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Texas? Away up North here?
If you’re relatively new to Bass fishing, you have probably heard of or tried fishing with ‘soft plastics.’ What some folks have mistakenly referred to as ‘a rubber worm’ has exploded into an amazing variety of lifelike and/or bizarre-looking soft baits that appeal to fish for various reasons and under various conditions. One thing is common to all soft plastic baits: If you rig them properly, you can penetrate deep into ‘snaggy’ cover and present the bait to fish that would never see other categories of baits because they feature treble hooks or exposed hooks.
From Left to Right among the pictured baits you can see represented snake baits, worms, grubs, Senko-style stick baits, lizards, tubes, ‘creature baits,’ swim baits and crawdad ‘trailers’, all in various sizes. While you are reading this, someone somewhere is maniacally mass-producing or hectically hand-pouring a new variation of a soft plastic bait, experimenting with different colors, textures, sizes, arms, legs, wings, scales, antennae, claws, fins and tails.
Some baits will realistically mimic a specific fish species such as Bluegill, Shad or Rainbow Trout. Some will look like live crawdads, frogs, leeches or worms. Some will look like nothing that flies, crawls, swims or scurries on planet Earth. But all of them will catch fish and if they are Texas-rigged, they will come through brush, branches, limbs, logs, weeds, moss, pads, reeds and other obstacles that would immediately grab and hang up other baits. They will also move in ways that are unlike other baits, and their look and feel can cause Bass to hang on just a little longer than they would when mouthing a hard, unnatural feeling bait. They also lend themselves well to various, lubricating scents which not only attract fish but also aid in sliding over obstacles.
Texas-rigging, therefore, is mighty important if you want to hunt Bass where they are hiding. Consider: If you were one of those guys standing in the boat pictured, would you throw your bait into that mess? Of course you would! That’s where the fish are!
So how do you effectively ‘Texas-rig’ a soft plastic? It’s relatively easy, and once you figure it out and practice a few times on a medium-sized worm, you will have it mastered. Then you can do it with just about any of the baits pictured, and others as well. Imagine the possibilities! It does not have to get complicated either. Sometimes just a grub, Texas-rigged and skittered across the top of a weedy stretch will produce a hump of water followed by a smashing strike from a fish that thought he was safely buried in weeds. Don’t forget your heart medicine!
To rig Texas-style, first choose a good, sharp hook that will be a match for the size of bait you are rigging. The hooks I normally use range from big 6/0 or 5/0 hooks for larger swim baits, down to 1/0 or even smaller, if I am using a tiny version of, say, a plastic lizard.
When them good old boys down in Texas first started this method, all they had were regular, straight-shanked worm hooks, or they could use a jig hook (Intended to have lead molded onto the bend, up near the eye). That straight ‘L’ shaped bend produced a corner, and in that bend they could secure the head of the plastic worm so that it would not slide down the shank during casting, or while bumping and dragging against cover. Then those ingenious Bassers could bury the point of the hook in the plastic, put a bullet sinker out in front – pegged or un-pegged with a toothpick – and suddenly they were fishing ‘weedless’ and ‘snagless.’ Whether the fish thought the bait was a slithering worm or a darting baitfish, they gobbled ‘em!
As folks discovered just how ingenious and effective it was to drag a Texas-rigged worm or lizard up and down over submerged brush and through weeds or branches without hanging up, they ignited a demand for Texas-rig hooks that were easier to use and that produced a rig that kept the bait looking straight and natural. The market responded.
All major hook manufacturers have several different styles of hooks that were designed specifically for Texas-rigging. I am not a big fan of the bent-shank style of hook, though they work well and come in different gaps, gauges, styles and sizes. They require the angler to run the hook point through the top of the head of the bait, then twist the bait around, hang the head on the bend near the eye, straighten the bait out, line up the bait, and push the point of the hook through the center-line of the body of the bait, either coming near the surface, or punching all the way through, then ‘skin-hooking’ the point back down onto the body of the bait. All this must be done in such a way as to prevent the finished bait from ending up looking twisted, bent, off-center or bulging unnaturally. Done improperly, the head of the bait still does not stay up on the bend. They work fine when you set them up correctly.
I’m not all that patient – especially not in the middle of a hot bite! – and I have a tendency to be fumble-fingered, so my favorite hook will have a separate ‘prong’ with barbs, attached to the hook eye. I really like the Mister Twister version of this hook, and it comes in many useful sizes. I also like Owner hooks that have both a prong and a coil spring around the prong, attached to the eye. These are very effective on some of the ‘slimier’ baits that might slip right off of a single prong. I keep a skeptical eye out for any hook that sports a prong that comes down too close to the hook point. I want the Bass to be able to munch on my weedless hook, push the plastic head of the bait down, swinging the prong down toward the hook shank and away from the point, and then get real nice and closely acquainted with the hook point that is now sticking in under his jaw, or up into his nose. If the point of the prong is too close to the point of the hook, that does not leave a lot of gap or stretching room for the plastic to move and expose a good length of hook point. Sounds fussy, but I’ve proven to my own satisfaction that it can make an important difference in hook-up ratios.
