.

    The key, all three experts agree, is to fish these lures on a fairly tight line, keeping an eye out for subtle twitches or other movement in your monofilament. You can't keep it too tight, warns Scott, because that will ruin the free-falling action of the lure.

    "The trick when using them in rivers is to watch your line. I throw them out and just let them fall as the current carries them downriver," explains Freese. "I keep my rod tip high, which keeps my line off the water."

    Howell will twitch his lure to bring it back up toward the surface and then let it fall again as he works it back to the boat. Scott utilizes a similar twitching method, but he says the vast majority of strikes come on the fall, so it's important to get the lure above the bottom before allowing it to sink again.

    "I won't fish it on windy days because I just can't detect strikes. Other than that, there aren't many limiting factors to when I'll use a Senko," says Scott.

    No better time than now

    So when's the best time to use a soft plastic stickbait? Right now, this summer, in the fall or whenever you find yourself on a smallmouth lake or river, say Howell and Freese. Howell says the only limiting factor to the effectiveness of these lures is ice. In other words, if you can get a lure to the fish, they will likely eat it. Scott, however, won't start chucking Senkos until the water reaches 60 degrees, although he admits there is no reason they won't work in cooler water.

    The time of year only serves to dictate the location of the fish. And for anglers who are capable of locating smallmouth throughout the seasons, catching a bass on a soft plastic stickbait comes down to putting it in front of their noses.

    Advanced sticking

    Gary Yamamoto's Senkos originally came in 4-inch and 5-inch versions, but a demand for finesse-type baits coaxed him to develop a 3-inch stick. Although they are far less popular among smallmouth anglers, 3-inch soft sticks have a dedicated following. Tim Freese is one who uses the smaller Senko.

    Deep bass are a little tougher to reach, but Howell will rig a Teezo on a Carolina rig, and he's heard of reservoir smallmouth anglers rigging them on an open-hook jighead and using them in place of finesse worms. Others add a nail weight to the tail of the lure to hasten the sink rate and to give the lure a different look as it falls.

    Color matters … sometimes

    Although these lures come in a variety of colors, Freese sticks to a few basic shades for pretty much all of his fishing. If he had to narrow down his choices, he'd use blue, green pumpkin with black flake, blue pearl, smoke and motor oil.

    Scott uses just a few colors as well, adding that dark lures work best in stained water and natural colors work best for clear conditions.

    "Some days, color does matter, but most of the time, it doesn't seem to make much difference," says Freese. "These lures work so well they have become my go-to bait."

    A salty slug bait

    Timing is everything. Almost 10 years ago — in the height of the Slug-Go craze — Gene Larew created a slender soft plastic bait that was loaded with salt. Larew's Sinking Slugger developed a loyal following among bass anglers who recognized the value of a fast-sinking soft jerkbait.

    But those who knew what the bait could do remained tight-lipped, according to George Toalson, a lure designer and part owner of Gene Larew Bait Co. Consequently, the Sinking Slugger remained relegated to the bottom shelves in tackle stores.

    With the resurgence in sinking stickbaits, like Yamamoto's Senko, the Sinking Slugger is back in action. The Larew lure contains even more salt than before, thanks to advancements in the company's proprietary injection molding equipment. (Larew patented the salt impregnation process years ago.)

    The Slugger is different from cigar-shaped stickbaits, however. Its design gives it a great jerkbait action, due largely to a special half-inch-long oblong hole in the middle of the bait. The hole serves as a "joint" — making it twitch much like a jointed jerkbait. Deadstick the bait, and it sinks like a dying baitfish. But twitch the rod tip, and it comes back to life, cutting and darting like the real thing.

    It also has a slit in the top of the bait that hides the hook to make it weedless, yet enhances hook sets because the hook doesn't have to penetrate lots of plastic to make contact with the fish.

    It comes in 4- and 6-inch sizes and a variety of realistic colors. Contact: Gene Larew, www.genelarew.com; 800-YES-SALT

  • Cabin Creek Bait Co., 800-525-9786, www.cabincreekco.com.

     

  • Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, 800- 645-2248, www.yamamoto.baits.com.

