Day on the lake: Derek Hudnall

When Louisiana native Derek Hudnall graduated from local tournament competition to the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN, Florida pro John Cox was mopping up Elite Series tournaments nationwide with a wacky worm — a short, stubby finesse worm hooked through the middle and fished on a spinning outfit. Hudnall took notice. “Cox was skipping this dinky little worm under overhanging trees and docks and catching fish on it regardless of season, weather conditions or fishing pressure. Being from Louisiana, I’d mainly fished big spinnerbaits and jigs in muddy water, and finesse fishing was foreign to me — heck, I hadn’t picked up a spinning rod since I was a little kid! But I realized how deadly this approach was and I decided I needed to master it.” Hudnall spent hundreds of hours fine-tuning his presentation skills with the wacky worm; it’s now his signature approach in B.A.S.S. competition. “There are always some bass up shallow, regardless of the season or weather,” he reasons, “and this is absolutely the stealthiest and deadliest shallow presentation you can use. It’ll catch all sizes of bass, not just keepers — my biggest wacky largemouth in Elite Series competition weighed 9 pounds, 8 ounces.” If you need further convincing, read on to discover how Hudnall fared at remote Lake P on a rainy day in early May.

• 6:32 a.m. It’s 58 degrees, cloudy and dead calm when we arrive at Lake P. “The water looks high, which is ideal for wacky worm fishing because of all the newly flooded brush and laydowns close to the banks,” Hudnall says. “Some bass may be spawning, while others are in their postspawn phase; I’ll try several presentation approaches until I get some feedback.”


• 6:45 a.m. We launch the Skeeter. Hudnall pulls a stash of St. Croix rods from storage. Some of these sticks are paired with St. Croix’s new SEVIIN baitcasting reels, which he helped design and refine. “These reels are awesome! They’re lightweight, compact and ergonomic, with great castability.”

• 6:58 a.m. Hudnall makes his first casts of the day to riprap lining Lake P’s earthen dam with a shad pattern Spro Hunter 65 squarebill crankbait. The water here is 66 degrees and murky.

• 7:04 a.m. Hudnall spots a cloud of fish on his forward-facing sonar and casts an American shad Spro McStick jerkbait at the suspenders.

• 7:08 a.m. He switches to a 6-inch bone-colored Megabass Magdraft swimbait, then reverts to the jerkbait. The suspending fish aren’t interested.

• 7:12 a.m. Back to the squarebill. “The dam is usually a good place to start on a new lake.”

• 7:19 a.m. Hudnall has reached the end of the dam. He spots a big fish breaking the surface, prompting him to try a blue-back Spro Fat Papa Walker topwater plug around a nearby pier.

• 7:24 a.m. Lake P has myriad coves, points and pockets (bank indentations), as well as dense shoreline cover in the form of overhanging trees, laydowns and flooded shrubbery. Hudnall begins picking apart this cover with a jointed Sweet Baits swimbait. “I don’t throw big swimbaits too often, but this one looks exactly like a big gizzard shad.” He works the magnum swimmer around several submerged trees but hauls water.

• 7:31 a.m. Hudnall has traversed a shallow cove with the swimbait and squarebill without a tap.

• 7:39 a.m. Hudnall exits the cove, moves into open water and detects multiple schools of suspended baitfish on his electronics. “There’s a ton of bait out here, but I’m not seeing any bass around it.”


• 7:45 a.m. Hudnall has motored straight across the lake and is throwing the big swimbait and walking plug around shoreline cover.

• 7:49 a.m. He switches to a black 3/8-ounce Accent buzzbait with a matching Zoom toad replacing the skirt and retrieves it slowly around the shoreline.

• 7:53 a.m. Hudnall pauses to rig up a wacky worm. His chosen lure is a green pumpkin Missile Baits The 48 finesse worm, which he slides through a VMC Crossover Ring positioned at the bait’s midsection. The hook, a No. 2 Gamakatsu Stinger with tiny titanium weedguards, runs through an insert molded onto the ring. He’ll fish the setup on a 7-foot, 6-inch St. Croix Legend Xtreme MF spinning rod with 16-pound braid main line and a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader, both Sunline.

• 7:58 a.m. Hudnall begins probing wood cover on a sloping bank with the wacky worm, skipping it beneath low-hanging branches into seemingly impossible-to-reach spots. “This worm rig skips beautifully and, with practice, you can put it into some incredibly tight spots. The key phrase here is with practice. It’s like learning to skip a rock across the water — you can’t do it on your first try. Go to the lake with just one spinning rod and practice, practice, practice skipping that worm until you get it right. I guarantee it’ll pay off.”

• 8:06 a.m. Still proceeding down the bank with the wacky worm. “This approach should work because both spawn and postspawn bass could be tight to the banks in these high-water conditions.”

• 8:07 a.m. Hudnall bags his first keeper largemouth of the day, 1 pound, 1 ounce, on the wacky worm. “I let the worm sink, picked it up, and he nailed it.”

