Senko ~ The Seven Weightless Ways

Story by Russ Bassdozer

The Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senko is renowned as the best bass bait in history. Yes, there are many ways to fish a Senko with a weight, to wacky rig it or whatever, but Texas-rigged weightless, casting in shallow water is unequalled in fun and effectiveness.

A weightless Senko is highly snag-resistant and excels in thick grass, brush or other cover. There is no weight, so there's nothing to embed itself into the cover and snag.

It also excels in the clearest, most open water as well, since it is so non-threatening and subtle, fish are rarely alarmed by one.

The seven modules below are discrete building blocks. On any given day or season, I'll string together any one or all of these building blocks to create a successful weightless Senko presentation. You can too.

Way One: The Splash

Make no mistake, an attractive, life-like splash can be as important as anything else you do with a Senko. The initial splash can be an essential part of the presentation. I have often had fish swim away and leave my bait as I tried to entice them to hit it, because my partner cast and splashed his bait 15 feet away, behind the fish. Apparently, an enticing splash is often of more interest to a bass than a bait right in front of its face!

Understand this, a bass will come over to investigate a splash, sight unseen. Also understand there is nothing more the bass would like to do when he gets there than to bite your bait as soon as he sees it. I call this phenomena "love at first sight" and it is purely instinctive. Upon getting near enough to eyeball the bait closely however, many bass will turn away from it, and slink back down to the bottom. This is an indication that something was rejected by the bass. If bass come up but turn away, change color or size of your Senko. Change hook weight or line weight. What you want is to get them to come up on the splash and quickly engulf it or at least keep from turning away and losing interest in the bait as it falls.

Way Two: The Drop

Ever drop a live earthworm in the water? A worm rolls in slow motion and both tips squiggle as it half-swims, half-glides down to the bottom. The worm tries to maintain a semi-controlled fall and keep some sort of horizontal equilibrium. A weightless Senko does just that. It swims and glides to bottom with the body rocking and both tips twitching. It controls its fall like an earthworm maintaining a horizontal equilibrium. The Senko maintains this control over itself whether it is nose-rigged, Texas-rigged or wacky-rigged.

Crayfish do this too. They free-fall to bottom by spreading their legs out like a parachute to slow their fall and maintain equilibrium. Injured baitfish also try to maintain some degree of controlled fall and horizontal equilibrium as they drift haplessly to bottom.

A weightless Senko imitates all this, the parachute-like glide, the horizontal controlled fall, and many fish hit it on the drop. They rush up and smack it before the bait reaches protection of the bottom. To most people, this is the heart and soul of Senko fishing - the drop. If you don't use any of the other building blocks (the splash, the tip, the twitch, etc.), concentrate on the drop.

No weight is used, so your hook and your line are the only variables that affect how much action the Senko has as it swims and glides on the drop. Experiment with different hooks (sizes, weights and models), different lines and line weights. This story is about Texas-rigged Senkos, but don't neglect to try them nose-hooked (through the nose like a live minnow) or wacky-rigged exactly in the middle. How much slack or tension you keep in your line affects the action on the drop. Learn what makes a Senko tick. Take time out to do this in a pool. You cannot easily learn this while out trying to catch fish at the same time. So take the time off to learn all the ins and outs of the bait's movements in a pool. You will have far more confidence and much better Senko presentation skills. You will know how to work it and how the bait reacts even when you cannot see it in dingy water. You will catch more fish because you took time out from fishing!

Way Three: The Twitch

Many anglers say you should NOT twitch your Senkos. I think the mistake many anglers make is in the definition of what's a "twitch". It's not a Herculean jerk you know! Think of what we mean by a "twitchy trigger finger" or when we say somebody twitches their nose. In either of those examples, a "twitch" is a small, hardly noticeable movement. Twitching Senkos does not need to be much more than that either.

Make no mistake, a flinching, flickering Senko is OFTEN highly-desirable to fish. I've often had bass lose interest in an unadultered drop with the Senko. This happens more in hot water than cold. At times, fish would watch it and follow it down for a few seconds as it dropped, then lose interest and swim away. But twitch it a bit, and those disinterested departing fish make a beeline straight back to the Senko! If they start swimming away again, twitch it...they're back again!

