Although bass season is now in full swing, heavy rains last week made the Juniata River a bit high and muddy for good smallmouth fishing. That situation shifted my focus from river smallmouths to lake-dwelling largemouths. And when it comes to catching largemouths in just about any size lake, a plastic worm is hard to beat. In fact, on just about any water where bass are found, during any season of the year, a plastic worm can be among the deadliest and most versatile lures an angler can cast.
Some crude artificial worms were made during the 1800s using the rubber compounds available in that era. The discovery of flexible vinyl in the 1930s gave lure makers a better medium to work with, and by the early 1950s, several individual lure makers were making their own versions of soft, durable plastic worms. Some of those creations really caught fish, but often their popularity tended to be regional. It didn't take long for the secret to get out, however, and by the late 1960s, plastic worms had revolutionized bass fishing.
During the last 50 years, plastic worms have transformed from simple night crawler look-alikes into all sorts of slinky creations in every size and color combination imaginable and then some. Besides being deadly effective on bass, most types of plastic worms are also relatively inexpensive lures, allowing even the casual fisherman to carry a good selection of styles and colors in his tackle bag.
Plastic worms can be fished in many ways as well, but one of the most basic and deadly methods is rigged Texas-style, using a special worm hook with an offset bend and a bullet-shaped slip sinker. Because the hook point is completely hidden in the body of the worm, this rig can be fished in thick weeds, brush, sunken trees and other nasty stuff that would be impossible to penetrate with virtually any other type of bait. Crawling the worm slowly around the cover is usually the best tactic, but there will be times when the fish will respond to a more aggressive presentation, so experiment a little to find the right pace on any given day.
In more open water, worms can be fished on a jighead with success. An useful jighead tactic that has emerged in recent years is the so-called shaky-head worm. This method employs the use of slender worm four or five inches long with lots of action. The worm is rigged on a special jighead designed to set on the bottom with the hook bend standing almost straight up. Cast the rig to specific spots where you suspect a bass to be hanging out, and after it settles to the bottom, jiggle the rod top slightly just enough to make the worm shake and quiver. This maneuver can sometimes tease a stubborn bass into striking.
In the summertime, fishing smaller plastic worms with no weight can be an effective technique. For this, I use some kind of finesse-style worm about four to five inches long. Just make sure it isn't a floating worm, because the key to this tacticis allowing the worm to sink slowly on its own. rig the worm the same as a Texas rig but skip adding any weight to the line. Fish this setup on spinning gear using 6- or 8-pound line.
Cast the weightless worm near some type of fish-holding structure, preferably in two to about six feet of water. Weed lines are one of the best places this time of year to target with this technique, but sunken logs, docks or steep banks are possibilities too. Allow the worm to sink slowly while carefully watching your line for the slightest indication of a bite. If the worm makes it to the bottom without being eaten by a bass, I twitch it up a few feet with the rod tip, reel in the slack and let it settle again. Depending on the structure I'm fishing, I'll either work the worm back to the boat in that fashion or simply reel in and recast to another spot.
Waiting for the weightless worm to sink is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but on days when the bass can't be tempted with more active methods, this agonizingly slow technique can be worth the extra dose of patience. Bluegills and other panfish can also drive you crazy by grabbing the end of the worm and running off with it. In spite of that, I treat any take as a bass bite and set the hook accordingly. You might be surprised how often what feels like just another pesky bluegill turns out to be a three- or four-pound largemouth.