• 8:11 a.m. Hudnall continues skipping the finesse worm to shoreline cover, crouching low to deliver the lure to his targets with incredible precision.

• 8:16 a.m. He moves to the back of a shallow, grassy cove. A bass nips the worm but drops it. “Spawners will often grab either end of the bait and move it off the nest. Postspawners usually just suck it all in.”

• 8:18 a.m. Hudnall pitches the worm to a big laydown. A keeper bass picks it up and runs toward him, looping his line around a limb.

• 8:25 a.m. Another bass bites the worm; Hudnall sets the hook, but the fish comes unbuttoned.

• 8:28 a.m. Hudnall skips the worm to the same spot and sticks his second keeper of the day, a 1-pound, 4-ounce male. “This guy was definitely on a bed.”

• 8:32 a.m. Baitfish are flipping on the surface as Hudnall continues his stealthy approach along the snaggy bank. “There may be a shad spawn going on.”

• 8:41 a.m. After a long stretch without a strike, Hudnall sticks a good fish tight to shore. It races toward the boat; he plays it carefully and finally lips his third keeper, 3 pounds, 2 ounces. “This is a big male! I’d really like to catch his girlfriend!”


• 8:45 a.m. Hudnall continues down the bank with the wacky worm. Ahead, a big fish rolls near a sunken tree. “Probably chasing a bluegill off its nest.”

• 8:45 a.m. Hudnall continues down the bank with the wacky worm. Ahead, a big fish rolls near a sunken tree. “Probably chasing a bluegill off its nest.”

• 8:48 a.m. Hudnall has made several presentations to the tree. “When fishing tight to shoreline cover, try to position your boat where you can skip the lure and set the hook without constantly wrapping your line around obstructions. Lower your Power-Poles and use all of your boat’s deck space to find the best possible casting position.”

• 8:51 a.m. Hudnall catches his fourth keeper, 1-5, near a shallow laydown. “He tapped it, dropped it, then hit it again. Probably a spawner.”

• 9 a.m. Hudnall casts to a stump on a secondary point. A good fish hits the worm and runs straight at the boat. Hudnall attempts to boat-flip it, but it shakes free. “Two-pounder.”

• 9:09 a.m. Hudnall bags his fifth keeper, 2-4, on the wacky worm. “Same deal; he hit it, dropped it, then hit it again. I may be tapping into the beginning of the second wave of spawning fish in this lake. The first wave was probably back in mid-April; now a new wave of males has moved up. Hopefully, their big, fat lady friends aren’t far behind.”

• 9:14 a.m. The tiny weedguards on his wacky hook have broken off, so Hudnall rigs a new Stinger.

• 9:21 a.m. Hudnall pitches the worm to a stickup, detects a tap, slams back his rod, and a 6-inch bass sails into his boat.

• 9:27 a.m. Light rain is falling as Hudnall moves into a cove with the wacky worm.

• 9:36 a.m. Switching to the buzzbait, Hudnall rounds the cove at a fast clip.


• 9:45 a.m. Hudnall has moved to a nearby grassy island, where he’s trying the big walking bait.

• 9:52 a.m. Back to a slower approach with the wacky worm. “The fish I’ve caught so far were on sloping banks as opposed to flat banks. I’ll go back and hit some of those spots later.”

• 10:04 a.m. It’s raining harder as Hudnall moves to a main-lake bank. He bags a short fish on the wacky worm.

• 10:09 a.m. He casts the jerkbait off a nearby point. No luck there.

• 10:14 a.m. Hudnall is moving quickly down a snaggy shoreline with the buzzer. What’s his take on the day so far? “I struck out with crankbaits, topwaters, jerkbaits and swimbaits, then got around 10 bites in 90 minutes with the wacky worm. With the high water plus the probability that some fish are spawning, I’m convinced the shallow approach is the best approach, but the fish aren’t everywhere — they appear to be mainly on the steeper banks. I’m gonna cover more new water and maybe re-fish some of the spots where I scored bites earlier.”

• 10:21 a.m. Back to the wacky worm in a snaggy pocket. No love here. “Seems like they’ve slammed their bite window shut.”

• 10:24 a.m. Hudnall moves to a secluded cove and skips the wacky worm. A big snake swims close to the bank. “That’s a cottonmouth! Are there alligators in this lake, too?” Thankfully, no.

• 10:26 a.m. He bags a tiny largemouth on the wacky worm.

• 10:31 a.m. The rain has stopped. Hudnall is in the back of the cove, alternating between The 48 and the buzzbait. “I’ve still got some ’pounders I need to cull!”


• 10:45 a.m. Hudnall gets a hard strike on the buzzbait! He hammers the fish; it rolls on the surface and shakes free. “Arrrgh! This is one of my brand-new reels, and I neglected to tighten the drag on it! When I set the hook, the line slipped!”

• 10:53 a.m. A blue heron spots Hudnall’s buzzer chattering across the surface and swoops down to investigate but doesn’t attack it.

