When Michael Iaconelli won the Bassmaster Classic at the Louisiana Delta in August of 2003, he caught most of his fish by swimming a paddletail worm. He calls the tactic “speed worming.” Despite his victory, and the success he’s had swimming worms since then, relatively few anglers employ this method. That’s a mistake you should avoid because worm swimming fills a niche other lures and presentations simply miss.
Tickle The Top Iaconelli designed the 7-inch Berkley PowerBait Heavy Weight Thump Worm he relies on for speed worming. Its thick body necks down before joining a wide, vertical paddletail that thumps back-and-forth during a steady retrieve. The Thump Worm is made from a heavy, soft plastic that casts well without a weight. Ike forgoes a bullet sinker, and cuts the tail along a pre-molded indentation so it flaps across the surface with a muted gurgling sound. “You can cast the worm much farther than a mini buzzbait for greater coverage,” he says. “And the worm slides over cover that would snag a buzzbait.”
Tickling the surface with a swimming worm pays off for Iaconelli when cold fronts or heavy fishing pressure turn bass off full-size buzzbaits and weedless toads. He Texas-rigs the Thump Worm on a 4/0 or 5/0 VMC Fastgrip Wide Gap Worm Hook. The added gap overcomes the worm’s rotund body to ensure solid hookups.
A 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Abu Veritas rod improves Iaconelli’s strike-to-catch ratio when swimming worms on the surface. The rod has ample backbone for setting the stout worm hook and horsing bass out of thick grass. However, the tip has enough fl ex to easily cast the worm and allow bass to engulf it. “I see guys swimming worms with flippin’ sticks, which is a big mistake,” he says.
A stiff rod pulls the worm away from the bass when they strike, he explains, and you can’t cast it accurately, especially when it’s rigged weightless. Iaconelli fills the reel with 50-pound Spiderwire Stealth braid, and a 7:1 gear ratio Abu Revo baitcasting reel helps him catch up to bass that swim straight at him after they grab the worm, a common occurrence.
Slo-Mo Swimming Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Alabama, has designed a new slow-motion swimming worm for Berkley’s Havoc line of soft plastics. Called the Juice Worm, it comes and 6- and 8-inch sizes and features a ribbontail that undulates at almost zero speed.
He believes that less is often more with soft plastics, and compares his bait to the ever-popular Senko. But while the Senko triggers bites as it slowly sinks, the Juice Worm is made to coax bites from fish on the bottom. Duckett Texasrigs the 8-inch bait with a 5/0 Owner Offset Wide Gap hook; the 6 incher gets a 4/0. Line choice is 12-pound Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon.
A 3/16-ounce bullet sinker works well to depths of fi ve feet, while progressively heavier sinkers are needed for deeper water—down to 20-plus feet. “I use this worm when I know where bass are, but can’t get them to bite anything else,” he says. A perfect example was a tournament on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula. He concentrated on an area that was loaded with fish, and fishermen.
“Bass were so pressured they wouldn’t even hit a shaky head,” he says. By slowly swimming a Juice Worm along the bottom, however, he was able to connect with the wary fi sh. Two basic retrieves work for Duckett. If the bottom is fairly flat, he holds his 7-foot rod with the tip at 11 o’clock and slowly turns the reel handle. On sloping bottoms, he lifts the worm six to eight inches off bottom and lets it glide forward while holding the rod dead still.
“The tail never stops moving, even when the bait stops,” he says, “and you seldom feel the bite. The rod just loads up.” Natural worm colors work best, including green pumpkin and blue glitter in clear water and junebug and black in stained water.
Submerged Grass Bass Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a former Bassmaster Angler of the Year, catches heavyweight largemouths by swimming a 10-inch Yum Ribbontail worm. The long bait comes through for him on Lake Guntersville and other reservoirs and natural lakes that support submerged grass and big bass.
Prime time for this application is late spring and early summer. This is when submerged grass is lush and fairly tall (if it tops out deeper than five or six feet, he fares better with cranks or spinnerbaits), yet hasn’t grown tall enough to form surface mats. “The perfect scenario for swimming a worm is when the grass is within two to three feet of the surface,” he says. A couple of factors work to his advantage at this time. One is that anglers have been throwing spinnerbaits, lipless cranks and other “power” presentations for months, and bass have grown wary of them. Also, the grass is so near the top that few diving lures can be fi shed effectively.
