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Twelve Ways to Fish A Worm - pt. 3

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Twelve Ways To Fish A Worm - pt. 3

By Margie Anderson for Gary Yamamoto Inside Line

Part Three – Finesse


The popularity of the drop-shot technique has put split-shotting on the back burner for many anglers, but a split-shot rig is still a dynamite way to catch pressured fish. Since the worm is behind the weight, it is free to dip and float. Pull the line a bit and it will dart forward. Hold the line still and the worm slowly zigzags toward the bottom. Like its big brother the Carolina rig, the split shot rig is ideal for covering water, albeit at a much slower pace, and when you stop moving it, the enticement of that drifting worm is often more than even a sluggish bass can resist.

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You can fish a split-shot rig almost anywhere by adapting the presentation. Shorten the leader to make the rig easier to pitch under branches and docks. If you’re fishing through thick weeds or brush, use a Mojo weight instead of a split shot. On a riprap bank you might want to switch to harder metal such as steel or brass.


Your equipment is as important as your technique. In winter, most of your split-shotting will involve dragging the rig around behind the boat. You’ll have a lot of line out so you need a fairly stiff rod to set the hook. Your reel needs to take up a lot of line quickly, and a good drag is essential. The line itself needs some stretch, but not too much. Fluorocarbon is not the best choice for split-shotting.
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When a fish is forty or fifty yard behind you in thirty feet of water, it takes a combination of all the right stuff to hook it and get it in the boat. Terminal tackle is crucial. The hook needs to be fine and very sharp, able to penetrate and hold even when the hookset is nothing more than steady pressure. I like the ReBarb hook in size 1. The straight shank delivers all the power right to the point, and the design of the ReBarb keeps even soft finesse worms snugly on the hook.

Split-shotting is a tight-line finesse technique. Use the lightest weight that you can possibly get away with -- just enough to keep it on the bottom. Contact with the bottom is critical to success when you are dragging the bait, because that’s how you feel pick-ups and bites.

Since a split-shot rig is usually a last-ditch effort, finesse lures are almost always called for. Four and six-inch worms are the most common choice. When you drag a split-shot rig it isn’t necessary to cast it. In fact, it works better if you simply drop it straight down beneath the boat. Casting the rig seems to increase the likelihood of snags.

Once the worm is on the bottom, keep the bail open for a bit while the boat moves for a short distance. When you close the bail, you want the split shot itself to stay on the bottom and be moved along ever so slowly by the boat.


The bite, especially in colder water, can be so subtle that even a strong grip on the rod can overpower it. Practice holding the rod loosely so that when a fish closes its mouth on the worm, the rod has room to swing in your hand a bit. If he feels resistance too quickly, a fish is likely to spit it out before you can set the hook. To set the hook, just sweep the rod to the side and reel at the same time.

Start out hoping for a relatively aggressive bite. This means a bit heavier shot and steady pace. A good breeze usually means a better bite. You can use two split-shots if necessary and just let the wind push you along.

On a dead-calm day on a lake full of fish with lockjaw, lighten up the weight and move the bait as slowly as possible, moving it just one to three inches at a time. In between those extremes there is an almost infinite variety of speeds and retrieves that will catch fish. Somewhere on the way from fast to excruciatingly slow you’ll start catching fish. Stick with that retrieve until it quits working.


The traditional way to weight a split shot rig is to simply crimp a round split shot directly onto your line. Lead split shot weights come in a variety of sizes and they are the cheapest way to go, but hey do have some drawbacks. Removable split shots have little ears that you can squeeze to open the shot back up so you can remove it from your line but they can cause snagging, pick up more weeds, and they also cause line twist. Avoid them!

Mojo weights are cylinder-shaped lead weights that are slipped onto the line then fastened in place by threading a rubber nail or a few strands of rubber skirt through the hole. They’re great because they slip very easily through thick brush and weeds. Once you get them on you can easily change your leader length by simply sliding the weight up or down the line, yet the rubber holds the weight in place pretty well until you want it moved.

If you are fishing a lot of rock piles or riprap, hard rocks can deform a lead weight. Since the part that bangs against the rock is also the exact spot where the line emerges, any deformation that leaves a sharp edge means trouble. You don’t need your weight doubling as a line clipper. For fishing between a rock and a hard place, you might want to take the trouble to tie up a sort of mini Carolina rig.

Slip a very light brass, steel, or tungsten weight onto your line, and then add a plastic or glass bead and a small swivel. Tie your leader to the other end of the swivel and then add your hook and worm. This takes a little longer than pinching on a split shot, but it will pay you back by letting you keep those big fish on even in the rocks. An added bonus is a decrease in line twist because of the swivel. Some guys take a short cut by simply using a rubber nail to peg a bead onto the line after the weight, eliminating the swivel.


Split-shotting a floating worm gives your lure a completely different action. Instead of slowly settling to the bottom, a floater darts forward when you move the rig, then bounces back up when you stop. Then it just hangs there, moved subtly back and forth by water currents. If you’re fishing rocks or mud and your weight is sinking below what the fish perceives as the bottom, a floating worm will still be up there where he can see it. Super floaters and plastics like Strike King’s 3X Floating Worms should definitely be part of your split shot arsenal.


