If you ever have the chance to peek into Larry Nixon's plastic worm box, chances are you'll probably be surprised at the huge selection of styles the veteran Arkansas pro uses. In fact, to get a true look at his worm collection, you should be prepared to spend some time opening a lot of boxes.
That's because Nixon — probably more than any other pro — firmly believes specific worm features such as tail design, overall bulkiness, and length are the real keys that determine the lure's effectiveness in specific situations. He believes ribbontails are best in weedy vegetation, for example, while French fry designs are tops in Carolina rigging, and blunt-end stickworms are at their deadliest when rigged wacky style and deadsticked.
"There are times any worm you use will catch bass," Nixon admits, "but other times, such as when bass are receiving heavy fishing pressure, or when the water temperature is cold, specific worm designs are definitely more effective than others.
"When I won the Bassmaster Classic in 1983, I fished a plastic worm with a Gator Tail design, and I'm convinced it was the best worm to use because of how well it imitated swimming baitfish in shallow water. The bite was practically nonexistent anyway, but there was a lot of bait around, so all I did was swim that worm along logs, just like the baitfish were doing."
Here's a quick look at some of the worm designs Nixon likes and where he uses them:
PADDLE-TAIL — "I only use this type of worm when I'm fishing shallow water with a lot of vegetation and don't know exactly where the bass are," Nixon continues. "I fish it weedless on the surface or just below the surface, making a long cast and just winding it back. I nearly always cut a notch in the tail so the worm will churn water, more like a buzzbait. It's a good lure for hunting bass because it is weedless, and to me, that's the only way to use it."
RIBBONTAIL — "Whenever I want to swim a worm through grass and weeds in water down to about 10 feet deep, this is my choice," Nixon says, "because the spiraling tail has a very tight wiggle that allows it to come through the vegetation easier. It looks like a small snake. If the water is stained, I'll use a fatter and longer worm to move more water and attract more attention to the worm, but in clear water, I'll use a thinner worm.
"When I'm night fishing in the summer, or after really big bass, I'll use a 10-inch ribbontail worm. This worm works best in lakes with heavy cover because you can lift the worm over the cover and let it swim back to the bottom with the spiral tail."
GATOR TAIL — "This worm is best in shallow water, especially during summer and early autumn, and it's also one of the most productive lures for river systems," the former world champion explains. "I usually fish this worm with a 3/16- or 1/4-ounce sinker to make the tail work properly. I let it drop straight to the bottom, then pick it up so the tail spins, then drop it again.
"This lure has a slow tail action that lets it swim like a lazy shad, so that's how you want to use it. Just swim it over and around cover. It's a good night fishing lure, too, because it presents a large silhouette."
STICKWORM — "These worms are so effective, they're scary. When you rig them wacky style with fluorocarbon line and a hook in the middle, both ends vibrate. I think they're best in water between about 55 and 70 degrees, when bass are ready to spawn but aren't necessarily on beds. Bass may be tired of chasing lures at this time, and this is a worm you can present quietly and just deadstick on the bottom.
"You can also Texas rig these with an offset wide gap hook and fish them weightless. Because of their blunt-end design, they fall slowly and horizontally and just present the bass with an opportunity too good to pass up. It isn't a target-specific lure, either; you can fan cast it if you know the depth bass are using, because if they see it, they'll come get it. This is how I fished the CITGO Bassmaster Tour event at Lake Guntersville. I simply followed the depth contour with my electronics and cast in front of me, and I caught a lot of fish.
"I also fish this style of worm in rocky lakes that don't have much cover. I let it fall to the bottom, pick it up to see if a bass may have hit on the fall, then sweep my rod 3 or 4 feet and let the worm fall again. If nothing hits, I reel in for another cast."
FRENCH FRY — "To me, this is the ideal Carolina rig lure when you're fishing clear water because the French fry's design makes it extremely erratic. When you move your sinker, the lure darts up and to one side or the other, then sinks back to the bottom. It really mimics a dying baitfish.
"You don't want to use large curly-tail-type worms on a Carolina rig because the swimming tail acts like a rudder and keeps the worm moving straight," Nixon cautions. "They aren't nearly as erratic. Lizards and creature baits are good Carolina rig lures, especially in dingier water, because their larger, bulkier body style causes them to glide and appear completely natural in the water."
STRAIGHT TAIL — "For me, this is an alternate choice for a Carolina rig in clear water," Nixon points out. "It has the erratic action like a French fry, but I think a 6-inch worm may be more appealing to spotted bass than a French fry is, or maybe the fish have already seen too many French fry lures.
"I'll also use a thin, small straight-tail worm in cold water, because I think the key to coldwater worm fishing is little or no action. In my experience, a straight-tail worm always catches more bass than a swimming tail in cold water.
"When I'm flipping brush, I also prefer a straight-tail worm with a fat body, because I'm usually trying to get the lure into the cover. This is much harder with a swimming tail worm because it tends to wrap around the branches as it falls. By contrast, when I'm flipping open holes in brush or vegetation, I may use a Gator-Tail-type worm, simply because there is less for the tail to snag on, and the tail's swimming action helps attract fish to it."
FLOATING WORM — "When bass won't chase hard baits but you know they're shallow, this is a technique to use, particularly during the spring and summer, or in areas throughout the deep South that have a year-round resident population of shallow bass. In clear water, floating worms pull fish that are not on cover, too.
"These worms don't really float, and you really don't want them to. You rig them Texas style but without a weight, then twitch them just below the surface and close to cover. When you stop them, they'll sink slowly."
CURL TAILS — "When the water is warm but the fishing is tough, I will frequently Texas rig a 4-inch ringworm with a curl tail with a 1/4-ounce sinker. It looks natural, and the ring design actually slows the worm's fall while the tail gives it just a little action. This is a good lure for very specific targets, such as individual stumps, stickups and dock pilings.
"If fishing is tough and I'm fishing thicker cover, such as lily pads, I may use a larger 6-inch curl-tail worm. One of the largest bass I have ever caught in a tournament weighed 10-10 and came with a 6-inch curl-tail worm, from the Harris Chain of Lakes. Those lakes aren't known for larger bass, but they do have a lot of this type of cover.
"In deep, clear water — between 15 and 30 feet — my worm choice is also a 6- or 7-inch curl-tail design, because this is when I crawl a worm on the bottom, trying to feel for cover. I don't do a lot of lifting and falling, so I don't need a lot of swimming action, but I do want some action when I shake the worm, and this type of tail provides that."
Nixon's hook choice depends on the technique in which he's using his worm. When he's Texas rigging, he's casting, and for this he uses a straight-shank hook because it provides a better hookup and landing ratio. With a Carolina rig, which employs a different type of hook set, Nixon changes to a round bend and offset hook; and for flipping, his choice is an extra-wide-gap hook, usually because his worm is larger.
These are just some of the types of worms and hooks you'll find in Larry Nixon's tackleboxes at virtually every tournament in which he's competing. His philosophy is that when you're casting to a distant target, you're likely to have multiple strike zones during your retrieve, so you're better off using something that looks natural in the water, such as a plastic worm.