What’s the big advantage of the prong-style Texas-rig hook? The nose of your bait is independent of the shank and hook eye. You simply center up and jab the nose of the bait onto the prong, or jab and twist it on, if it has a coil and a prong, line up your bait in the orientation you want (Some baits have an obvious ‘top’ with eyes up and legs down, a flat ‘bottom’ or even a well-designed ‘hook slot’ on the top of the bait so your hook point can lay outside of the bait, while still remaining hidden, unexposed and safe from weeds and snags. One hint: Though some baits are formed with a flat ‘bottom,’ you can sometimes cause your bait to have a great, erratic, random, darting action simply by rigging with the flat side up. Or if the bait has a flat top, reverse that. This can be killer when fish are ignoring ‘normal’ presentations and might be more prone to react to an unexpected movement. Try it!
Common sense works well in choosing the amount of gap on a hook. If I’m using a slim, straight bait like a worm, I’ll usually opt for a narrower gap in the hook. If I’m going with something bulkier, I’ll use a hook with a wide gap. A wide gap is best for most swimbaits, so that you can rig them to track straight without the hook deforming the bait’s shape.
Want to know a secret about Texas-rigging? When you do get bit and set the hook, that hook is in that fish! A jig might ‘flip’ out of the fish’s mouth on a head-shake, a spinnerbait might ‘twist’ out during an acrobatic roll or change of direction, a treble-hook might simply pull away, simply not having enough ‘gap’ to really grip a good amount of the fish’s face. But a Texas-rig worm hook is going in, penetrating deep, capturing a good amount of flesh or jawbone and then holding well, backed up against the barb. Keep that fish from wrapping around an object down deep and no matter what he does, you are most likely going to have him in your hand!
A quick word on weights: I prefer plain old lead bullet sinkers in various sizes. I usually use the lightest weight I can cast well with. If I have a heavier worm, like a 10 inch Power Worm, I might use no weight at all, allowing the worm to ‘settle’ and move freely in the water. This is especially effective if you have a little current. Let the current press your offering right in under a weed mat, brush pile or log. Wham! Or if I know I’ll be contacting brush or branches throughout a retrieve, I might use a small bullet sinker just to help deflect off of cover and make a little fish-attracting commotion. In heavier river current I might upsize the bullet weight, but most often I go lighter if I can.
You can also use tungsten weights. They work well but they are more expensive, though they do create a sharper knocking sound and that may be helpful on a particular day. Ordinarily, I prefer the soft thump or ‘tick’ of a lead weight. For most applications, I stick a toothpick into the point of the sinker and alongside the line, then snap it off cleanly, flush at the front of the sinker and sitting on top of the hook eye. This ‘pegs’ the weight and gives you confidence that when your lead is contacting cover, your soft plastic offering is doing the same thing in the same spot. Sometimes a slip sinker can be helpful. The above-mentioned grub on the weed-tops seems to do better with a sliding sinker. Experiment and see what you like.
Some bullet sinkers come with a coil extending out of the back of the weight. This can be a great help when trying the ‘Florida’ variation of Texas-rigging. Instead of having the hook up near the head of the bait, you can run the line down through a screwed-in bullet weight, even midway down the bait, then to your hook eye, hiding the hook point as usual. This can produce a different, more horizontal, enticing action and might help it slip through thicker cover. Whether hooked at the head of the bait or further down, have no fear that the fish will bite the hook. I have been able to watch strikes in clear water, and it is amazing to watch a Bass, Smallmouth or Largemouth, as it homes in on the bait and strikes the head and center mass. They are efficient predators, and they know how to attack their prey!
Another sneaky tactic that qualifies as Texas-rigging is to use a floating bullet where a lead bullet sinker would normally be. Usually colored, these can make any soft plastic a surface bait. Fish like any topwater, or hover and twitch a soft plastic over a shallow Bass bed and you can provoke a strike from an enraged fish that thinks it’s defending its offspring! The purple bullet weight in the picture is actually a floating bullet.
As in the picture, there are also some hooks with weight molded right onto the shank. The two shown are from Owner and Gamakatsu. ‘Belly-draggers’ and ‘butt-draggers’ are often used with swim-baits, but they can also be useful for many other soft plastics when a different ‘look’ is desired. Switching from a nose-dive to a horizontal drop might just produce more hits. A combination of a butt-dragger and floating claws on a soft plastic crawdad might just prove too much for a crustacean-munching Bass to resist! Experimentation with all of these possibilities is strongly encouraged. Sometimes just a small change or adjustment might turn on otherwise inactive fish. They’ll let you know!
The water is warming up. Bass are becoming more active right now. In the Northwest, they are starting to move up in the water column and in toward spawning areas. In this pre-spawn mode, as well as during the spawn, soft plastics might be just what you need to put a bend in your rod. You can really improve your odds by fearlessly fishing snaggy areas. So get your Texas on!
Your friendly, fellow Bass fanatic,
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