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A drop-shot rig consists of a small hook with the weight below it. The beauty of this is that most fish feed up, so a drop-shot rig keeps the bait up off the bottom where the fish can see it. The lure looks as if it is suspended in the water, just like real prey. The weight can go anywhere from six inches to four feet below the hook.

Since the drop-shot is a finesse technique, most anglers agree that it should be fished on spinning gear with 8- to 10-pound-test maximum. Fluorocarbon line is ideal because it virtually vanishes in the water, but any high quality monofilament will do the trick, too. With this light line, quality hooks are crucial. The drop-shot hook needs to be strong but light. Most manufacturers make specialty drop-shot hooks now, so finding them is easy.
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To fish a drop-shot rig, simply drop it to the bottom then reel up the slack. With the line taut, you just shake the rod tip gently to get the lure moving around. Keep the weight on the bottom, and watch your line. If it goes slack, set the hook. You can even fish a drop-shot from shore. Cast it out and let it fall until the line goes slack. Reel the line up taut and shake the rig in place for a bit before moving it a little and trying again.

Bass love the drop-shot rig and it snags a lot less than a split-shot rig. Any good tackle shop can get you set up with everything you need, but chances are you’ve already got stuff in your tackle box to cobble a drop-shot rig together. On those days when you’ve thrown a spinnerbait until your arm is sore without a bite, a drop-shot rig can save the day.

Drop-shot weights can get pricey, especially if you start using tungsten. Some guys just squeeze a split-shot onto the end of the line. Others squeeze a swivel into the drop-shot and tie onto that. You can get reasonably priced drop-shot weights in bulk from retailers like Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas.

Where you fish is actually more important than how you fish a drop-shot. Concentrate on good structure and watch your graph for activity that will let you know the depth of the fish.


In cold water, bass tend to migrate to more vertical structure. Bluffs and steep banks are worth investigating, and the best points are long ones near a channel that have a steep drop-off on one side or another. Creek channels themselves are key locations, too, but a drop-off alone isn't enough.
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"Most fishermen don't really understand the concept of a breakline," says Don Iovino, the father of doodling. "A drop-off alone isn't enough--it has to have good structure like a rockpile, a tree, or something else on it. You can waste the whole day fishing a drop-off, especially in winter, when the fish are all on one little piece of structure."

Iovino idles over ledges, points, and other likely places looking for isolated structures that are different from the rest of the drop-off. When he spots one he tosses a marker buoy on it then turns around to investigate it more closely. The structure he's looking for has to be at the right depth. "Use your graph to figure out where the fish are holding," he says, "then stick to that depth, plus or minus about five feet."

After circling the buoy and watching his graph to get the lay of the land, Iovino backs off about thirty to forty feet and drops his line to the bottom. He doodles his way past the buoy about twenty feet then takes a different angle back over the structure. If he hasn't gotten a bite after four or five passes at different angles, he leaves.


Basic doodling consists of fishing a small worm on light line with a small (5/32- to 3/16 oz.) brass weight and an 8mm glass bead. Shaking the line makes the brass and glass click, and this sound, combined with the vibrations from the shaking worm, attracts the bass. Successful doodling stimulates all of a bass's senses. The clicking and shaking create vibration, but a good doodle worm needs to taste and smell good, too.

Since doodling is a light-line technique, the equipment you use can mean the difference between success and failure. A good doodle rod should have enough power to set the hook even with a lot of line out, and a fast, somewhat limber tip so the lure can be shaken easily. It doesn't matter whether you use spinning or baitcasting gear, as long as the action is right and the rod is long enough to take up line quickly when you sweep to set the hook.

When you have a lot of light line out, it's hard to get power in a hookset. A hook with no offset delivers more power to the point, and the hook must be strong and sharp. When a fish takes a doodle rig, the bite is simply a mushy feeling when you move the worm. The hookset needs to be immediate and the hook has to penetrate easily.

The soft worms that are most effective for doodling have a tendency to slip down the hook shank, so Iovino pegs the worm to the hook by slipping a length of heavy monofilament line through the worm and the eye of the hook. He also pegs the glass bead onto the line with a few strands of rubber skirt material to keep it about half an inch away from the worm. This lets the brass sinker click against the bead without putting pressure on the worm, as well as giving the worm more action when the rig is shaken.


Doodling is shaking, not hopping or lifting. You want to make as much noise and vibration as you can without moving the worm from the spot. Doodle-sliding is a variation of doodling that works well on suspended bass. It involves shaking the rig the entire time it is in the water. Use the lightest possible brass weight to slow the fall and keep the lure in front of the fish for the longest time possible. Cast the light rig on spinning gear, and start shaking the rod tip gently the instant the lure hits the water.

Bass suspended on vertical structure or around trees and brush will often take this shaking, clicking worm as it drifts past, even if they wouldn't budge an inch for a spinnerbait or a crankbait. If you feel the worm hit a tree or something just give it a little slack and keep shaking. Often, the fish will take it while it's in the tree, and all you feel is that the worm isn't falling any more.

Although bass fishing can be slow in the winter, an angler who knows what type of structure to look for and how to finesse the fish can still manage to catch bass in cold water. These finesse techniques work well in the crystal waters of western reservoirs, on pressured fish, after a front and in cold water – any time the fish slow down, the fisherman needs to downsize and slow down, too.
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Great read like always, thank you Roy
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Really interesting! Thank You!

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