Vertical Reaction Fishing - How Tai Au Power-fishes a Senko and a Neko Rig

By M. L. Anderson

You may have seen Yamamoto pro Tai Au fishing a Senko and not even realized it. He fishes it fast — faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. “The Senko is probably my number one money-maker bait, but when my non-boaters see how I fish it, they’re like ‘no way!’” says Au. “There is so much you can do with a Senko — I’ve never been on a lake that you couldn’t catch them on a Senko.”

We went out with Tai to see how he does it, and probably couldn’t have picked a worse day — the barometer was climbing (if you didn’t read about Tai’s take on the importance of pressure, you’ll find it here), there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, a north wind was blowing, and it was a holiday weekend on Lake Pleasant. Enough said. In spite of that, by 6:15 he had four fish in the boat, and by the time we got off the water at 10:30, he’d caught over a dozen feisty bass.

Tai with an early-morning bass caught on a Neko rig.

Tai with an early-morning bass caught on a Neko rig.

THE RIGS        

Au starts out with darker colors early in the morning, and as the sun gets up he switches to lighter colored baits. He primarily fished two baits on Pleasant that morning: a wacky-rigged Senko and a Neko rig.  On the Neko rig he uses a *Daiwa Neko Fat Worm.  

Tai uses a silicone band about ¼ of the way down from the head of the Neko worm, then rigs the hook under the band. Rig it so the hook opens toward the tail so that when the bait hits a rock, the weight will keep the point from digging in. For a 5-inch Neko Fat Worm use a Gambit G7 7mm band, and for the 6-inch bait use the 8mm. You’ll need special pliers that hold the band open so you can slip the bait into it. The bands come in black, clear, red, and watermelon green. Tai uses clear. They make it very easy to switch baits — just pull the old bait  apart to remove it, then use the pliers to put a new one in. You can get a 12-pack of silicone bands for less than $4.00. Use any size 1 hook you’d use for dropshotting, says Tai. He puts a 3/32-ounce tungsten nail weight in the head. Insert it carefully so you have it centered the first time — if you try to reposition it you’ll get a big hole in the bait and the weight could fall out.       

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With the Senko, he simply hooks the bait itself right through the middle – no wacky ring, no silicone band. Needless to say, he goes through a lot of Senkos, but he says if you use a band on a Senko it can fold over on itself and hook itself, meaning you’ve wasted a cast and have to reel it in and fix it. He fishes the Senko wacky rigged about 90% of the time, and uses a 1/0 wacky rig hook on the 6-inch Senko and a #1 on the 5-inch. Both the Neko rig and the Senko are fished on spinning gear with braid, and about an 8-foot Sugoi Fluorocarbon leader in 6-pound test for the 5-inch Senko or Neko rig and 8-pound-test line for the 6-inch Senko. In a tournament he’ll re-tie after every fish. He uses Pit Bull pliers — the best pliers ever for cutting braid, he says, and they only cost about $13. (www.pitbulltackle.com)

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THE TECHNIQUES         

Tai likes to cover water, but before the sun is really up he slows it down a bit. He says that the fish aren’t super active that early, and the most productive lure is something that will stay in the strike zone. He tends to focus on secondary points early — ambush zones. He started the morning with the Neko rig. He throws the lure out and lets it dart to the bottom, but holds the rod at about 10 or 11 o’clock and shakes it on the way down — just shaking the rod so the tip moves only a few inches, but steadily. Once it hits bottom he reels it in and throws to the next spot. In the very clear water of Pleasant, fish can see a bait from a long way away, so any fish nearby who sees that bait darting and shaking down is going to grab it. He doesn’t waste time fishing the same spot over and over, and he doesn’t dawdle. In the low light, the darker bait (in this case watermelon green) is more visible       

The Diawa Neko Fat Worm has a narrow end that expands to a bulbous tail with a point, and that tail quivers and gives the bait a ton of action. The nail in the head helps it fall faster and lets Tai cover water while still basically finesse fishing — but vertically and fairly fast, like a reaction bait. It’s the best of both worlds. The clearer the water, the heavier the weight you can use because the fish can see it from farther away. Also, the clearer the water, the faster you can move on. He also uses the Neko to catch fish that he sees below the boat on his graph. He once caught a big fish at 55 feet that he had spotted on the graph.     