     

    "I can also cast much farther with Power Pro line and I can detect real soft bites, which are pretty common with these baits. The fish often just swim up and suck it in. They don't always slam it like they do other lures," he says.

    The key, all three experts agree, is to fish these lures on a fairly tight line, keeping an eye out for subtle twitches or other movement in your monofilament. You can't keep it too tight, warns Scott, because that will ruin the free-falling action of the lure.

    "The trick when using them in rivers is to watch your line. I throw them out and just let them fall as the current carries them downriver," explains Freese. "I keep my rod tip high, which keeps my line off the water."

    Howell will twitch his lure to bring it back up toward the surface and then let it fall again as he works it back to the boat. Scott utilizes a similar twitching method, but he says the vast majority of strikes come on the fall, so it's important to get the lure above the bottom before allowing it to sink again.

    "I won't fish it on windy days because I just can't detect strikes. Other than that, there aren't many limiting factors to when I'll use a Senko," says Scott.

    No better time than now

    So when's the best time to use a soft plastic stickbait? Right now, this summer, in the fall or whenever you find yourself on a smallmouth lake or river, say Howell and Freese. Howell says the only limiting factor to the effectiveness of these lures is ice. In other words, if you can get a lure to the fish, they will likely eat it. Scott, however, won't start chucking Senkos until the water reaches 60 degrees, although he admits there is no reason they won't work in cooler water.

    The time of year only serves to dictate the location of the fish. And for anglers who are capable of locating smallmouth throughout the seasons, catching a bass on a soft plastic stickbait comes down to putting it in front of their noses.

    Advanced sticking

    Gary Yamamoto's Senkos originally came in 4-inch and 5-inch versions, but a demand for finesse-type baits coaxed him to develop a 3-inch stick. Although they are far less popular among smallmouth anglers, 3-inch soft sticks have a dedicated following. Tim Freese is one who uses the smaller Senko.

    Deep bass are a little tougher to reach, but Howell will rig a Teezo on a Carolina rig, and he's heard of reservoir smallmouth anglers rigging them on an open-hook jighead and using them in place of finesse worms. Others add a nail weight to the tail of the lure to hasten the sink rate and to give the lure a different look as it falls.

    Color matters … sometimes

    Although these lures come in a variety of colors, Freese sticks to a few basic shades for pretty much all of his fishing. If he had to narrow down his choices, he'd use blue, green pumpkin with black flake, blue pearl, smoke and motor oil.

    Scott uses just a few colors as well, adding that dark lures work best in stained water and natural colors work best for clear conditions.

    "Some days, color does matter, but most of the time, it doesn't seem to make much difference," says Freese. "These lures work so well they have become my go-to bait."

    A salty slug bait

    Timing is everything. Almost 10 years ago — in the height of the Slug-Go craze — Gene Larew created a slender soft plastic bait that was loaded with salt. Larew's Sinking Slugger developed a loyal following among bass anglers who recognized the value of a fast-sinking soft jerkbait.

    But those who knew what the bait could do remained tight-lipped, according to George Toalson, a lure designer and part owner of Gene Larew Bait Co. Consequently, the Sinking Slugger remained relegated to the bottom shelves in tackle stores.

    With the resurgence in sinking stickbaits, like Yamamoto's Senko, the Sinking Slugger is back in action. The Larew lure contains even more salt than before, thanks to advancements in the company's proprietary injection molding equipment. (Larew patented the salt impregnation process years ago.)

    The Slugger is different from cigar-shaped stickbaits, however. Its design gives it a great jerkbait action, due largely to a special half-inch-long oblong hole in the middle of the bait. The hole serves as a "joint" — making it twitch much like a jointed jerkbait. Deadstick the bait, and it sinks like a dying baitfish. But twitch the rod tip, and it comes back to life, cutting and darting like the real thing.

    It also has a slit in the top of the bait that hides the hook to make it weedless, yet enhances hook sets because the hook doesn't have to penetrate lots of plastic to make contact with the fish.

    It comes in 4- and 6-inch sizes and a variety of realistic colors. Contact: Gene Larew, www.genelarew.com; 800-YES-SALT

  • Hawg Caller, 800-842-0582, www.hawgcaller.com.

