The Stick Worm Phenomenon
Bob La Londe
Gary Yamamoto probably wasn’t aware of the revolution he was going to start with the Senko. It’s a deceptively simple bait. Senko has become an almost generic term for describing this type of bait. With all respect for Mr Yamamoto since his version remains one of the most popular I have to say this type of worm needs its own name. There are dozens if not hundreds of manufacturers making a bait like this. I call it the stick worm after Gilbert of Mesa Tackle who first introduced me to it.
I’m one of the last to adapt to this bait. Why? Because it’s too easy. I first tried them as a jerk bait. They worked ok, but that was never one of my confidence baits. One summer my cousin and I were dead sticking some regular jerk baits in heavy grass with wire weed guard hooks. We tossed them in and let them sink in open pockets. It as my cousin Jeff who thought of fishing the baits that way. Jeff caught the most and biggest fish. If had understood the stick worm then I am sure we could have done better with stick worms.
That summer Gilbert sent me some of his “Salt Stick Worms.” Not sure what to do with them I t-rigged one weightless on a Daiichi offset worm hook. After tossing it a few times I went back to working a popper. I missed several strikes. I tried to figure out how to catch those fish. I like throwing a follow up. Just often enough for a little operant conditioning I’ve picked up a good fish that way. It wasn’t working with the popper so I decided to try the stick worm as a follow up. After the next miss I tossed my stick worm into the same spot to pick up a nice bass. I was thrilled. That unusual pattern put a couple more fish in the boat. I really didn’t credit the stick worm for the fish. I just figured it was throwing a different bait as a follow up that did it. Now I know better. It was the stick worm’s natural action.
The following winter fishing was slow, but an occasional fish was boated slow rolling a spinner bait or flipping a jig. I found a few fish pre-fishing for winter tournament, but couldn’t boat them on tournament day. My back boater Manual Garcia worked along behind me dead sticking a Senko on a wacky rig. He nailed two decent fish off one of my spots. Manual also missed a half dozen additional hits. Our fish were nothing spectacular, but I have to credit those Senkos along with one fish I boated later for getting us a fourth place finish.
The same winter I had a chance to fish with Lannes Brock of Sportsmen’s Hide-A-Way and Joe Haubenreich of Secret Weapon Lures. Lannes managed to boat a fish or two Texas rigging a stick worm. I was not impressed. Lannes is a good fisherman, but he had to get one largemouth to hit two or three times before he could hook it. He had to let it run with the bait for a while before setting the hook. Then he gut hooked it. A lot of work for a single small fish.
On a fun fishing day I went back to the bank I had fished with Manual and the tulies I had fished with Lannes. I tried wacky rigging a salt stick worm on an open bait holder hook. I had no problem hooking up. I decided that wacky rigging and dead sticking this bait really worked Unfortunately the bait holder hook snagged on the tiniest twigs. I found a wire guard straight hook eliminated snags in all but the heaviest cover. Unfortunately it also resulted in more missed fish.
In two consecutive tournaments I missed a lot of fish trying to get my wacky rig to work right. The wire guard hook wasn’t sticking the fish, and the open bait holder left me breaking off or chasing my bait all day. My American Bass partner, Hammer (Kwame Kuanda), didn’t give me a hard time about it, but when I was the back boater for Dave Greaves I took a lot of ribbing for all the missed fish.
With the help of the internet and a lot other fisherman I managed to figure out I would do better with a medium/heavy fast action rod and low stretch line. Warren Wolk, a midwest pro, finally gave me the last little tidbit I needed to nail down a solid combination. He suggested going to a higher quality hook with a mono weed guard instead of the cheaper wire guard hooks. He suggested the W.W.Hook by Reaction Innovations. I ordered some. Like a little kid with a new toy I headed out for a little play time when the new hooks arrived. My first five hits were landed in short order. It WORKED!. I did miss a couple later, but all of the fish I caught that day were hooked solidly in the roof of the mouth.
In my search for the perfect combination of line, rod, and hook the wacky stick worm became one of my goto baits. This bait is so good that I rarely worry about whether or not I’ll get any bites. Instead I have had the chance to refine my technique a little bit. Now I just worry about getting them in the boat.
How do I fish this bait? Toss it out next to likely cover or structure and just let it sink on open line until it hits the bottom. It is easier than fishing with live bait. I spent a lot of time telling you how I figured this all out, but it is deceptively simple. When you drop it in the water it comes alive. Wacky rigging really lets this bait work it self. It drops through the water and both ends wiggle back and forth. It moves like a minnow slowly finning itself as it falls. I don’t know how many times I ‘ve stood almost mesmerized watching this bait fall through the water. There have been some great articles written about all the different ways this rig can be fished, but I really think it shines when fished wacky style. Cast it to a likely spot and just wait. Let the worm do its magic as it sinks. Manual Garcia does it with a flipping rod, but I like the way line loops easily off of a spinning reel. I can let the worm sink naturally and let the line feed off the reel. You can watch the line slowly feed out, and then something will change. Watch carefully. Sometimes the line stops too soon, or move a little faster, or in a different direction. Close the bail on the spinning reel and drop the rod tip when this happens. Reel up the slack and set the hook hard. Don’t wait until you feel the fish.
While the drop is very productive its not the only time you get hit. Sometimes when you start to lift it will feel heavy. SET THE HOOK. A bass will also slap at the bait as you are pulling it back towards the boat. Sometimes you can let the bait drop for a moment to get that fish to gulp it down. Other times you can toss it right back to him.
Tossing a wacky rigged stick worm has to be the easiest way to catch bass short of balloon rigging a live minnow.