There was a time when southern anglers made fun of the finesse tactics that west coast fishermen used for catching bass. Light line, small baits and spinning rods were for sissies, scoffed the boys back east.
But once western anglers began winning big time bass tournaments on southern impoundments, attitudes changed. Today, you'll find at least one spinning outfit rigged with light line in nearly every Elite Angler's rod box.
Why? Because anglers have discovered that downsizing tackle can be a necessity on waters that get abundant fishing pressure — and most popular bass lakes do. Fish that have been caught and released frequently get wise and wary quickly when they're being bombarded by an array of big, brash baits fished on heavy line.
No one knows that better than anglers on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, where one of the hottest finesse techniques employed on last year's circuit accounted for a ton of bass.
And the technique didn't come from California, but rather the heart of Alabama. It's called shaky head fishing, a tactic originally developed for tricking cantankerous spotted bass into striking, yet one that has proven equally deadly on fussy largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Shaky Head fishing was a guarded secret among touring pros — that is until Kevin VanDam won the Elite 50 tournament on Lake Lewisville, Tex. and shattered the lake record with a giant 11-pound, 13-ounce largemouth.
VanDam used the technique in his next three victories, but he wasn't alone. It's become a go-to technique for a number of pros that say it works anywhere, anytime.
Guys like Jeremy Starks of West Virginia and Bink Desaro of Idaho are shaky head aficionados who have seen the technique save the day on more than one occasion. Whereas Shaky Head fishing is best suited for rocky bottoms, sandy flats or around sparse grass beds, it can be fished around the edges of thicker cover and in water from 1 to 40 feet deep.
It's a killer around riprap banks, secondary points and deep boulders. Northern smallmouth anglers, who have always relied on tube jigs for catching numbers of big smallmouth, are discovering the shaky rig is a good alternative when the big ol' brown fish are snubbing tubes.
And best of all, it's an easy rig to fish.
Basically, shaky wormin' involves a straight tail finesse worm fashioned weedless on a small, ball head jig. Once rigged, make a long cast and let the bait fall. Be ready — many strikes occur in the first three seconds after the bait contacts the bottom.
If not, began shaking the rod tip in short, rapid bursts, maintaining some slack in the line while you hold the rod in a 10 o'clock position.
This movement keeps the worm vertical and the tail quivering seductively. Don't hop the jig — inch it along and keep it dancing like a creature feeding along the lake bottom.
The gear you use and the manner in which the worm is rigged is important to the proper presentation. Some anglers prefer baitcast tackle, but a 7-foot medium action spinning rod is best because it fishes light line better, and light line imparts more action in the bait. Eight and 10 pound line is preferred and basic monofilament works, but sensitive fluorocarbon line transmits subtle bites better.
Most strikes feel like a simple tick or tap at the end of the line, or, if the fish are aggressive, they'll gobble the worm and streak off with it.
While a 4½-inch finesse worm produces more bites, 6- and 7-inch styles, especially the floating variety, attract bigger fish. And if you take a poll of the pros' favorite colors, you'll find shades of green, especially green pumpkin, watermelon or watermelon candy, are high on their lists.
To rig the shaky worm, enter the hook point into the head, push it out the side, and then roll it over so that the hook point enters the main body and protrudes through the top. You can leave the hook in the belly, but better yet, push it through and skin-hook the barb on the topside of the worm.
Some anglers prefer to leave a little hump in the worm between the jig head and the barb. This bend provides additional action and can make the worm more attractive to wary bass.
Choose jig sizes on the basis of water depth, going as light as possible. Sizes 1/8 to ¼ ounce are preferred. And while most spotted bass anglers prefer shorter shank hooks, the pros like ball head jigs with at least a 3/0 size hook when fishing the longer worms.
A common problem with the rig is the worm tends to slide down the shank of the hook. To remedy that, bite off the tip of the worm, add a touch of glue, and push it flush against the jig head. Some jig manufacturers have added a tiny barb to the base of the jig that also will help hold the bait in place.
The pros continue to experiment with other rigging methods as well. For example, Desaro likes to rig his worm wacky style when fishing windy conditions. He inserts a small nail into the head of a Trick Worm, then attaches it to his line with a straight shank hook poked through the middle so that both ends dangle and offer more action during the shaking process. The weighted nose keeps the worm close to the bottom and the spastic action helps call bass to it.
If there's a best time to fish the Shaky rig, it would be during the post-spawn period when bass are roaming around in a funk, or during summer cold fronts that can shut down the aggressive bite. Some say shaky worms are best in clear water but several pros did well fishing it in stained lakes last season. Anglers also have found it's an excellent rig for duping bedding bass or catching winter bass holding on rocky bluffs.
In other words, it works just about anytime the bass are playing hard to get.