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Bass Fishing with Live and Artificial Worms Explained - Nightcrawlers vs Soft Plastics

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Worms and fishing are as closely associated as bluffing and poker, and whether you choose the latest soft plastic or a massive nightcrawler, both can produce trophy bass.

The key is good technique and a proper rig.

We’re here to help, and whether you’re just getting started or would like a refresher, we’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive discussion of various worm techniques for bass fishing, with a full guide to the tackle you’ll need as well as the best techniques to use.

Has that piqued your interest?

Keep reading to learn about bass fishing with worms!

Bass Fishing With Soft Plastic Worms

If there’s a technique that dominates both the pro and amateur scenes, it’s the soft plastic worm.

With nearly endless rigging options, you can throw a worm to ravenously aggressive bass, spooked fish that are too shy to take a crankbait or spinner, and everything in between. And whether you prefer erratic acrobatics or a gentle flutter of the tail, soft plastic worms have it all.

Best Worms for Bass Fishing

Let's break down some of the common worm techniques, taking a close look at the best soft plastic options for each.

Weightless Senkos

Neutrally and negatively buoyant jerkbaits are known for their erratic action, tight turns, and slow drifts, and there’s no denying their effectiveness.

But until you’ve seen a weightless worm strut its stuff, you haven’t witnessed the true potential of these actions to summon hungry bass.

Especially on pressured lakes where the bass are wary, there’s nothing like the erratic action of a weightless worm and the slow fall that follows. It simply drives bass mad.

For my money, hooking a fat, 7-inch Yamamoto Senko with a 3/0 Gamakatsu offset worm hook, rigged Texas-style but weightless, is almost unbeatable. “Black Blue Glitter” is my go-to color, but of course, I keep options like “Green Pumpkin Black Flake” and “Watermelon Black Red Flake” on hand, too.

weightless senko worm for bass fishing

Rigged weightless, a good worm offers unbeatable erratic action.

Yamamoto Senkos aren’t quite as durable as Zoom’s Magnum Finesse Worm, but there’s some magic in their movement that can’t be equaled.

Two techniques are common with weightless Senkos. 

The first involves letting the Senko settle to the bottom, reeling up the slack in your line, and then giving it two pops with your rod tip. This gets the Senko swimming erratically. Then, you let it settle for a repeat. 

The second is to work the weightless Senko like crankbait, ripping it through the water in short, crazy runs before letting it settle. 

Both do the trick!

Working these bad boys with a stiff rod and baitcasting reel is certainly possible, as long as you can cast them, but most anglers prefer a good medium spinning rod with an excellent 2500-size reel.

I like to run braid with a mono leader, just to cut down on the visibility of my line and provide a little shock cushion there at the working end.

Wacky Rigging

The wacky rig centers the hook on the worm, splitting it into two roughly equal halves to double the crazy flutter and vibration. We’ve discussed this technique at length before, and if you want to know more, please check out our full guide on wacky rigging: The Ultimate Finesse Worm Technique Unpacked: Everything You Need to Know about Wacky Rigging

classic wacky rig with senko worm

The classic wacky rig is easy to get right--and amazingly effective!

Perhaps the most effective finesse rig on the water, wacky rigging has more variations than you have rods. Classic, weedless, Neko, or jig head: the idea is always to place the hook at the center to leave the ends of the worm free to work.

For the moment, let’s focus on the classic wacky rig as the definitive example of this technique.

Easy to rig with an O-ring and a 3/0 Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap Hook, the magic is in the fluttering lift and slow descent. I like a 5-inch Senko for this technique, with the usual range of colors.

As with other finesse techniques, most anglers prefer a good spinning setup for its ease of casting and sensitivity.

Texas Rigged Worms

Like most people, my introduction to worm fishing was the Texas rig.

Using a weighted head that’s free to slide along the line and a nose-hooked worm, this weedless rig is easy to work and simply deadly with the right soft plastic.

texas rigged worm for bass fishing

Texas-rigged worms are weed-busting and easy to cast.

The weighted nose keeps the worm head-down on the bottom and provides a quick descent in deep water. But the right worm keeps its tail up, wriggling for all it’s worth. With a gentle pop or two, you can send the Texas rig swimming, allowing it to fall, or you can just bob it along the bottom to set the tail dancing.

Both techniques are money.

My favorite worms to use with a Texas rig are the Culprit Original Worm and Zoom’s Trick Worm. Each has its advantages. 

The Culprit offers a long, curly tail that flutters like mad, and if you want to keep your worm more or less planted but get the tail moving, it’s very hard to equal.

