The next time you encounter hard-to-catch bass in clear, shallow water, throw a floating worm at them. You may discover that it’s the best way to catch fish under those conditions.
A floating worm is exactly that – a soft-plastic bait that floats seductively on or just beneath the surface. You can fish it in a do-nothing style and allow it to sink slowly, twitch it over the top and make its tail dance and dart, or add a tiny weight to the body and make it dart and sink.
The floating worm was once a well-guarded secret of the pros in the late 1970s. I learned about it the hard way and have never forgotten how deadly it can be under the right conditions. I fished an area on the St. John’s River in Florida with every lure in my tackle box without getting a bite, only to have tournament competitor Shorty Evans come into the same area and catch a ton of fish on a purple worm that had white polka dots.
After that I began experimenting with other lures and soon discovered that a floating Fliptail Lizard fished without weight was a deadly technique for catching wary bass suspended in shallow bushes.
Since then, the technique has evolved to include a variety of soft-plastic baits. The introduction of the Slug-Go triggered manufacturers to develop a wider variety of lures that we now refer to as “soft stick-baits,” because they’re fished similarly to how we fish traditional surface baits.
For example, when rigged flat and straight on the hook, you can make a floating worm walk the dog like a Zara Spook or cause it to glide. Or, if you rig it with a little bend on the hook, you can make the lure dive like a Rapala.
As good as these floating worm/soft stickbaits are at attracting bass, they have a major drawback in that it’s not easy to hook a bass after it strikes. When I first began fishing them, I was lucky to boat 50 percent of the fish that struck. Once I make adjustments in my tackle, my success increased.
There are a couple of reasons why we miss or lose fish that hit floating worms. First of all, they often strike on a slack line, so we lose some of the power on the hookset. When I realized it was important to use a stiffer rod, I began fishing these worms on a long, stout flipping rod and my catch ratio climbed to 70 percent.
However, the biggest improvement came when I switched from monofilament line to braided line, such as Berkley’s FireLine. Because the FireLine has no stretch, the hook point makes instant contact with the fish the moment I set the hook.
Hooks are equally important. Some anglers recommend small, light hooks to make the worm float better, but not me. I want a big hook, say a No. 4/0 or 5/0 Mustad Needle Point Hook with a big bite. If my bigger hook causes the worm to sink too fast, I’ll switch to a bigger, more buoyant worm before I change my hook.
Of course, line size will add buoyancy, too. I use 20-pound FireLine, which has smaller diameter than 20-pound monofilament, but I coat 3 to 4 feet of the line in front of the worm with fly line dressing. That helps to float the bait better.
If you fish a lot of clear lakes and the bass aren’t cooperating, a swimming worm and the proper tackle could change your luck. If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out on an exciting way to catch bass.
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