By Mike Whitten
August 9, 2012
With full credit and deep respect to the late Lord Richard Buckley, and most especially to the poet laureate of sand, sailboats and all things Margarita, Mr. Jimmy Buffett, I stole these words from the classic piece—“God’s Own Drunk”. No, friends and neighbors, I’m not suggesting to any of you that you take up drinking, run a still, or for that matter, try to run Brother Bear off the hill--- (you’d have to know this song to understand all of this) ---but with regard to fishing and catching the slimy little critters. There are some techniques around that are described by the quote above. They are just so simple that they somehow evade us, in our search for the new and the technically advanced.
The basic jig head worm is one of them. It is mind-numbingly simple in concept and requires no great skill, strength or expense to fish properly. Yet looking back over my fishing history for the past 5-8 years, it has been the single most productive lure in terms of numbers of fish caught over a larger percentage of the year, than any other lure, technique or presentation that goes for a ride in my BassCat Puma FTD. It will catch fish in a foot of water or 40 feet of water. With wind, without wind, clear water, stained water. Largemouth, smallmouth, spots—they’ll all eat it—big ones and small ones. Don’t forget that a very famous, very rich Elite Angler caught a lake record in a major national tournament a few years ago on this very lure. When he started out, he was lucky to have any lures to fish with. Now, he can fish any lure he wants and he still threw a jig worm and caught a FREAKIN’ MONSTER!
The first time I remember reading about the concept of a “jig-worm” was decades ago in an article written by Al or Ron Linder, in a magazine like “Fishing Facts” or “In-Fisherman”. Gaddabout Gaddis and Virgil Ward were producing black and white TV shows, and I remember thinking this is the dumbest way to fish a plastic worm I’ve ever seen. Everybody knows you fish plastic worms Texas style. No self-respecting Southern boy would lower his standards by giving up the vaunted Texas Rig!
Fast forward to about 2001, and I’m on Pickwick Lake, fishing with my good friend and renowned guide, Roger Stegall. We stopped on a creek ledge, and got a bite or two on a Carolina rigged lizard, but we could see lots of fish on the electronics that would not respond. For some reason, still unknown to me to this day, I picked up a spinning rod with a ¼ minnow head jig and rigged up a 208 5” KutTail worm. Nearly 30 bass later, with two over 4 pounds, I was a changed man. It no longer “plumb evaded me.”
The Basic Lures
Jig Heads- The key word here is simplicity. I carry two sizes of jig heads, ¼ and 3/16. I will always start with the ¼ oz, unless fish are in 10’ of water or less. I honestly had never been able to tell that fish eat a jig worm on a fall more than they do on the bottom, so I pick the lightest head, one that makes the smallest splash that still lets me feel the bottom. From 10’ out to 40’ I can do that very effectively with a ¼ oz head. The jigs that I use are ones that I pour myself using a Do-It Shaky Head jig mold. This is a ball style head with a 60 degree hook eye so that it pulls across the bottom much more like a football head than a standard ball head jig. An advantage of pouring my own heads is that I can upsize the hooks to 4/0 and 5/0. Both Mustad and Gamakatsu make fine hooks that will fit this mold, and I have used both with equal success. For those who don’t enjoy tinkering with lures or don’t want to get into “pouring your own”, a variety of other manufacturers, including GYCB, offer a fine line of jig heads in both round and football style that will work great for this technique. Several also offer painted heads, and I’m still not convinced whether that option catches more fish or fishermen. I can tell you that I don’t paint my jig heads.
Worms- This is the key to the system. You need to carry enough variety to be able to respond to various preferences of the bass on a given day. But, you DO NOT need to carry a tackle store full of various worms in a huge assortment of colors. Truth be told, you could probably get away with Green Pumpkin (GYCB#297),Watermelon/Red Flake (208) and what is commonly known as Red Bug. There is a trick here---GYCB, as we all know, does not offer all colors in all sizes—so, in the 10” Kut Tail, there is a wonderful color #352—Plum with Large Emerald Flake. The trick here is that I carry the 10” size, and bite it off at the lower ¼ of the egg sack, to create the perfect shaky head Red Bug worm. And yes, I throw the “Big 10 Inch” (Steven Tyler please forgive), but I’m saving that story, and related techniques for another article.
These three colors account for about 85% of my jig-worm presentation. Why—I have no clue, except I get bit on them. I’m not smart enough, or don’t have enough time on the water to get really scientific about it all. I throw it, I get bit, I throw it back again. Repeat until bites stop. My color selection is based on water color—no big secret there---and I always start with the #297 color. If the water is clearer than normal, or the sun is out and bright, I’ll opt for the 208. And, if I’m not happy with the payoff, or I see a lot of bluegill around, I’ll switch to the #352 color. There are other colors I’d like to see in the 5 ¾ inch bait, but they are not available, and I KNOW these work.
While a few other models are in the storage compartments of my boat, by far my number one plastic for this technique is the GYCB 5 ¾ inch Kut Tail worm in 297 and 194J, as I indicated above—and I always rig the cut edge of the tail facing down. It vibrates better on the fall, which I think gets the attention of the fish in the area. Lots of bites will come while the lure is in contact with the bottom, but with the tail rigged with the edge down, you get a very subtle, quick vibration when you reel the lure back to the boat. Try this—when you reel the worm back to make the next cast, vary the speed of the reel---pulse the lure, and you will get some bites in mid-water, just because of the tail action.
The KutTail will just devastate fish that have seen other worms and are not really aggressive, but are willing to eat a soft plastic. One other tip—if you find yourself around bigger fish, up size to the 6.5” size. On the other hand, if the most common fish are 12-14” fish, and you need a limit of those, drop down to the 5” worm. But, overall, day in day out, the 5 ¾ inch is my first choice. It will catch quality fish in a variety of situations. One last thing, on the worms with green in them—194J, 208, 297, keep a plastic dye pen handy—color about ¾ of the tail chartreuse and give it a shot. In the waters that I fish on the Tennessee river systems, a little chartreuse on the tail helps to mimic a threadfin shad, the most common forage fish---and looking like lunch to a bass is never a bad thing.
Tackle—I’m not going to even mention spinning tackle here, since everyone who has ever read a fishing magazine or watched BassMaster or FLW knows that you fish this stuff on spinning tackle …
Well yeah, maybe—I used to—but now, I’m doing 100% of my jig worm fishing on a bait caster. I’ve found I can throw it farther, maintain better feel and control and avoid fluorocarbon line twist by using a level wind set up. Mine happens to be a Falcon 6’10 MH rod rated for 3/16 to 3/8 oz lures, matched to a Shimano Calais 100A reel, with 10 or 12 pound Vicious Elite Fluorocarbon. I can find absolutely NO disadvantage to baitcast vs spinning, and I’m here to tell you, there are several advantages. Look arouwnd, and you will find several rods on the market in the 6-10 to 7’ range that will handle 3/16 to ¼ oz jigs. Keep in mind, when you load up a ¼ oz jig with one of the plastics above, especially the larger Kut Tails, you get a total lure weight at or above 5/16 of an ounce, which is plenty heavy to load up a medium to medium heavy baitcaster.
So, there it is. Straightforward, easy and SIMPLE. A ¼ oz head, a green or plum colored worm, fished on a baitcaster with clear fluorocarbon line. Fish it the same places you like to fish, whatever that may be, and see what happens. I’m betting your catching will see a very impressive increase.