Wacky Rigging for Spotted Bass
By Mark Fong
Here in Northern California, anglers are blessed with some of the best spotted bass fisheries in the nation. Two of the most well known fisheries are Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville. Both of these impoundments have hosted successful BASS level events in the past. Today, Shasta is a frequent venue for FLW Outdoors and other regional Pro Am circuits. In addition, there are a number of other bodies of water that offer tremendous spotted bass fishing in Northern California including: Lake Folsom, Lake Berryessa, Camp Far West, and Lake Camanche just to name a few.
Over the past 10 years or so, I have developed a passion for pursuing spotted bass. Pound for pound I don’t believe that any other bass fights harder than a spot. The spotted bass is truly a unique fish. A friend once described a spot as a cross between a striped bass and a trout. A spot is like a shadow, here one minute and gone the next, a true nomadic eating machine. The spot is curious as a house cat and as aggressive as a tiger. Spotted bass can be predictable at times, yet fickle and temperamental at others.
One of the most effective rigging methods for catching spotted bass is the wacky rig. The wacky worm has been around for a number of years yet many anglers have yet to fully embrace its effectiveness. I was slow to incorporate wacky rigging into my style of fishing. One day while chasing spots on Oroville and getting out fished by my tournament partner, I had the start of an epiphany. My friend and I were fishing identically rigged dart head worms; the only difference was that he was shaking his bait while I was fishing my worm with little motion. As he continued to run the score up in his favor he told me that spots like the erratic movement created by shaking the bait. He went on to say that he could trigger the fish into biting more consistently as a result of the action he was imparting. Later I thought about his advice, in particular the concept of using erratic motion to better trigger spots to bite. While I had previously experienced some success using wacky rigged worms, I realized that the motion produced by a wacky rigged bait was far greater than that created by many traditional rigging styles. The epiphany was now complete. For some reason, perhaps it has to do with the aggressive and curious nature of the spotted bass, wacky rigging creates a subtle yet highly tantalizing action that simply triggers spots to bite.
When anglers think of wacky rigging, one of the first bait styles that come to mind is the soft plastic cigar shaped stick worm. Thread a hook thru the center of the stick bait and you have perhaps the simplest and most effective weightless wacky set up ever developed. Refining this technique for spotted bass, I like to scale down to a 4 inch stick worm paired with a size one mosquito hook that is tied to 6lb. Maxima Fluorocarbon line. I fish this bait on a 6’9” St. Croix medium light extra fast action Legend Tournament Spinning Rod matched with a US Reel SuperCaster 240SX. This technique is primarily a vertical presentation with most bites occurring on the fall. The stick worm has an incredible built in do-nothing action. Gently shaking the bait on a semi slack line can be a strong triggering mechanism. This technique is highly effective around flooded willow trees, sheer walls, or bridge pilings. My favorite colors choices include: watermelon, green pumpkin and smoke. If there is wind or if I need the bait to fall a bit deeper in the strike zone I will wrap fly tying lead around the shank of the hook.
Wacky rigging works equally well for horizontal presentations. A unique set up is to rig either a tube bait or a soft plastic jerk bait near the nose and through the side. Rigging the bait in this fashion creates a presentation that spots are not accustomed to seeing. Work the bait just as you would traditional soft plastic jerk baits. Hold the rod tip down and twitch the bait sporadically, mixing in the occasional pause to create an erratic cadence. This technique works especially well during the post spawn when spots are shallow and holding on horizontal structure. Again if I want the bait to fish deeper in the water column I will use a weighted kahle style hook or I will add fly tying lead to the shank of the hook. Popular color choices include pearl white, hot pink, and chartreuse. My choice of tackle is a 7’ St. Croix medium fast action Legend Tournament Spinning Rod, US Reel and 10lb. fluorocarbon line. Spinning tackle allows me to make longer casts that are essential for successfully fishing clear water.
When spotted bass frequent deep water it is hard to find a technique more effective at catching them than drop shotting. Drop shotting excels in the deep clear water impoundments that spots live in by allowing the angler to keep the bait in front of the fish for an indefinite amount of time while maintaining precise depth control. I like to use a 4 – 6 inch Basstrix Locamotion worm paired with a number one mosquito hook and a cylindrical tungsten drop shot sinker. Rather than rigging the worm in the traditional fashion, I will run the hook through the center of the bait in normal wacky fashion or I will wacky rig the bait through the shoulder about a quarter of the way back from the head of the bait. I prefer to use natural colors such as: smelt, watermelon, and violet shad. When shaken on a semi slack line, the worm produces a tantalizing action that cannot be matched by traditional rigging. An added bonus of wacky rigging the drop shot is that I do not encounter nearly the amount of line twist that I do with a traditional nose hooked drop shot rig. For this presentation I prefer the same 6’9” St. Croix medium light extra fast action Legend Tournament Spinning Rod, US Reel and 6lb. fluorocarbon line the same one that I use when fishing weightless stick baits.
One final technique that I employ when fishing for spots is called the “Wacky Jighead”. The key to this presentation is the combination of a lightweight ball head style jighead matched to a soft plastic straight body worm. This technique is another vertical presentation with the majority of bites coming on the initial fall. As the bait descends, it produces an enticing rolling action. Again, shaking the bait on a semi slack line can be a strong trigger. I like to fish the wacky jighead in the same areas that I would normally fish a dart head such as rock walls, submerged rock piles, and steep banks. Big Bite Baits is on the verge of introducing a new worm called the Boring Worm. This worm has proven very effective when fished on a 1/8oz home made wacky jighead. I prefer the same bait colors and rod, reel, and line combination that I use when fishing weight less stick baits.
You can bet that over time wacky rigging will continue to see new refinements. If you haven’t tried wacky rigging for spotted bass, don’t wait any longer. Try out a few of the techniques discussed and I am confident you can add more fish to your days of fishing.
Mark is a seminar speaker, author and tournament angler.
Mark is sponsored by: St. Croix Rods, US Reel, Maxima Fishing Line, Lowrance, Battery Systems, Eye Surrender Sunglasses, Basstrix, Big Bite Baits and Blade Runner Tackle.