Brian Hensley has always known that a wacky rigged soft plastic worm is deadly on spring bass. What he didn't realize was how versatile it can be on northern natural lakes throughout the year.
He does now.
"I'll bet 50 percent of the bass I caught last season came on the wacky rig," says Hensley, an Edwardsburg, Mich., angler and frequent money winner in regional bass tournaments. "It didn't seem to matter whether I was fishing spring, summer or fall or in 2 feet or 25 feet. The wacky rig caught fish when everything else didn't."
He joins a growing legion of anglers who are discovering that the unorthodox method for rigging soft plastic baits is one of the deadliest for catching stubborn bass.
The wacky rig defies logic. Historically, anglers have enjoyed incredible success by rigging soft baits with the hook and weight on the nose so that the bait swims or falls through the water in a slithering, headfirst manner.
But that's not the case with the wacky. The hook is inserted in and out of the midsection so that the hook point is exposed and the ends of the worm droop like spaghetti off a fork. When fished weightless — the most popular method — the bait sinks slowly and lifelessly.
If you desire to increase the sink rate, links of lead or "nails" can be inserted into the worm body near the head so the bait falls in a more traditional manner (more on that later).
While the unusual method may have been conceived in the South, Hensley believes it is tailor-made for Northern, natural lake bass, especially on clear water lakes that receive a high volume of fishing pressure.
"It's primarily a finesse presentation that triggers strikes from bass that feed by sight," he explains. "It's not a tactic you need to use if the fish are aggressive, but it certainly can be the most effective presentation when they are not."
Some say the slow fall is the reason fish are attracted to the bait. However, the action that a wacky worm imparts as it's twitched beneath the surface may provide the greatest intrigue of all. As the line is pulled, the worm darts with its ends folded into a "U" shape beneath the hook until the bait is released to sink again. The flapping action draws attention, but it's the inanimate descent that draws the strikes.
"Who knows why bass hit it, but I suspect it looks like a dying, vulnerable creature," offers Hensley. "Even a well-fed bass can't pass up an easy meal like that."
Straight-tail worms from 4 to 8 inches get most of the play among wacky wormers. However, enterprising anglers like Hensley have found other styles work well, too.
In fact, the popularity of stickworms, like the Senko, has inspired others to turn to wacky worming. As effective as a stickworm may be when rigged in the traditional, weedless manner, it may be even better on a wacky rig. Heavily salted stickworms sink a little faster, create a bigger profile and their blunt tails wiggle erratically.
"Any straight bodied soft bait will work, and there are times when the fish will prefer one over the other," Hensley advises. "I've even used French fry-style baits when bass appeared to want a smaller profile. But for the most part, stickworms and finesse worms are my top choices."
Most strikes occur on the fall while the bait is seemingly doing nothing. However, if you look closely, the ends of the worm are undulating gently. The lure basically appears dead as it sinks.
"I recall one day fishing an area for about an hour without a strike," Hensley says. "The gum I had been chewing was growing stale, so I tossed it into the lake. As I watched it fall slowly and motionless, a bass came out of nowhere and ate it. I'm like, 'Why would he eat that and not my lure?' It had to be the slow, dead fall."
Make no mistake about it; the wacky worm is excellent when fishing for bass around beds or during the postspawn. But as Hensley and others have discovered, the rig catches bass during summer months — even when bass are deep.
"I've caught them consistently in 10 to 20 feet of water when the fish ignored traditional presentations," he notes. "I had no idea just how versatile wacky worming can be until I began to experiment."
The wacky worm, he says, may be the best tactic for catching bass during midday hours on a calm summer afternoon.
"If there's a ripple on the surface, you can catch bass with a variety of techniques," Hensley explains. "But when the lake is like glass, the sky is blue and the sun is high, the wacky worm outfishes everything in the tacklebox."
That's when he puts his boat on a deep weed edge and casts along the edge.
"I like to sit right on the drop and throw ahead of the boat so that the bait sinks vertically along the wall of weeds," he offers. "Let the bait fall on a slack line and don't try to do anything with it for the first five or 10 seconds."
When the bait reaches what he believes to be the tops of weeds, he pulls on the rod tip with hopes of feeling pressure, which usually means a fish has grabbed the bait on the descent. If there is no pressure, he lifts the rod to cause the bait to hop off the bottom and lets it settle back again. Remember, these rigs fall slowly, so there's no need to overwork the rod tip. You want to maintain a vertical presentation, he advises, not swim the bait horizontally.
