Plastic worms can be magic for summertime

Soft-plastic worms have been a staple lure in the bass fisherman’s arsenal for more than 50 years.

The discovery of flexible vinyl in the 1930s gave lure makers a unique 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. Most of the worms back then tended to look like facsimiles of a night crawler, although they were produced in some outlandish but fish-producing colors like purple, black, red or blue.

The arrival of tournament bass fishing during the early 1970s revolutionized the sport with tremendous advances in equipment and fishing techniques that have ultimately benefited all anglers. Plastic worms were soon transformed from simple night crawler look-alikes into all sorts of slinky creations in every size and color combination imaginable and then some. They 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 are versatile lures that can be fished in numerous ways. One of the most basic and effective methods is a worm 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. A 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 4- to 5-inch plastic worms with no weight can be an effective technique. Just make sure it isn’t a floating worm, because the key to this tactic is 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. You want the worm to fall as close to horizontal as possible. 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 to target this time of year 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. Most takes occur as the worm gently quivers on its descent. 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 reel it back 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. Despite that, 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 bass.