Tai says you can feel the worm wiggle, and when you get a bite, it feels different when you shake it — just solid. When that happens, he reels until he feels a bit of pressure, then just gives it a little tug and reels it in, like a drop-shot set, he says. A lot of times you’ll shake it and not know if there’s a fish on it or not, he says. In that case, hold the rod still at 11:00 and watch it. If it loads up, give it that little tug and reel.          

Once we reached some trees in the water, Tai switched to a 5-inch Senko in Smoke with Black and Hologram. He loves the Senko in cover. He doesn’t let it hit bottom though — he casts it toward the cover, shakes it down a bit, then moves on. The bite feels very much like the Neko bite, and he sets the same way. The way he fishes the Senko you don’t really get snagged like you would if you let it hit bottom. This lets him just keep rolling down the bank. 

COLORS AND CONDITIONS

Once the sun pops up he covers water even more quickly: the better the fish can see, the quicker you can move on. Tai says he fishes the Neko rig from late winter until the bass move up under ten feet deep. For ten feet or less, the Senko is his go-to bait. On windy days the Neko is easier to fish because of the weight. He starts with green pumpkin in early spring and transitions to watermelon red around mid-spring. For dirty water, he chooses black/blue or black/red, and when the shad are spawning he likes smoke hologram. If he sees a lot of bass fry he’ll rig up with a baby bass Senko. He also pays attention to what the other anglers are using. If everyone else seems to be throwing green pumpkin, he’ll throw watermelon red — he thinks if the bass see something too much they tend to ignore it. He used to complicate color choice he says, but now he tries to keep it simple, matching the natural prey, picking what will be visible in the conditions, etc. The key is to have confidence in the bait you’re throwing. In super clear water with bright sun, a natural shad is ideal. If the water is dirty, he’ll flip a darker bait because dirty water tends to make bass hold tight to cover.           

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When the lake is rising, throw that Senko in an inch of water, says Tai. But since the water at Pleasant had fallen about eighteen inches in three weeks, he concentrated on the outer cover and structure, mostly on secondary points for those post-spawn bass. If you have an app that shows you the barometric pressure and the trends, you can see when the pressure will start falling and plan to fish aggressively then. If the pressure is rising, you’ll have to slow down a bit.

SEARCHING WITH A SENKO   

When Tai is fishing shallow with a Senko, he puts the boat very close to shore, cranks the trolling motor up to 6 or 6-and-a-half, and just flat covers water, using the clear water to his advantage. He throws the Senko as far ahead as he can reach, and shakes it down without letting it hit bottom, feeling the line with his fingers. He practically flies down the bank. “I fish a Senko like an ugly guy at a bar trying to pick up girls,” he says. “Can I have your number? No? On to the next one.”

He’s trying to catch fish of course, but he’s also searching for fish. He’s sight fishing in spite of no fish on beds. Since he is up so shallow, he can see if any fish take off in front of him. He marks those fish mentally or on the graph, then goes back to them a bit later and targets them with the Senko or with a Fat Ika or a Neko rig. It doesn’t take long for a bass to re-set, he says, and in fact we watched him go back ten minutes after seeing a fish and he put that fish in the boat. We had hit Pleasant at post-spawn, a notoriously difficult time for bass fishermen, but he had a limit by 6:45 a.m.           

The wacky-rigged Senko and the Neko rig are deadly, even in difficult seasons and difficult conditions. When times are tough, use these techniques to put bass in the boat. They’re relatively easy to rig and fish, and you can cover a lot of water and get even finicky fish to eat. If your topwater and crankbaits aren’t working, instead of slowing down and fishing under the boat, tie one of these rigs on and keep moving.

*Editor’s note: The Neko is available directly through Daiwa and at fine fishing retailers near you.