In clear water, twitching is easier to pattern than in dingy or dark water. In clear water, you can observe what the fish do, how they respond, and adjust the twitch accordingly. You need to uncover whatever kind of twitching action works according to what the fish want to hit on any given day.

The visual feedback you get in clear water WORKS WONDERS for unlocking a twitching pattern. You can also figure out the twitch pattern in dingy or dirty water, but it is best to study the nuances of what the fish want in clear water. Then replicate that when you fish a dingy section of the lake. This works because there's usually a seasonal aspect to twitching, rather than a clear vs. dingy distinction.

Personally, I would practice learning all the ins and outs of the bait's twitch movements in that pool again (which seems to be a common theme running through this story). Then you will know how to twitch it, and how the bait reacts to a twitch, even when you cannot see it.

Way Four: The Tip

Most people tip waiters or waitresses (if the service is good). I've heard that country boys tip cows, and they may have heard that city slickers tip taxi drivers. I also tip Senkos.

The reason I tip them is that sometimes for some unknown reason (line drag or it just starts to fall wrong), the wriggly double tip-swimming action of a Senko does not get started on the drop. In clear water, I can see the action's not started. In dingy water, I'll just tip them when the rod and line are in a good position to do it.

How I tip them is to sort of roll the rod under and up in an effort to toss a loop down the line above the surface. This does not move the Senko forward at all, but causes it to merely raise its head where the line is tied to it, effectively standing on its tail. When the tip is done, the Senko will then shoot backwards like an arrow tail-first, swing forward and backward like a pendulum a few times, then regain its equilibrium and exhibit strong tip-swimming action.

Yes, you can maneuver the Senko in under submerged tree branches, into a rock cut or weed edge like this. So, the tip can get the Senko a bit back into a hidey-hole, rock it, then exhibit strong tip-swimming action (just what the bass doctor ordered). Once you learn how to do it properly (in the pool again), you'll find situations to tip your Senkos all the time.

Way Five: The Bottom

You may have attracted a fish with the splash. A fish may have eyeballed the Senko greedily, rushed it and turned away on the drop, its heart may have jumped when you twitched it or tipped it to stimulate better swimming action. You would have hoped a fish would rush up and smack it before it hits bottom, and often that's true. Many fish do hit Senkos on the drop, and there's even a theory that fish should prefer to do that before a descending bait reaches protection of little nooks or crannies of safety on the bottom. Of course, as with many theories in fishing, there's the opposite truism too- that bass may bide their time to wait until a falling bait reaches bottom since it no longer has 360 degrees to escape a mid-water strike, but can be easily trapped or pinned against the bottom.

Regardless, the bottom itself is often the place where everything comes together! If a fish had been eyeballing the Senko as it dropped, just let your Senko settle on bottom and don't move it. Unlike weighted rigs or jigs, the weightless Senko's horizontal posture and long body keep it from delving deeply into weeds or snags. It perches atop whatever it falls on. There's no such thing as leaving it lay motionless too long. The fish knows the Senko is there and will come over and inhale it...sooner or later. A bass cannot stand this temptation. However, if the fish eventually turns away from the Senko, guess what? Twitch it! The fish will be right back.

Can't see the fish because it's hidden in cover or the water's dingy? Doesn't matter. Let it lay there for the longest, then shake the rod tip sideways to make the bait quiver without moving forward...just shake a loop of slack into your line and then let it lay there for the longest again. Often fish will just sit motionless and watch the Senko in front of them on the bottom for a long time before inhaling it.

Way Six: The Lift

Next, you may want to work the Senko out over the bottom. Simply raise your rod tip slowly, pause and lower it slowly. The Senko will tip up towards you and rise off bottom as you raise the rod. This is like raising a flag so the bass can see it. Then lower your rod slowly with a little slack to help the Senko regain horizontal equilibrium and it will tip-swim and swagger back down to bottom as you follow it down with the rod tip. On the drop is when they'll eat it - not on the lift. A semi-slack line is always required whenever the Senko drops. Pause for a pick-up (no such thing as too long) when you make bottom contact again, and repeat raising and lowering the rod until you're ready to reel in to make your next cast.

