By DAVID A. BROWN
Published January 13, 2007
Capt. Dave Markett scratched his head. Not much in the water baffles the Odessa guide, but this one had him perplexed.
Joined by fellow Pasco anglers James Manley and Jill Sapp, Markett had fished around the entire shoreline of a sweet little lake, watching the abundant largemouth bass ignore his live shiners. We caught about eight bass, including Manley's 3-pounder, on plastic worms.
"If you had told me that we would catch fish on worms when we could barely get a bite on shiners, I'd have said you were crazy," Markett said.
He's right. Typically, live shiners, a staple in the largemouth bass diet, are as close to a home run kind of deal as you can expect in freshwater fishing. Slow-trolled along shoreline structures, or fished under bobbers amid vegetation, these meaty baitfish usually have short life expectancies.
Of course, that casts no aspersions on plastic worms. For novice anglers, or those accustomed to the shiner routine, sticking a couple packs of these freshwater standards in your gear bag not only provides a backup plan, it gives you something to do while waiting for a hit on the shiner rod.
On this day, we used a pencil-shaped worm from the category generically known as Senko for the original model created by bass tournament pro Gary Yamamoto.
A dense, streamlined body with no appendages allows for long, accurate casts, while a limber composition means the worms shake and wiggle enticingly.
Rig these baits on 3/0-4/0 worm hooks, preferably wide-gap models. For a weedless presentation, insert the hook point into the head, bring it out about 1/8 inch lower, and pull the entire hook through until the eye rests against the top of the worm. This allows the short neck of a worm hook to sit inside the plastic body and maintain an in-line retrieve.
Complete the arrangement by turning the hook toward the worm and inserting the point into the body. Weedless setups minimize snags and when a bass strikes, your hook set pulls the point through the body and into the fish's mouth.
Casting and retrieving with sporadic twitches work well, but you'll find Senko worms effective for more targeted tactics.
Skip a worm under docks to reach prime bass haunts. In heavy cover, slide the worm across matted grass or dense weeds. Just hang on tightly - bass often blast through the cover to grab what they think is a small snake or lizard.
If you're patient, toss a worm into a promising spot and let the bait lay on the bottom. This is called "dead sticking" and bass are known to suck in a worm when it's perfectly still. A slight flutter every 30 seconds helps catch the attention of nearby fish.
"A lot of times, you won't even feel the strike," Manley noted. "What I do is watch my line. When it comes tight, I know a bass has picked up my worm."
Anytime you see a fish boil or bust minnows at the surface, toss a worm right at the commotion and let it sink. Often, the aggressive fish will think your worm is a wounded baitfish and hit the easy target.
Worms don't run from bass. You have to give the bait some action to make it look real, but unlike experienced shiners who have lived long enough to learn a few evasive maneuvers, your worm is an easy target that bass can catch whenever they want.
Worms require no pampering. Shiner fishermen will need a livewell or an aerated bucket or a flow-through bait bucket. Plastic worms survive anywhere - in your tackle bag, on the deck, in your pocket.
And when it comes to durability, there's no comparison. Shiners can't take much stress and repeatedly reeling up and repositioning will cause "wash out." Plastic worms, particularly the thick Senko styles, are made to endure a lot of intense fishing action.
After a day of fishing, keeping leftover shiners presents more challenge than its worth for the average angler. If you happen to have industrial-grade bait tanks in your garage, your spare shiners will probably last the night. Otherwise, dump the baitfish in the lake and make them promise to propagate.
With plastic worms, just zip up the plastic pouch and they're good to go for the next round.
Some anglers believe in making a good thing better by applying scents spray or dip formulas to their worms. Some say that the added smell stimulates feeding. At the least, attractants cling to the bait and form an oily coating that helps a worm slip through heavy cover.
Now, we're not downing shiners. There's no questioning their effectiveness and ease of use.
But when time, budget or fish disposition stymies the live bait routine, your hopes of catching bass are far from squashed. Even for bass newbies, the undeniable appeal of a simple worm offers big-time potential.
David A. Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.