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Let's Talk Wacky Rigging: Wacky 101

It was 1998, I was in my second season of working as a fishing guide on some of the smaller lakes around Northern Illinois. The paid trips were trickling in at best. I enlisted the help of a good friend and pro-angler, Mike Norris. I was excited when Mike showed up for our evening of chasing bass on Shabbona Lake in Northcentral, Illinois. Shortly after we began fishing, Mike noticed that I was using a ribbon tail worm. He told me that since we were targeting post spawn fish on weed lines and offshore timber, there were methods that would catch many more fish than that ribbon-tail.

I asked him what he recommended, and he began to tell me all about wacky rigging. I was confused because I had never heard of this presentation. He gave me a quick clinic about the particulars, and we were off to the races. I believed him when he told me that it worked as he had already caught three fish using a wacky rig in the first 5 minutes of the trip.

He gave me a green pumpkin colored Yamamoto Senko. After that, we moved off the deep weed line we were targeting and began casting an area that had deep standing timber, shallow standing timber, and a sharp sunken creek bed. My memory fails me as to how many casts it took, but it was within the first few that I hooked something good. “This one is big, Mike,” I exclaimed. I fought the fish for a few minutes and got it close. Mike netted it, and we both marveled at the fact that I had caught a big smallmouth.

As it turns out, that fish was a lake record smalliie, and that record stood for almost 8 years. That fish not only launched my career as a fishing guide, it also was the beginning of my obsession with wacky rigging.

The part of wacky rigging that I had difficulty wrapping my brain around was the fact that it was a “do-nothing” approach to bass fishing. Like many of us who grew up in the ‘70’s, I was brought up with the notion that you never stop the forward motion of an artificial lure. This presentation was different in that you throw the wacky worm out there and allow it do its “own thing” while sinking to the bottom.

There are several things you need to know about the wacky presentation. It looks like it would be easy to master, and in some respects it is. The easiest way to describe it is to cast a worm that you have hooked in the middle and follow it down to the bottom, allowing it to “free fall”. Be careful here. Make sure you allow it to sink on its own, but at the same time have enough positive control that you can detect a very subtle strike.

The next aspect of wacky rigging I would like to discuss is worm selection. Every soft plastic company has their own version of the wacky worm or stick bait. The old guard still loves the Yamamoto Senko. When I began wacky rigging, there was the Bass Pro Shops Stik-O and the Senko. I like the Senko because it is heavy and skips very well. This worm has the fastest sink rate, which makes it a prime candidate for reaction strikes. The downside of the Senko is its durability. A vicious strike by a bass will usually break one. It also will not last long when directly hooked. It makes no difference to me that I can skip these worms under docks and tree limbs if they don’t have the durability to last.

That brings me to an important point. When evaluating a wacky worm’s sink rate and durability, where you fish and how you fish makes a difference. We target shallow water down here in the south. I like worms that sink very slowly when targeting shallow water bass. Cajun Lures Baton Jr. has a very slow sink rate. “The Baton Jr doesn’t have salt in it. This means that it will not sink as fast as worms that use salt. This also means that these worms last longer, which allows multiple fish catches on a single worm, even when you are using a wacky worm O-Ring,” according to Zach Dubois, owner of Cajun Lures.

The second wacky worm I like is Missile Baits’ “The 48”. The 48 is a versatile, weighted stick worm that you can rig Texas Style from either end. It sinks slightly slower than a Senko, which gets more bites when you need a bait to be “in the zone” longer, and it is surprisingly durable, “lasting for multiple fish catches,” according to Missile Baits president John Crews.

I was first introduced to The 48 several years ago in a body of water in Central Louisiana known as The Henderson. I was fishing with Lucas Ragusa. I had been throwing a wacky worm all day with no luck. Lucas asked if he could make a suggestion- “try The 48 in the color Brusier Flash”.

I thought sure, why not, I wasn’t catching anything using what I was using. What struck me about The 48 was its unique shape. The best way to can describe it is that it is wider at both ends. This gives the worm lots of shimmy as it descends through the water column when hooked in the middle.

For this reason, I also prefer to use the smallest hook that I can get away with. This allows the worm to sink even more slowly while imparting the shimming action as it sinks.

After gaining some experience, I again talked to my friend, professional Wisconsin smallmouth bass guide Mike Norris, who offered some additional advice: “When fish are high in the water column, or I am targeting fish in cabbage or coon tails just under the water surface, I use the YUM Dinger. When I am targeting deeper rocks or deeper coon tail, I use the Senko or Bass Pro Shops Stik-O,”.

Durability is certainly related to how you hook the wacky worm. There are many different methods to hook one, my favorite being the old standby- I simply hook the worm in the middle. The next issue is deciding on hook size and type. I began using Octopus hooks back in the mid-90's, but nowadays, many lure manufacturers make “wacky” hooks. Over the years I have experimented with other hooks, but I always go back to the octopus, which are remarkably similar to the wacky style hooks.

I mentioned I like to go as small as possible, and I prefer to use a size 4 hook. I know that you are thinking “this is a tiny hook,” but this size hook hugs the side of the worm making it a little bit more weedless and less “snaggy” in my experience. I have caught thousands of bass up to 7 pounds using this size hook. The smaller hook suits me for fishing up north (i.e., Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan), but when I came down to Louisiana, I went to a larger hook. Down here I use a size 2 or even occasionally a size 1 wacky hook. This larger hook keeps the bigger fish pinned through tougher vegetation. The best wacky hook that I have found is made by Vector Hooks. Their hooks are insanely sharp.

One of the main components many anglers overlook when prepping for wacky rigging is line. You must tailor the line you are using to the conditions you are fishing. Remember, monofilament is less dense than fluorocarbon. This makes mono more castable and more buoyant than fluoro. I like to use mono when targeting stained shallow water (less than 3 feet). I use fluoro in clear water from 3 to 6 feet deep. What I like about mono is it is very castable which makes it easier to get back to those tiny nooks and crannies where bass hide in shallow water.

The final piece of the puzzle is rod selection. I enjoy using spinning gear when fishing wacky. My favorite rod is made by Grandt Rods. It is the 6’6” Medium Cuda EXT. This rod has the backbone to cast light lures long distances while having the sensitivity to detect a subtle bite with loose line on the free-fall even at a great distance. I would not have believed this had I not seen it for myself dozens of times. This spinning rod also has the backbone to really drive the hook home and fight big fish all the way back to the boat.

Wacky rigging has accounted for thousands of bass for my guide clients and me over the years. It seems like it wasn’t that difficult. How hard can it be to cast out a lure, let it fall to the bottom, and then shake it a few times-repeat? This seems easy, doesn’t it? It is if you follow these simple recommendations!

Jay Angel is a lifelong angler and professional guide who has been writing, blogging and spreading the word about his passion since 1997 in many of your favorite fishing periodicals. While bass fishing is his first love, Jay also enjoys tangling with redfish in his home state of Louisiana. Jay has a weekly podcast- Let's Talk Fishing- where he interviews the industry's biggest stars and brightest innovators. The LTF podcast can be found on the Lets Talk Fishing Facebook page.

1 Comment

Great article Jay! Very informative!

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