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Tokyo Rig: A Secret Weapon for Soft Plastics

Written by: John B
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For a long time, my go-to worm setup was the weed-busting Texas rig. And while there’s still no question that the Texas rig is a good choice, it has issues that every savvy angler recognizes.

The weight at the nose of the worm or creature bait deadens action the heavier it gets, placing a practical limit on its grass mat and lily pad punching power. And as worm tech has advanced - and it really has - you want the soft plastic to strut its stuff unimpeded by close proximity to a bullet weight.

The Carolina rig is one alternative, creating space between the weight and worm and thus improving action. But for punching a matted layer of grass, it’s just not the right choice.

Enter the Tokyo rig, a Japanese-inspired soft plastic technique that enables anglers to use heavy weights without deadening action and keeps the overall presentation compact enough to really punch nasty stuff.

Pros like Mike Iaconelli swear that the Tokyo rig increases hookup percentages and catches more fish than the Texas, Carolina, Neko, or Ned

Want to know more about the Tokyo rig?

Keep reading!

Related: Neko Rig, Shaky Rig

What is the Tokyo Rig?

At the heart of a Tokyo rig, you'll find a solid steel O-ring. In front of this rides a barrel swivel to attach to your main line or leader. Behind that swivel, a thick-gauge hook hangs free to wriggle and move. And below that O-ring drops a short length of stout wire to which you can attach weight.

This design is no gimmick, and it does several things better than any other rig I’ve ever seen:

  • The Tokyo rig lets the soft plastic of your choice really move freely, unencumbered by the weight. That provides unparalleled action.
  • Because heavy weight can be attached without affecting the action of your bait, it punches grass, weeds, lily pads, and other thick cover like a lead football. The O-ring allows the bait to follow the weight, unlike a gliding Texas rig, keeping your cast where you put it.
  • The hanging wire and weight keeps the rig in contact with the bottom but holds it up and out of mud and silt, putting it where bass can see it.

That all adds up to a rig with the subtle, finesse action of a drop shot with more punch than a Texas, with the bottom contact of a Neko.

That makes it a lot more than just a punch shot. “When I first saw this rig, I thought, 'This is going to be a great tool for punching, flipping, and fishing deep grass.’ Back then, I never saw the potential for it in a lot of other places, but it really has become a versatile technique,” Iaconelli explains.

More on that below.

Putting this rig together from scratch is probably not the best idea, and VMC has several different styles of Tokyo rigs ready to go.

For flipping, perhaps the most productive technique with the Tokyo rig, VMC’s Tokyo Rig Heavy-Duty Flippin' Hooks are the way to go.

VMC’s Tokyo Rig Heavy-Duty Flippin' Hooks

Bass Pro

The barrel swivels and O-ring are top-notch hardware, and the hook holds a worm like the soft plastic owes it money. Sharp, thick-gauge wire makes this hook hard to bend, and even a monster bass is not going to straighten this beast out. 

It’s available in 5/0, 4/0, and 3/0 sizes.

For Neko weighting your soft plastic on a Tokyo rig, VMC’s Tokyo Rig Finesse Neko Hook lets you weight your bait at the head, forcing it tail-up to increase its appeal to spooked or pressured bass.

VMC’s Tokyo Rig Finesse Neko Hook

Bass Pro

When I want to rig big creature baits weedless, I reach for the VMC Tokyo Rig Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook. Perfect for running back through my soft plastics, I can throw this rig into the worst stuff on the lake and not worry too much about picking up weeds or getting hung up on thick cover. Bass Pro carries it in 5/0, 4/0, 3/0, and 2/0 sizes.

VMC Tokyo Rig Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook

Bass Pro

Used in conjunction with a VMC Neko weight, this is hard to beat for finesse in nasty cover.

VMC, Neko Weights, 1/8 oz, Natural, Package of 10 (NKW18-NAT)

Amazon 

For my worms, I keep plenty of VMC’s Tokyo Rig Heavy-Duty Worm Hooks on hand. They’re sharp, heavy-duty, and perfect for rigging a trick worm or ribbon tail just right.

VMC’s Tokyo Rig Heavy-Duty Worm Hooks

Bass Pro

Most of the time, I use a ¾-ounce VMC Tungsten Flip'n Weight. When I want to run toward the lighter end, a single Flip’n weight is perfect. When I want to take that up a few notches, I’ll load a second ¾-ounce weight, tail-to-tail, on the wire, or even step up to the 1-ounce versions.

VMC, Tungsten Flip'n Weight, 3/4 oz, Black, Package of 1, TF34BK

Amazon 

VMC, Tungsten Flip'n Weight, 1 oz, Black, Package of 1,TF1BK

Amazon 

Of course you’ll want a pair of fishing pliers to bend the wires and secure those weights. I really like KastKing’s Cutthroats, but there are plenty of great pliers on the market.

KastKing Cutthroat 7 inch Fishing Pliers, 420 Stainless Steel Fishing Tools, Saltwater Resistant Fishing Gear, Tungsten Carbide Cutters, Corrosion Resistant Teflon Coating, 7'’Split Ring Nose, Orange

Amazon 

How To Set Up a Neko Rig

Rod, reel, and line

There are two basic approaches to the Tokyo rig that we’ll discuss in more depth in a moment: flipping/pitching and dragging.

For flipping and pitching, just as you’d expect, I want a 7 ½-to 8-foot rod with heavy power and fast action. My favorites are the Dobyns XP series DC 766FLIP and DC 805 FLIP/PUNCH. They can take up to 2 1/2 ounces of weight, and you’ll still feel every bump and pebble on the bottom.