Way Seven: The Retrieve

Now, those were the slow parts of the presentation - the splash, the drop, the bottom, etc. If there have been no takers, next reel in the Senko at a pace that draws fish up to follow it. This could be slow or moderate pace in cold water, but more often it's semi-fast reeling with sporadic twitches in hot water, and always provide a few long pauses to let the bait glide or drop back down deeper along the way!

Fish will usually come up to follow the bait as it's reeled in, then break off the chase and sink deeper when you pause it. There are two reliable ways to trigger bites (both require twitching).

A following fish will often lurk below, stalking it on the fall, and the twitching triggers the reaction bite. Keep in mind, twitching Senkos does not need to be much more than that of a rabbit's nose.

Which Senkos Work Best Weightless?

At last count, there were eleven Yamamoto Senko models (9, 9B, 9C, 9F, 9J, 9L, 9LF, 9M, 9P, 9S, 9X).

These three, however, have the heft and are the ideal sizes for weightless use in the seven ways described in this story:

  1. The 5" (9-series) fished weightless in shallow water is often considered to be 'the' most effective bass bait in existence. It may be used on either baitcasting or spinning gear.
  2. The 6" (9L) is the 'go to' size for bigger 'kicker' bass and works best with baitcasting tackle.
  3. The 4" (9S) model is devastating in clear water, pressured fishing situations and excels on spinning gear.

Top down: 6" (9L-series) color 927. 5" (9-series) color 913. 4" (9S-series) color 326.

Which Hooks to Use?

There are many hooks that work well with Senkos, but let's pick one to illustrate the point (pun intended) - the Gamakatsu Extra Wide Gap.

Actually, these are two hook models, both the same, except for strength and therefore application:

  1. The standard Gamkatsu EWG (63-series) is very strong but made of wire diameter best-suited for spinning tackle or for light baitcasting applications.
  2. The Super Line Gamakatsu EWG (64-series) is the same except super-strong for baitcasting tackle and big bass in heavy cover.

Use sizes 2/0 or 3/0 with the 4" Senko. Sizes 3/0 (spinning) to 5/0 (baitcasting) with the 5" Senko, and 5/0 with the 6" Senko.

Standard EWG hooks (left) and Super Line EWG hooks are the same except for strength and applications. One's strong. The other's super strong.

Another hook that deserves special mention is Mustad's #91768BLN wide gap. This hook's been around since 1994, but few anglers have ever used this style of hook with a clip-on wire corkscrew and a weightless Senko. With it, you'll be able to add a whole new dimension to your weightless Senko repertoire - you'll be able to impart aggressive action to a Senko by working it hard and fast like a soft plastic jerkbait. There are times bass want this hard, fast ripping action, even splashing and skipping frantically as fast as you can reel it across the surface with the rod tip up in a topwater presentation. Due to the softness of a Senko, it's impossible as a Senko will tear and ball up without the wire corkscrew keeper device to hold the Senko in place. But even on your typical slow Senko presentations (using the seven weightless ways described above), the 91768BLN with corkscrew will hold your Senko in place much better, your Senko will come through rougher cover, will last longer, and you'll catch more fish on each Senko. Give it a try.

Mustad 91768BLN with clip-on corkscrew isn't ordinarily used - but should be - with a weightless Senko.

What Rods, Reels and Lines Work Best?

In terms of rods and reels to use with weightless 4" to 6" Texas-rigged Senkos:

Rods to Use: Medium/heavy baitcasting such as Yamamoto #. Medium spinning rod like Yamamoto #

Lines to Use: 14-16 lb clear Sugoi with baitcasting. 15-20 lb PowerPro braid with 12-16 Sugoi fluoro leader on spinning tackle

That's all there is to it. Print this story out and take it down to a pool or dock and practice till perfect. That's how you'll master the seven ways to weightless Senko success!

Senk-you for reading!