Finesse Worm Fishing - Chapter One
There aren't too many bass lures smaller than or that you throw on lighter tackle than finesse worms.
Most finesse worms aren't much thicker than and just as soft as overcooked spaghetti. Four to five inches is the norm. A "big" finesse worm may stretch the tape to six inches.
A spinning rod and reel with a silky smooth drag spooled with 6 to 8 pound test works best.
If this sounds a bit delicate, it is. It's probably the last method you may picture in your mind when you're at work daydreaming about how you'll catch bass this coming weekend.
Given a choice, many anglers prefer to whack bass on the heaviest gear possible. That's fine and dandy, but when it comes to bringing home the trophy, what we've witnessed the last few years on the top tournament trails across the USA is that pros well-versed in finesse worm tactics have risen to the top of the food chain.
Interestingly, many of the pros who have gained glory with finesse worms aren't one-dimensional. What I mean is, there are other pros who almost exclusively flip jigs or fish topwaters or have a major skill they live and die with. When the fish want what these pros are famous for, they do very well indeed. But fish are fickle, and all the fish in a lake may somehow collectively decide they're just not going to hit jigs or topwater much any given day or weekend. Then what do you do? Your strength reverts to a weakness at those times.
Yet pros who have done well with finesse worms use them more as an extra added option rather than a way of life. Kevin Van Dam is a power fisherman. According to most accounts, he's well-known for spinnerbaits and jerkbaits for instance. Van Dam has added finesse worm fishing to his game plan in recent years. Is is a coincidence that Van Dam's been in the winner's circle more often since then?
Ish Monroe is another stellar example of a top pro who I've seen use finesse worms as a prudent option to supplement his game plan. Two years back, in the US Open (the biggest pro tournament held west of the Mississippi), I fished with Ish. He'd go down a stretch of shoreline with the trolling motor fairly high. If the bank was shady or rippled by a breeze, he'd plow a buzzbait. In the sunny, smooth-surfaced sections, he'd dance a Reaction Innovation's Vixen (topwater similar to a Heddon Super Spook or Lucky Craft Sammy type). Most fish he raised this way would just slap at his bait. A few got stuck, but most only nipped the heels of Monroe's lures as if to let him know they were there. That was perfectly fine with him. You see, Monroe was keeping notes and writing down names. After he thoroughly worked through a spot, he'd fire up the big motor to head for the next place. But before leaving, Ish circled back and dropshot a finesse worm where he felt worthwhile fish had risen to his surface presentations. Overall, this tacked five minutes onto each spot, and resulted in a few more bites and fish landed per spot. It was a high percentage ploy. Like sampling everything on every tray down the entire buffet line, and then going back for seconds to cherry pick the very best stuff.
So that's why I say that, first, pros using finesse worms lately aren't one-dimensional but versatile about fitting it into their day. Second, they tend to fit it into every day. We often read things like "a reaction bite is on" or conversely, "fish prefer finesse under bluebird skies." However, how I've observed pros using finesse worms recently, is that they aren't stereotyping a day as a "reaction" or "finesse" day, but they are blending finesse worms in as a productive part of any day under any conditions.
In the next chapter, more of the mechanics on how to rig and present finesse worms five winning ways.
Finesse Worm Fishing - Chapter Two
It's been said, "There's no wrong way to fish a worm," and I've heard, "There's no new way to fish a worm," as if to mean it's all been done somewhere by someone.
There is no doubt that finesse worms have gained a strong resurgence recently. It is a hot technique for top bass pros right now, but like all fishing trends, will fade in time, to be reincarnated in some other form or hot method in the future.
Finesse worming got kicked off in the late seventies by Charlie Brewer from Tennessee. He wrote the first word (actually an entire book) about Brewer's Slider Fishing philosophy. He crafted a slim four-inch straight-tailed worm and jig head for it. He taught anglers to do nothing but reel slow and steady with no angler-imparted action. Brewer held a notion the exaggerated wiggling motion of most bass baits was not natural. Minnows, which Brewer felt his small slim worm looked like, propel themselves in straight lines with hardly noticeable tail flicks most of the time, and that's Charlie's Slider Fishing philosophy in a nutshell. Ahead of his time, Brewer also developed some of the very first jig heads that let you Texas rig a worm on a jig so it's snagless. To say Brewer's the father of finesse worming is true.
Fast forward to today, and the last word on finesse worms comes out of the Southeast as well. It's also a method of Texas-rigging finesse worms on shaking jig heads to be snagless. Unlike Brewer, modern day worm wizards shake and shiver their jig worms now. Some anglers almost constantly impart action. This latest technique's still not used much in the North, Central or Western USA yet.
In the twenty-five year space between the origins of Slider Fishing and the evolution of shaking jig worms, a third method - Texas-rigging finesse worms on light bullet sinkers (and a bead that clicks when the shaking sinker tap-dances against it) called "doodling" was developed out West by Don Iovino.
A fourth method, "polishing the rocks" with darter jig heads became favored by a few Western aces in the mid-eighties. A couple of closed-mouthed cowboys still sagely practice this today, but darter jigs have never been a mainstream tactic even in the West, and rarely ever used in other regions.