• 11:03 a.m. Hudnall moves to a steep bank loaded with wood cover. He retrieves the buzzbait past a laydown and bags his sixth keeper, 2 pounds, 
12 ounces; it culls his first fish of the day.

• 11:05 a.m. He gets another strike on the buzzer; this fish doesn’t hook up. He immediately casts the wacky worm to the bass, but it’s long gone.

• 11:16 a.m. Hudnall catches his seventh keeper, 
2 pounds, 10 ounces, on the wacky worm. “I saw a light spot on the bottom, probably a bed, and the fish hit close to it.”

• 11:21 a.m. Hudnall pitches the buzzbait to a submerged log and gets a hellacious strike but no hookup. “That was a freakin’ giant! Maybe the big females are moving in.”

• 11:29 a.m. Hudnall speed-trolls to another cove and immediately spots several empty beds near the bank. He traverses the cove with The 48 and buzzer.

• 11:37 a.m. Hudnall sticks a keeper beneath an overhang on the worm, but it flops off.


• 11:45 a.m. A cool breeze is hitting the bank, creating a light surface chop. Hudnall ties on a white half-ounce spinnerbait, brand unknown, with three small willow blades and retrieves it around shoreline cover. “I’ve got to have some wind to throw a spinnerbait. It looks far more realistic when the chop diffuses the flash.”

• 11:45 a.m. A cool breeze is hitting the bank, creating a light surface chop. Hudnall ties on a white half-ounce spinnerbait, brand unknown, with three small willow blades and retrieves it around shoreline cover. “I’ve got to have some wind to throw a spinnerbait. It looks far more realistic when the chop diffuses the flash.”

• 11:51 a.m. Hudnall moves into another cove and alternates between the spinnerbait and buzzer.

• 11:59 a.m. He pitches the buzzbait to a log jutting off a steep bank. A bass plasters the lure, but there’s no hookup. “Wow! Another giant!”

• Noon. Hudnall immediately casts the Magdraft swimbait to the log and braces for the strike that doesn’t happen. “How can they hit a bait that hard and not get hooked?”

• 12:01 p.m. He dog-walks the big Spro surface plug over the log. Still no comeback.

• 12:01 p.m. He dog-walks the big Spro surface plug over the log. Still no comeback.

• 12:14 p.m. As he moves to a nearby point, Hudnall’s trolling motor slams into a submerged stump, breaking the shaft-mounted transducer’s bracket. He raises the motor and assesses the damage. “No worries. I can fix this, at least temporarily.”

• 12:26 p.m. Having remounted the transducer to the trolling motor with zip ties, Hudnall continues to the point and casts the buzzbait.

• 12:34 p.m. He slow rolls the spinnerbait parallel to a small island.

• 12:39 p.m. Hudnall moves to a main-lake bank and probes shallow cover with the buzzbait.


• 12:45 p.m. Hudnall sticks a good fish in a submerged tree on the worm, but it hangs up his line and escapes.

• 12:51 p.m. The wind is gusting and the air temp has dropped 10 degrees as Hudnall presses down the bank with the buzzbait.

• 1:02 p.m. Hudnall switches to a bone River2Sea Whopper Plopper surface plug and retrieves it around submerged wood.

• 1:14 p.m. He bags his eighth keeper, 1-3, on the wacky worm; it’s a cull.

• 1:21 p.m. Hudnall returns to the bank where he caught his 3-pounder. He skips the worm beneath an overhang and a bass immediately strips it off his hook.

• 1:26 p.m. Armed with a fresh worm, Hudnall continues down the bank. Another bass grabs the lure’s tail and drops it. “I guarantee these are males moving it off their nests.”

• 1:37 p.m. The wind is howling as Hudnall continues pounding wood cover with the tri-blade. “That front is right on top of us now. It’s probably a good time to wrap this up!”

• 1:45 p.m. Time’s up! Considering the fluctuating weather conditions, Hudnall has had a decent day on Lake P. He’s tallied eight keeper bass; his five biggest weigh 12 pounds, 1 ounce.


“With the lake level high; the slick, murky water; and the heavily overcast conditions, my instincts drew me to the bank,” Hudnall told Bassmaster. “All of my keepers were males that appeared to be bedding under overhangs or close to laydown trees. If I were to fish here tomorrow under similar conditions, I’d keep skipping that wacky worm around shallow cover, and I’d spend more time gunning for big females with the buzzbait.”


3 pounds, 2 ounces; green pumpkin Missile Baits The 48 finesse worm wacky-rigged with VMC Crossover Ring and No. 2 Gamakatsu Stinger hook; (probable) spawning bed; 8:41 a.m.
1 pound, 5 ounces; same lure as No. 1; spawning bed; 8:51 a.m.
2 pounds, 4 ounces; same lure as No. 1; (probable) spawning bed; 9:09 a.m.
2 pounds, 12 ounces; black 3/8-ounce Accent buzzbait with matching Zoom toad replacing the skirt; laydown; 11:03 a.m.
2 pounds, 10 ounces; same lure as No. 1; spawning bed; 11:16 a.m.