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Western Trail - Gary Dobyns

Dart Heads and Shakey Heads

By Gary Dobyns
GYCB National Pro Staff


Mar. 7, 2008

When I first started fishing everybody talked about round head jigs and dart heads.  Whenever you needed a fish, you just put on a hand-poured worm, a Twin T’s worm or maybe even a Little Bit on a dart head.  The dart head’s open hooks were perfect for a mud bank, shoreline or rocky bank.  They were – and still are – a staple in any western fisherman’s tackle box.

As I got to know more fishermen and fished outside northern California, I realized that dart heads weren’t as popular in other parts of the country as they were at home.  In northern California a four-year-old can tell you what a dart head is. 

It seems to be a regional thing – on the western reservoirs we have structure that’s easier to fish with an exposed hook. Dart heads are favored because they give a worm more action than a round head jig does.  The shape of a dart head lets it swim better and fall differently than a round head jig. For even more action, I’ll take a hammer and flatten the dart head. 

A dart head is a very basic bullet-shaped head with an exposed hook.  The design of the head and the collar make it pretty much impossible to rig anything weedless.  It wouldn’t be my choice for fishing the California Delta or other weedy waterways.   But on our big reservoirs that fluctuate as much as 200 feet per year, we obviously don’t get weed growth.  There isn’t much timber left anymore, making an exposed hook dart head an excellent choice. I’ve caught a lot of big fish on dart heads but most anglers look at the dart head as a limit bait.  My personal best on a dart head is 12lbs. 2oz. 

Twenty five years later, I’m still fishing the dart head but in the past five years the shaky head jig has come on incredibly strong all over the country.  Why?  Because it’s weedless.  You can take a shaky head and throw it around grass and wood.  You can fish the same baits you would use on a dart head but now they’re weedless and you can fish them anywhere.    

A good shaky-head jig makes the worm “stand up”, and that’s another reason why it works so well.  The tail floats up on a floating worm and gives you a lot of action, giving us yet another technique for fishing in cover when the fish are really finicky.  There are guys who are known for being shaky head fishermen.  Anymore, if you see a guy with a spinning rod in his hand, odds are he’s throwing a shaky-head.

Because the technique is so popular, there are lots of shaky head jigs out there.  By far the best one I’ve used is the Picasso Shakedown.  They use a titanium spring bait keeper and a Gamakatsu hook.  I like the titanium keeper because I haven’t had any problems with it breaking, bending or falling out. 

The Picasso Shakedown provides plenty of bite with the hook.  It’s very easy to rig your worm straight and of most importance to me, the hooks are strong enough that you get good penetration and not a lot of spring in the hook.  Springy hooks do not penetrate and you will lose far too many fish.  This is a problem with many of the shaky-head and dart head designs. 

The most popular sizes in both shaky heads and dart heads are 1/8-, 3/16- and ¼-ounce.  My personal favorite is the 3/16-ounce.  A few people will be fishing 1/16-ounce and a few may even be fishing some of the special 3/8-ounce.  These aren’t very popular and I don’t use them at all.  In the west, the dart head is still king.

You can fish most plastics on both a dart head and a shaky head.  When guiding, fishing with kids or novice anglers, a dart head is one of my first choices.  You can’t really fish them wrong.  If you’re dragging and shaking them on the bottom, you’re going to catch a lot of fish.  I believe this is the best way to fish them.  Even if you’re swimming them occasionally, just getting them close to the bottom, you’ll still catch fish.  When I take someone fishing, I watch how they fish.  I offer advice and, in many cases, I’ll give them a heavier or lighter head depending on what they’re doing.  The exposed hook lets kids and novice anglers catch fish that basically hook themselves.  Everyone catches fish on dart heads.

Even a power fisherman like me has to be able to fall back on a little finesse now and then.  Finesse fishing can save you on the bad cold front days, very tough fishing days or when the fish have been pressured too much by tournaments.  How about the last day of an eight day event?  Those fish have seen it all!

You shaky heads might think of trying some dart heads, and  you dart heads, on your next trip to the Cal Delta or Clear Lake, you might grab a few shaky heads.  They’ll be your go-to bait when the fishing gets tough.