     

  • Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, 800- 645-2248, www.yamamoto.baits.com.

     

    "I can also cast much farther with Power Pro line and I can detect real soft bites, which are pretty common with these baits. The fish often just swim up and suck it in. They don't always slam it like they do other lures," he says.

    The key, all three experts agree, is to fish these lures on a fairly tight line, keeping an eye out for subtle twitches or other movement in your monofilament. You can't keep it too tight, warns Scott, because that will ruin the free-falling action of the lure.

    "The trick when using them in rivers is to watch your line. I throw them out and just let them fall as the current carries them downriver," explains Freese. "I keep my rod tip high, which keeps my line off the water."

    Howell will twitch his lure to bring it back up toward the surface and then let it fall again as he works it back to the boat. Scott utilizes a similar twitching method, but he says the vast majority of strikes come on the fall, so it's important to get the lure above the bottom before allowing it to sink again.

    "I won't fish it on windy days because I just can't detect strikes. Other than that, there aren't many limiting factors to when I'll use a Senko," says Scott.

    No better time than now

    So when's the best time to use a soft plastic stickbait? Right now, this summer, in the fall or whenever you find yourself on a smallmouth lake or river, say Howell and Freese. Howell says the only limiting factor to the effectiveness of these lures is ice. In other words, if you can get a lure to the fish, they will likely eat it. Scott, however, won't start chucking Senkos until the water reaches 60 degrees, although he admits there is no reason they won't work in cooler water.

    The time of year only serves to dictate the location of the fish. And for anglers who are capable of locating smallmouth throughout the seasons, catching a bass on a soft plastic stickbait comes down to putting it in front of their noses.

    Advanced sticking

    Gary Yamamoto's Senkos originally came in 4-inch and 5-inch versions, but a demand for finesse-type baits coaxed him to develop a 3-inch stick. Although they are far less popular among smallmouth anglers, 3-inch soft sticks have a dedicated following. Tim Freese is one who uses the smaller Senko.

    Deep bass are a little tougher to reach, but Howell will rig a Teezo on a Carolina rig, and he's heard of reservoir smallmouth anglers rigging them on an open-hook jighead and using them in place of finesse worms. Others add a nail weight to the tail of the lure to hasten the sink rate and to give the lure a different look as it falls.

    Color matters … sometimes

    Although these lures come in a variety of colors, Freese sticks to a few basic shades for pretty much all of his fishing. If he had to narrow down his choices, he'd use blue, green pumpkin with black flake, blue pearl, smoke and motor oil.

    Scott uses just a few colors as well, adding that dark lures work best in stained water and natural colors work best for clear conditions.

    "Some days, color does matter, but most of the time, it doesn't seem to make much difference," says Freese. "These lures work so well they have become my go-to bait."

    A salty slug bait

    Timing is everything. Almost 10 years ago — in the height of the Slug-Go craze — Gene Larew created a slender soft plastic bait that was loaded with salt. Larew's Sinking Slugger developed a loyal following among bass anglers who recognized the value of a fast-sinking soft jerkbait.

    But those who knew what the bait could do remained tight-lipped, according to George Toalson, a lure designer and part owner of Gene Larew Bait Co. Consequently, the Sinking Slugger remained relegated to the bottom shelves in tackle stores.

    With the resurgence in sinking stickbaits, like Yamamoto's Senko, the Sinking Slugger is back in action. The Larew lure contains even more salt than before, thanks to advancements in the company's proprietary injection molding equipment. (Larew patented the salt impregnation process years ago.)

    The Slugger is different from cigar-shaped stickbaits, however. Its design gives it a great jerkbait action, due largely to a special half-inch-long oblong hole in the middle of the bait. The hole serves as a "joint" — making it twitch much like a jointed jerkbait. Deadstick the bait, and it sinks like a dying baitfish. But twitch the rod tip, and it comes back to life, cutting and darting like the real thing.

    It also has a slit in the top of the bait that hides the hook to make it weedless, yet enhances hook sets because the hook doesn't have to penetrate lots of plastic to make contact with the fish.

    It comes in 4- and 6-inch sizes and a variety of realistic colors. Contact: Gene Larew, www.genelarew.com; 800-YES-SALT

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