Number five, the Mojo rig is a finesse form of the heavier Carolina rig. The lightweight, slim Mojo sinker can be pegged in place with a line-cushioning rubber filament, often a foot or two up the line from the finesse worm. So it doesn't need a separate leader or swivel like a Carolina rig.
Sixth, from Japan, we've learned how to dropshot finesse worms, really only within the past five to six years, and dropshot's still new here. Many anglers have heard of it by now, but haven't actually tried to dropshot yet.
And hardly any of us have yet tried the seventh form of finesse worming - jig head wacky rigs. It has become popular in Japan just the past few years.
To recap, the seven ways we've covered above are:
- Slider Fishing
- Shaking Texas-Rigged Jig Worms
- Shaking Worms with Light Bullet Sinkers and Beads (Doodling)
- Darter Jigs
- Mojo Rigs
- Dropshot Rigs
- Jig Head Wacky Rigs
These certainly aren't the only ways to fish finesse worms, but they are some of the ways we'll cover in finer detail in the next chapter.
Finesse Worm Fishing - Chapter Three
There are no rules or even clues I've ever been able to discern for when fish want finesse worms rigged one way versus another.
In decades of seeking the truth, learning and sharing knowledge of fishing with others, I've found it's often the intermediate level angler who's looking for rules to rely on for where to go when and throw what. The vast majority of us fall within that intermediate level group. We tend to seek rules for when to use what.
But the true experts that I've come across, the most successful, don't seek rules. They rely on hard work, time spent, and trial and error as their basic tools. They eliminate what isn't working and refine what is. They don't decide or predict beforehand what will work today, but when they return to the launch ramp at day's end, through sheer perseverance with trial and error, they will have found what's working and refined it to a high level of success.
So when bass are willing to whack finesse worms, I'll often have several different rigs ready to try:
- Dropshot Rig
- Shakey Jig
- Light Texas Rig
- Mojo Rig
- Wacky Jig
Is there that much difference between rigs? Apparently yes. Bass may show a strong preference for one over another.
So you must try them all or at least several in order to deduce what bass want on any given day. There's no way of telling without trying, and that's compounded by the problem (or opportunity) that the preferred rig can change with depth or time of day. For example, you may start in dawn's dim light by hucking finesse worms Texas-rigged with bullet sinkers tight to the shoreline, dragging them through shallow vegetation and shoreline debris. By mid-morning you may move a bit off the banks onto broad, open, sloping flats where you may find a Mojo-rigged finesse worm covers more water and elicits more strikes. By lunchtime, you may discover dropshotting finesse worms tight to offshore ledges yields better results at noon.
Or perhaps you may luck onto a "sure thing" or pattern that holds up all day, for a few days, a week or more... but it never lasts forever. It will fizzle out someday, and you'll have to discover something better by trial and error with other methods. An example I recall a few seasons back, Captain Chris Cliburn and I were slaying smallmouth in late autumn off a series of main channel points in fifteen to twenty feet of water with Mojo-rigged finesse worms. For ten days straight, the late fall weather stayed stable, and the fish had their feedbags on, eating everything they could in order to store energy to winter over. The tenth night, a front blew through. The eleventh day, we caught just as many fish, on the same finesse worms, but only when Texas-rigged with bullet sinkers. Who knows why? In hindsight, we can smugly say "the cold front caused them to change," but honestly, when we launched the boat that morning and for the first few hours we flailed the water to no avail with Mojo rigs, we were clueless. There was no way we could predict the change. It's only our good fortune that Captain Cliburn switched to the Texas rig and got us back on the fish. We'll never know the reasons why the Mojo rig worked well for ten days, and why they'd only take a Texas rig on the eleventh.
There's just no telling what presentation that fish will want when. If you decide you are going to feed fish finesse worms, then you really need to keep trying several different presentations until you can determine that one or two ways are hot or alternatively, dismiss one or two that don't seem so hot at the moment. But keep in mind that the preferred rig can change with depth, time of day or from one trip to the next, so keep cycling through the alternatives.
Sometimes the location or certain spot to cast to is what will dictate which rig to use. You can lob any worm rig you want into a snarly bush or tree for example, but a Texas-rigged worm with a bullet sinker is the best bet you're going to be able to get it back. You may feel, rightfully, that the dropshot rig is the most efficient tool to prospect the shadows beneath an undercut deep water ledge. An old wood dock may predispose you to skip a Texas rigged shaking jig head under it.
Oh yes, the fifth rig listed above? That is to wacky-rig a finesse worm on a light (1/8 to 1/16 oz) ball head jig. Just wacky rig the worm in its middle and let it dangle on the hook bend. Don't thread it up onto the jig head. Get used to being the only one you know who uses it, because I've never met anyone else who does.
Also, do you dropshot? If yes, wacky rig your worm on a short shank dropshot hook. Few anglers think to wacky rig dropshot worms. Most anglers either nose-hook or Texas rig a worm to be snagless on a dropshot rig. But try it, because fish just love to whack a wacky dropshot worm.