On the other hand, the erratic tail lift and flutter of the Zoom trick worm is a sight to behold underwater. And when I’m ripping my Texas rigs and letting them drop, you can bet it’ll be with a trick worm.

The added weight of the bullet weight lets you cast a Texas rig with a stiff rod and baitcasting tackle, and most anglers who rig their worms Texas style are using a medium-heavy to heavy baitcasting rod like the St. Croix Premier Series Trigger Rod.

Drop Shot

We’ve written quite a bit about the deadly effectiveness of the drop shot rig, and if you’re looking to work a worm a precise distance from the bottom, there’s simply nothing better.

Essentially, a drop shot rig is just a way of suspending a weight below a hook without deadening the action of the soft plastic. Freed to gyrate and wriggle a known distance from the bottom, a worm rigged on a drop shot is simply murder on spooky bass.

If you’re new to this technique, or just need a refresher, be sure to check out our drop shot tips and our video showing you how to rig it:

I like all kinds of worms for drop shotting, and among them, you’ll find Senkos, trick worms, and curly tails. I recommend a 1/0 Gamakatsu drop shot hook, unless you want to run your worm weedless. In that case, one of their offset hooks would be ideal.

I typically run a ⅛-ounce pencil weight on my drop shot rigs for two reasons. 

First, their shape resists getting snagged and hung up, unlike a traditional tear drop sinker. And second, the unique eye of a pencil weight is easy to rig without a knot and will pull free rather than break your line in the unlikely event it gets well and truly caught.

pencil-weights

Pencil weights like these are ideal for drop shot rigs.

Like many anglers, I like a medium-light, extra fast spinning rod for drop shot rigs, as sensitivity is essential. And G. Loomis’s IMX PRO 820S DSR is just the ticket. As popular as a 10-pound bass, this can be a hard rod to find in stock, as is the almost equally excellent St. Croix Mojo Bass.

Both are well worth the wait, however!

Simply pair them with a quality 2500-size reel and never look back.

Worms on Jig Heads

Finally, let’s discuss soft plastic worms rigged on jig heads. Perhaps no area of bass fishing has undergone such radical transformation, and there are now jig options that your grandfather simply wouldn’t recognize.

Standard jig heads

The standard jig head is nothing to sneeze at, and when you tip one with a good worm, pop it off the bottom, and let it settle again, you can provoke a strike from even the wariest bass.

The idea is simple: tie a ⅛ ounce jig head onto your line using a Palomar knot. Then, simply rig a Strike King Super Finesse Worm or a Culprit Original onto the hook. For faster currents or longer casts, step up to a slightly heavier jig.

One option to try is the thkfish Bullet Jig Head. Armed with an offset hook, this jig head lets you rig your worm weedless, making heavy cover a snap to fish.

worms on jig heads

This style jig head is easy to rig for heavy cover.

To work this combo, just lift the jig off the bottom, reel in the slack, and let it settle again. Bass will often hit it on the fluttering fall, but don’t ignore the possibility that they might take it off the bottom!

Wacky jig heads

The asymmetrical head on a wacky jig gives it a shimmy as it falls, sending the worm dancing. And whether you choose to run a 7-inch Yamamoto Senko or a big curly tail, a wacky jig head helps to get them moving.

My top pick for a wacky head is undoubtedly Reaction Tackle’s weedless version, as it helps me work grass and submerged vegetation without getting hung up.

Reaction Tackle Tungsten Wacky Weedless Jig Head

I love a weedless wacky jig head...and bass do, too!

Swim jig heads

Big bass tend to stick to heavy cover, and cutting edge jigs are designed to help you work nasty stuff like a pro.

Equipped with unusual head shapes and weedless whiskers, Booyah’s Boo Jig is an ideal tool for fishing blowdowns, logs, and other gnarly cover.

I typically reach for the ¼-ounce jig head, pairing it with a Zoom Trick Worm. I’ll slam this combo into anything, looking for erratic bounces and darting changes of direction. In weeds and grass, I try some hard pops before letting it settle to the bottom.

Both techniques are insanely productive.

BOOYAH Boo Jig Bass Fishing Lure with Weed Guard

Booyah’s swim jig heads are a marvel in the thick stuff.

The most productive jigging happens in heavy cover. And since bass will often swallow a jig with the faintest of strikes, you need sensitivity and a strong hookset. In thick, nasty stuff, you really want a rod like cast iron to drag a monster out of the weeds.

As a result, jigging rods tend toward the heavier end of the power spectrum, and I appreciate both heavy and medium-heavy rods for this technique. 