These will wear an excellent baitcasting reel like a Daiwa Tatula CT Type-R 100HS, but there are plenty of good options out there.

Daiwa TATULA CT Type-R 100HS

Amazon 

In stained, murky, or muddy water, I’ll definitely run braid, typically no less than 20-pound test, but sometimes as high as 50. If I’m worried about abrasion on rocks or stumps, I’ll attach a length of fluorocarbon or mono leader. One combo I’ve come to trust is Sufix 832 tied to a Seaguar InvizX leader.

Suffix 832 Braid 20 lb Low-Vis Green 150 yards

Amazon 

Seaguar Invizx 100% Fluorocarbon 200 Yard Fishing Line (12-Pound)

Amazon 

In clear water, I’ll typically run straight fluorocarbon, choosing Seaguar in 20-pound test.

Monofilament will work well, too, but it doesn’t offer the sensitivity of the much denser fluorocarbon.

Knots

Braid to fluorocarbon connections can be tricky, as neither of them accepts a knot as well as mono.

We’ve covered this topic at length before, and if you want the complete run down, take a look at this article:

Connecting Braided Main Line to Leader: Best Knots for Bass Fishing

My pick for the leader connection is the 5-Turn Surgeon’s Knot because it’s faster, easier, and typically stronger than the Alberto.

For my terminal connection, I usually run an Improved Palomar.

Soft plastics

You’ve got your rod and reel, you’ve selected the right line for your situation, and you have your Tokyo rigs, pliers, and weights ready to go.

Now it’s time to get down to the important business of selecting the right baits.

Creatures/Beavers

For pitching and flipping, I can’t get enough of Berkley’s Bunker Hawg. 4 inches of fat body and fluttering appendages, this bad boy is basically a bulky craw that moves and looks like an easy meal.

Berkley’s Bunker Hawg

Bass Pro

I also love the Berkley PowerBait Pit Boss, available in a nice range of colors and lengths from 3 to 5 inches. 

Berkley PowerBait Pit Boss

Bass Pro

And obviously, no list of soft plastic creature baits is complete without the Strike King Rage Tail Craw, 4 inches of bass attracting flutter and shimmy.

Strike King Rage Tail Craw

Bass Pro

Worms

But creatures aren’t the only way to go with the Tokyo, and trick worms of all types are ridiculously effective.

A big, black Zoom trick worm, rigged Neko-style or on an offset hook is killer on the Tokyo rig.

zoom trick worm

Bass Pro

You can also count me as a fan of the Culprit Original 10" Worm. That long, wriggling tail is just what you want as this rig heads toward the bottom or shakes in front a wary bass.

Culprit Original 10" Worm

Bass Pro

Paddle tails

When the bass are keyed in on baitfish like shad, bluegill, and bream, a paddle tailed minnow is ideal.

D.O.A.’s C.A.L. Shad Tail is a great choice in either 3- or 4-inch lengths. That tail gets attention as you retrieve the rig across the bottom, and it’s hard to beat for calling bass in for a second look.

D.O.A.’s C.A.L. Shad Tail

Bass Pro

Of course, other soft plastic work, too, and you should definitely give everything from Senkos to lizards a try.

To assemble a Tokyo rig, follow these steps:

  1. Rig your soft plastic of choice to the hook, inserting the point through the head.
  2. For Neko rigging, insert a nail weight as well.
  3. Slide a bullet weight, tail first onto the wire. If more weight is desired, load the first weight head first, followed by the second weight tail first. You’re looking for tail-to-tail contact.
  4. Using pliers, bend the wire up and inward to hold the weight(s) in place.

tokyo rig

How to Fish the Tokyo Rig

Flipping

Flipping allows truly pinpoint precision, and for targeting cover in which accuracy is everything, it’s the dominant technique.

Holding the rod in your right hand, pull out a length of line in your left. Lower your rod tip, levering your rig forward in a pendulous arc. If you release the line in your left hand at the perfect moment, you’ll flip your rig forward with amazing accuracy.

Let your Tokyo rig settle to the bottom, keeping your left hand in contact with your line to feel for light strikes and gentle sucks.

Many strikes will happen on the fall. If that doesn’t happen, you can twitch your rod tip to get your soft plastic dancing.

Pitching

Pitching is similar to flipping, just minus the left-handed action. By lowering your rod tip, you’ll pitch the rig forward, giving you more distance than a flip.

From there, the technique is the same.

Bouncing

The Tokyo rig will keep your soft plastic glued to the bottom without burying it in the mud. And with gentle motions of your rod tip, keeping your rod at about 10 o’clock, you can lift your soft plastic, bouncing it along the bottom.

Take in some slack to keep a gentle bow in your line as you do. Semi-slack is the way to go.

Dragging

The Toyo rig is also amazing when dragged along the bottom and run into structure or cover like branches, boulders, rocks, and stumps.

Much like a crankbait, you’re looking for contact and trying to get an erratic bounce every time you hit something.

You can do this by using a side-sweeping motion with the rod, retrieving slack as you go. Or you can use a steady retrieve and very subtle movements of the rod tip to keep your Tokyo rig moving.

Whichever technique you use, keep your hooksets overhead rather than sweeping (as with the Carolina rig). Your hook-up percentage will be much higher, and you’ll land more bass.

Final Thoughts

The Tokyo rig may have started out as a great way to punch grass and lily pads, but it has proven to be a lot more than a leadered punch shot. And whether you use it that way or run it across the bottom, this is quickly becoming the most productive option many anglers have ever used.

We hope that you’ve learned something new today, and as always, we’re here to field any questions or comments you might have.

Please leave us a message below!

About The Author
John B
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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