“A Texas-rigged swimming worm easily comes through the top of the vegetation,” Horton says. “You don’t have to constantly fight the grass with it.” Bass rarely see a worm fished this way, plus the 10-inch Ribbontail presents a large profile that appeals to big bass. At Guntersville and other Tennessee River reservoirs, it resembles the lampreys that swim there. Two colors do the job for Horton: plum and green pumpkin. He rigs the bait with a 1/4- or 5/16-ounce bullet sinker, a 5/0 offset worm hook and 17- to 20-pound fluorocarbon line. A 7-foot, medium-heavy baitcasting rod and a 7:1 gear ratio reel serve up his worms.
Horton says that bass often gang up in submerged grass, which means where you catch one, you’re likely to catch others from the same spot. Problem is, it’s sometimes difficult to cast precisely to the same location after you catch a fish from submerged cover. When this happens, he looks for pieces of floating weeds that dislodged during the fight. “Those bits of grass tell you where the bass came from,” he says. “That’s where you should make your next cast.”
Topwater Connection When weeds lie just beneath the surface, Horton takes advantage of the usual early-morning topwater bite by chugging an XCalibur Zell Pop over the cover. When the sun comes up, though, topwater action typically dies. “When that happens, you can still catch them by swimming a worm over the grass,” he says. “I’ll swim one all day and switch back to the popper late in the evening.”
Subsurface Power Thumping As effective as swimming worms on top can be, they also reap their biggest rewards when fi shed beneath the surface. In these situations, Iaconelli still fishes his Thump Worm, but on 15- to 20-pound Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon. For maximum vibration underwater, he does not slice the worm’s tail. A 1/16-ounce tungsten bullet sinker does the job when he wants the worm swimming no deeper than a foot or so. He goes as heavy as 1/4-ounce when fishing depths of six feet. A rubber bobber stopper pegs the sinker against the worm’s nose. “You swim a worm just like you’d retrieve a spinnerbait,” he explains.
Why not cast a spinnerbait? Because a spinnerbait’s flash and strong vibrations often overwhelm bass, he points out. A subtle worm triggers reaction strikes from lure-shy fi sh. Many anglers overlook worms here because they think the presentations are slow and methodical. The reality is that few methods cover water faster. Think of it as finesse power fishing. A huge advantage subsurface worm swimming has over power-fishing presentations is that you can kill the bait immediately after a short strike. When this happens to Iaconelli, he drops his rodtip, leans forward and lets the worm fall on a semi-slack line. The worm looks crippled as it sinks, and the bass nabs it nine times out 10, he claims.
On the other hand, when a fish misses a spinnerbait your only option is to continue reeling. This usually eliminates any chance for a second strike. I learned how effective the presentation is while fishing Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga with North Carolinian Lee King. He chucked a 53/4-inch Zoom Ultra-Vibe Speed Worm rigged with a 1/8-ounce bullet sinker all day. The Speed Worm has a deep cut molded into its modified paddletail that vibrates incessantly with a swimming retrieve.
I fi shed a wide variety of soft plastics that day, including Texas-rigged worms, soft stickbaits, toads and more. King’s worm swimming gambit outfished everything I tried 5-to-1. Only after he gave me a Speed Worm and some advice on how to fish it did I keep pace. Most of the bites came in less than three feet of water where there was scattered Kissimmee grass or lily pad stems that had yet to begin their spring growth. That’s also how I learned that worm swimming is almost effortless because the bait has little resistance, even when you pull it through grass. When a bass grabbed the bait, I learned to drop the rodtip before setting the hook. If you set the hook immediately, you can jerk the bait away from the bass.
Tackle Concerns King rigs Zoom’s Speed Worm on a 4/0 Bass Pro Shops XPS Wide SuperLock Hook. He fishes it with 50-pound braided line, a 7-foot medium-heavy Roland Martin Signature Pro Line baitcasting rod and a U.S. Reel 800SX, which has a 6.55:1 gear ratio.