Spinning to success

I’m a power fisherman. That’s what I love to do. It’s what I’ve done over my first seven years on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour. I’ve always said that if I was going to win an Elite tournament, it would be by flippin, frogging or ledge fishing. All of that is power fishing. I seldom incorporated spinning tackle.

That’s how I’ve lived and died on the Elite Series. I’ve had some good tournaments, but I’ve also had a couple of tournaments every year where I absolutely bombed. Those bombs are what keep me from making the Classic. That’s what happens when you force the power fishing game.

I’m trying a different approach this year by leaning more on a spinning rod and focusing on catching more fish, not necessarily big fish. I figure if I’m catching more bass, I will randomly snag some big ones, too. I really need to be a more consistent angler. I’m hoping that a spinning rod will be my equalizer.

A spinning rod has helped me get off to a fast start this season. I finished in 26th place at the first tournament of the year on the St. Johns River. I caught all but one of my bass there on a spinning rod, including a 9 1/2-pounder.

I hooked that monster after skipping a wacky rigged Senko under a dock. She had me wrapped up for what seemed like an eternity. I kept steady pressure on her, and she finally swam out. It was the best fish catch I’ve ever had.

I finished seventh at the next tournament on Lake Lanier. I caught most of my fish there with a small swimbait and a Ned rig, both fished on spinning tackle.

I’ve been using the Senko since it was introduced. But I always fished it Texas rigged with or without a weight. At the tail end of last season I started fishing a Senko wacky rigged and Neko rigged. I gained a great deal of confidence in those baits. I believe they are going to carry me a lot this year.

I plan to always have both rigs on my front deck. I’ll use the wacky rig for shallow bass and for suspended fish. I rig the wacky weightless and seldom let it go to the bottom.

At the St. Johns River I kept my wacky rig within 2 feet of the surface. I let it shimmy on the fall. Then I would twitch it a few times and let it shimmy again. Some bass responded to the shimmy and some were duped by twitching the bait.

If I think the bass are suspended 10 or 12 feet deep in a clear highland lake, I’ll count the wacky rig down to 8 feet or so and start twitching it back. Bass in clear water travel farther to get a bait than bass in dingy. The wacky rig catches fish that would eat a topwater bait and a hard or soft jerkbait, so it kind of covers the whole upper water column.

When I’m targeting fish on the bottom half of the water column, I go with the Neko rig. For years the shaky head has been the go-to finesse bait. The Neko rig, in my opinion, does a better job of catching bass holding to the bottom than the Shaky head.

The Neko rig skips well, but I’ve never found another bait that skips better than a weightless wacky rigged Senko. You can’t beat it for getting under docks and overhanging limbs.

I stick with the tried and true 5-inch Senko, and I vary its color based on water clarity. In Florida I throw June bug. In clear water I go with baby bass or good old green pumpkin. If I’m fishing around heavy cover for big bass, I wacky rig the Senko with a weedless No. 1 VMC Neko Hook. In open water I downsize to a No. 2 hook.

I don’t use an O-ring with the wacky rig because I want the hook to be pointing up as the bait sinks. I do use an O-ring with the Neko rig because it holds the hook’s point up with that application. I insert a 1/32- to 1/4-ounce weight into the head of the Senko when I’m Neko rigging. The 1/16-ounce size gets the most play.

I cast the wacky rig and the Neko rig with the same spinning outfit. I pair an Abu Garcia Revo MGXtreme reel with a 7-foot, medium action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod. I fill the reel with 10-pound Yo-Zuri Superbraid and add a Yo-Zuri Top Knot 100% Fluorocarbon leader. I like an 8-pound leader in clear water. I go as heavy as a 12-pound leader when fishing cover in dingy water.

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