Toledo Bend Reservoir is an unlikely place where you would need a finesse worm to win a tournament, but Tennessee pro John Murray counted heavily upon the lure to claim his first B.A.S.S. title.
“A finesse worm has pretty much been a factor in many of my tournaments,” Murray says. “The first Bassmaster event (2003 Open Championship) I ever won was on Toledo Bend, which is not considered a finesse lake, but I won it drop-shotting a finesse worm.” Despite fishing on a reservoir with standing timber and off-color water, Murray relied on the finesse worm to fill out his limit each day of the tournament and catch some kicker fish. After catching his limit on the finesse worm, Murray would switch to a lipless crankbait to target larger bass.
The Arizona transplant refined his finesse worm tactics fishing the clear waters of Western reservoirs, and now he uses the trusty worm in nearly all waters throughout the country. He believes the subtle movement of the finesse worm makes the non-descript worm so effective. “If you watch minnows or anything go through the water, there is not a big movement to them,” Murray says. “They sort of glide and don’t draw much attention to themselves. I think a finesse worm draws on that. If there is too much action, bass are not interested in it.”
For most of his finesse worm tactics, Murray starts with a 6-inch version and will adjust the size he uses at a particular fishery based upon two factors: forage size and bass size. He notes forage is usually smaller in the spring, so he downsizes his worm then but upgrades his worm size in the fall when the forage is bigger. “If you are dealing with Toledo Bend bass, you want to probably upgrade (to 8 inches),” Murray advises. “If you are fishing up North where a 3-pounder is a good fish, maybe you downsize (to 4 inches) and just try to get bites.”
His all-time favorite finesse worm color is a red-and-green combination known as Western craw. “To me, that incorporates the best colors of a crawdad,” says Murray. The Bassmaster Elite Series pro also favors a purple/brown combination and any shad-imitating hues.
Murray’s preferred finesse worm is the Gene Larew Tattletail Technique Worm he helped design. The worm is available in two sizes (6 and 8 inches) and features a uniquely slim paddle tail. “That Larew tail has just a little bit of swimming action,” Murray says. “That is what I try to incorporate that subtle little action and not overdo it.”
The versatility of the finesse worm allows Murray to rig it in various ways. He favors Texas-rigging the worm with a number 1 or 1/0 offset worm hook, either weightless or with weights ranging from 3/8- to 1/2-ounce.
Murray also likes to rig his worm on a drop shot with a number 1 or 1/0 hook and a 10-inch to 3-foot drop line. When he wants a slow fall, Murray attaches a 1/16-ounce weight to his drop shot rig, but he uses a 1/4-ounce sinker most of the time. “Rate of fall is a big thing in certain circumstances so that I will be aware of it, but a 1/4-ounce weight seems to be my starting point either for a Texas rig or drop shot,” Murray says.
The tournament veteran also sticks a finesse worm on a shaky head jig (usually a 3/16-ounce model with a 6-inch worm) and occasionally wacky-rigs a finesse worm for spawning bass.
The bass species he targets usually determines which worm rig Murray will employ. “Spotted bass like shaky heads,” he says. “Smallmouth seem to like drop shots, and largemouth seem to like Texas rigs.”
Water clarity also plays a factor in Murray’s worm rig selection. “If it is pretty dingy, I will probably use a Texas rig or shaky head on the bottom,” Murray says. “If the water has a little visibility, I will throw that drop shot to get the bait off the bottom.”
Murray only uses the wacky-rigged finesse worm when he has pinpointed bass in the shallows and wants to give the fish a different look with a slower, methodical retrieve. “It is a tactic where you better know there are fish in the area,” he says. “It is not one you can fish real fast.”
When Murray opts for the Texas-rigged finesse worm, he employs a lift-and-drop retrieve to cover water. His shaky head worm retrieve features a pull-and-shake presentation while keeping constant contact with the bottom. He mainly drags his drop shot rig along the bottom. “You just want that weight dragging along the bottom, and you want that worm having its own subtle action,” says Murray. He shakes the drop shot rig for spotted bass but uses just a steady pull when fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Drop-shotting an 8-inch finesse worm in brush piles is one of Murray’s favorite tactics on lakes filled with manmade cover. “Basically, I am letting that sinker contact the brush, and the worm is still above it,” he says. “Those fish tend to suspend above brush piles a lot, and you can tease them into biting.”
The key to each retrieve is to avoid moving the lure too fast—a mistake Murray sees beginners frequently make. “It is a technique you are trying to convince a stubborn bass to bite, so let the fish have plenty of time to look at the bait and decide if it wants to bite,” he recommends.
The finesse worm expert uses the same spinning tackle for all his worm rigs. He matches a Lew’s 7 or 7 1/2-foot medium-heavy rod with a Team Lew’s Pro Speed Spin Series (TLP400) spinning reel filled with a main line of 10- to 20-pound braid and a leader of 8-pound Sunline FC fluorocarbon leader line.
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