I’m always amused when an angler comments, “You caught that bass on a nightcrawler?” The guy probably has used imitations for years but doubts the appeal of the real thing. More cartons of worms than any other livebait likely are sold to novices and occasional anglers. So I often wonder where along the line experienced anglers forgot how great catching bass with nightcrawlers can be.
Virtually all fish species relish live worms. That’s reasonable since worms are high in protein; easy to swallow; lack sharp spines, bones, or claws; and are easily caught. Today, nightcrawlers are the most overlooked bait by serious anglers and trophy-bass hunters.
Rigging: When I’m fishing for big bass, I generally hook nightcrawlers once right through the head end. They also can be hooked through the tip of the tail, allowing a natural crawling motion. You can watch your line inch away along the bottom when crawlers are rigged this way. The only drawback to tail hooking is that the worm tends to break off on the cast, sometimes even breaking off as they try to escape.
Crawlers are best fished slowly with a short stitching motion, retrieving 3 to 12 inches per stitch, or using short slow drags with pauses of several seconds in between. A cast of about 30 feet may take several minutes to retrieve, so it’s far from a search technique. If you’re fishing an area known to hold fish, let the worm make any and all movements on its own.
Recently, I’ve “discovered” an unusual rigging tactic for tricking giant bass. Actually, the technique I now call the Wad-O-Crawlers was described by a noted big-bass expert in Bart Crabb’s book, Quest for the World Record Bass. I was amazed to read that this angler used up to a dozen crawlers at a time. Sounded unnatural and basically ridiculous. I told a fishing buddy about it and we had a good laugh.
Two years ago, however, I spotted the shadow of what looked like a big catfish, and I flipped out the live crawfish I had rigged. No reaction. I hooked up four or five sickly crawlers and cast to the fish. The line jumped and I landed a 41⁄2-pound bass.
I still didn’t embrace the Wad-O-Crawlers technique until just over a year ago when I rigged with a gob to target big channel cats at San Pablo Dam. Casting to an 18-foot drop, I was soon bitten and battling a big one, but the battle didn’t quite feel like a big kitty—short hard runs, quick turns, slugs. When it ran for the surface and leapt clear, the deal was sealed—a giant largemouth of 13 pounds.
Today I often hook three or four large crawlers into a wad. I use a fluorocarbon leader and braided line, since the leader keeps the lively worms from tying the supple braid in knots. Since this is a bulky bait, don’t pack the worms into the gap of the hook. Instead, skewer each worm once through the head end, leaving the rest to squirm. Fresh worms sometimes tie themselves in knots. Untangle them for best action and a surer hookset.
In the California reservoirs I fish, I generally fish crawler wads with no weight, or sometimes a small split shot to hold the leader on the bottom. If you must add more weight for fishing deep water, in wind or current or when drifting, use a light Carolina rig. I use a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce slipsinker with a small shot a foot or so above the hook to keep the weight from sliding down to the bait.
I prefer Gamakatsu Octopus hooks for crawler fishing, matching hook size to my gear. I usually use #6 or #4 on my microlight gear, upsizing to a #2 or #1 on medium-power spinning tackle.
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