If he senses any tension on the line, he pulls into the rod a little more.
"It may be a weed, but it could be a fish," he says. "If it's a fish, I start reeling and sweeping the rod. There's no need to use a powerful jerk, because bass eat these things and the exposed hook gets them every time. You rarely miss fish on a wacky rig."
He's found the wacky rig to be equally effective as a replacement for other presentations, as well. For example, tube jigs have long been the preferred choice among northern anglers for skipping under docks.
"One day I wasn't getting many bites on the tube and noticed that other fishermen were throwing the same thing," he recalls. "I switched to the wacky worm and it was amazing. I was going behind other anglers and catching fish with ease."
After thinking about it, it all made sense, he adds. The wacky worm falls slower; therefore it stays in the fish's face longer. It also skips across the water extremely well and doesn't make a lot of noise — or cause damage — when bounced off boats and docks.
That's one of the beauties of the wacky rig. You can cast it anywhere, including around heavy vegetation. And because it's usually fished weightless or with only a small amount of weight, the bait tends to lie on top of vegetation, making the hook less likely to snag.
A weighty issue
When fishing deep weeds or fishing wacky style on a windy day, Hensley will insert a small "nail" weight into the nose of the worm. The best, he adds, are the Lunker City Insert Weights designed for weighting Slug-Go soft plastic jerkbaits. They're made of soft lead and can be cut easily to the length and weight required.
Many anglers use small nails found at any hardware store, removing the heads and cutting them to various sizes. The key is to keep the weight slender so that it is buried easily into the plastic.
Hensley inserts the nail about 1/8 inch behind the nose of the worm and runs it all the way into the body. The rear of the weight is then pushed back toward the nose and a drop of Super Glue is added to seal the hole and prevent the weight from backing out.
The amount of weight depends upon the situation and how fast you want the bait to fall. Hensley bases that on a trial-and-error method, noting that a faster fall allows an angler to cover more water.
"If I'm looking for fish, I may use a little more weight because I can cover water faster," he describes. "But once I know the fish are there, I may reduce the weight to draw more strikes."
Hook manufacturers offer special wacky worm hooks, and some anglers have found the octopus design to be ideal for the rig. Hensley prefers a basic 1/0 or 2/0 straight shank Gamakatsu hook, choosing the size on the basis of the plastic thickness. If fishing brush, he uses a Gamakatsu weedless hook that has a tiny wire guard protecting the barb.
He prefers 8-pound fluorocarbon line when fishing open water or around vegetation, but will switch to 8-pound P-Line CXX if fish are large or the cover is thick. The fluorocarbon is less visible to the fish, sinks faster and transmits the subtle bites better than traditional monofilament, he says.
Make no mistake about it, a wacky worm dangling at the end of your rod will draw strange looks from macho anglers. But when you're catching fish and they aren't, who cares?
How it all began . . .
According to the wacky worm legend, the concept was conceived by an unpretentious husband and wife while fishing a Texas lake in the early '70s. When the tourists learned from local guides that bass were hitting "artificial" worms, they bought some at the dock and rigged them the way they rigged live night crawlers back home — through the midsection, with worm ends drooping beneath the hook.
At the end of the day, the couple approached the bass guides to thank them for the tip about artificial worms. The couple proudly displayed a remarkable catch of big bass — far better than the guides had produced with traditional, Texas rigged worms — as their wacky rigged worms dangled from rod tips.
When the guides inquired about the unconventional rigging, the couple said they had never fished plastic worms before and assumed that was the way it was done.
"That's the wackiest thing I've ever seen," one of the guides remarked.
And there you have it.
Protecting your investment
One of the downfalls of rigging worms wacky style is they tear easily or will fling off the hook if you make an overexuberant cast.
Brian Hensley says you can reduce the problem by slipping a plastic O-ring over the lure body, using it to help secure the worm to the hook. The black O-rings are available in plumbing departments of hardware stores and come in a variety of sizes.
Another option is to use a large split ring, such as those used to secure treble hooks to crankbaits. In either case, choose a ring size that fits snugly around the worm.
Or, if your lure is dark-colored, wrap electric tape around the worm's midsection in the area where you insert the hook.