One excellent choice for anglers on a budget is the Ugly Stik Elite. With backbone to spare and a sensitive fast action, this Stik is a great jigging rod that won’t break the bank. If you’re able to part with more money, the Dobyns 766 FLIP is almost impossible to beat.

Dobyns 766 FLIP

Dobyns 766 FLIP just may be the best jigging rod on the market.

You’ll want to pair your rod with a fast baitcasting reel, and my pick would be the awesome Shimano Curado K in the 7.4:1 gear ratio. We’ve reviewed this reel before, and it’s a winner.

Shimano’s Curado K 7.41

Check out our review of the Shimano’s Curado K in 7.4:1! Its pretty much ideal for jigging.

Finally, you’ll want very strong, very sensitive line, and my recommendation is braid like Sufix 832 or PowerPro. Some anglers run tests as high as 60 to 65 pounds; I prefer 20- to 30-pound test myself.

Bass Fishing With Live Worms

Not many bass anglers chase largemouth with live bait, but there’s no reason that you can’t. Just be aware that everything from bluegill to catfish may take your live worm, and there’s simply no way to focus on your preferred species!

That certainly goes a long way to explaining the preference for soft plastics, but most serious fishermen will defend their preference for artificial options in terms of their exceptional effectiveness, ease of use, and range of techniques. 

Each of these is certainly a good reason to go with soft plastics.

Soft plastics are amazingly effective, and once you learn to rig and fish them, there may be no better way to entice a trophy bass to strike. They’re also very easy to use, demanding no more care than any other lure. And as we’ve seen, they’re really easy to rig properly. And, of course, the range of techniques for which soft plastics are appropriate is mind-bending. For every situation, there’s a way to rig a worm that works really well.

But it’s also true that live worms can and do catch bass, so let’s take a look at how it’s done.

Slip Floats

Without a doubt, the best way to rig a live worm for bass is under a slip float.

Unlike a conventional bobber, a slip float allows your line to slide or slip through it, thus the name. The result is that while it will suspend your hook at a reliable and easy-to-set depth, it will also allow you to reel in the entire length, enabling a careful, controlled cast.

It’s that casting advantage that makes slip floats so deadly.

More common by far for crappie and other panfish, my favorite option for a bass slip float is Bass Pro Shops Premium Balsa. Available in four sizes, I’d opt for the heavier two: the 1 ⅛” x 5” and the 1” x 5”. 

slip float

Don’t underestimate the power of the simple slip float.

With a few Northland Fishing Tackle Slip-Knot Stops, you’re ready to rig your float.

slip foats can work without a stopper

Slip floats can’t work without a stopper!

Hooks

You may be tempted to run an extra-large hook, given just how big the mouth of a bass can get--but resist that urge.

Live worms are definitely a finesse technique, and a smaller hook will catch far more bass than a larger option.

My favorite? A #4 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot Hook. Crazy sharp and built to fight, it’s an excellent choice for a live worm. Attach it to your line with a strong Palomar knot and you’re almost ready to go.

A small, sharp hook is a must for live worms.

But keep in mind that you’ll need to add some split shot to your line to create enough weight to cast. 

You’ll need to experiment with the amount: too little, and you just won’t get any distance; too much and you’ll pull your slip float under.

Tackle

While stiff casting rods and powerful baitcasting reels dominate most bass angling, they just can’t cast light terminal tackle very well. 

Instead, you’ll find that finesse techniques are best paired with medium-light to medium spinning rods like the awesome St. Croix Avid series. Paired with a 2500-size spinning reel from Shimano, Pflueger, Cadence, or Penn, you’ve got a fantastic setup for largemouth.

Best Rods for Bass Fishing | Best Spinning Reels For Bass Fishing | Best Baitcasting Reels For Bass Fishing

Technique

Live worms depend on flavor and scent to attract bass, and since they’re terrestrial creatures, they just can’t breathe under water, dying very quickly.

That’s OK--whatever action you need can be created by a gentle pop of your rod tip every now and then.

The key to slip floating for bass is to work likely cover like logs, stumps, and vegetation. Set your hook to the right depth--typically a foot or two off the bottom--and cast near, but not on, the cover you’re hunting.

Pop your rod every once in a while, and hold on!

Final Thoughts

Worms, whether made in a Culprit factory or by Mother Nature, are amazingly effective on bass. And while there are probably more options and techniques to use with soft plastics, I wouldn’t ignore the possibilities live bait offers.

Whatever options suit you, we hope this article has been helpful, and if it has, we’d love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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