By Matt Straw
Hardbaits are straightforward affairs. A bass might be triggered to strike a crankbait with a twitch, or a change of speed. A spinnerbait might be more successful when pumped occasionally. In either case, the angler has to manipulate the bait with rod action.
A bass rig is less predictable, and sometimes manipulates itself. Bass rigs can be simple or complex, but most have evolved to include multiple variations. The famous Texas rig was invented back in the 1960s to get a plastic bait through weeds without fouling, leading to the development of cone-shaped sinkers and specialized offset hooks. The cone shape slides through vegetation better, and the offset hook rigs the worm straight, so it doesn’t spin, which grabs weeds and twists line.
Anglers started pegging the sinker to keep if from sliding away from the worm in weeds (or they use screw-in weights, like the Tackle Xtreme Archi Tungsten Soft Bait Retainer), and that led to pegging sinkers up the line to create distance between weight and lure. Distance creates freedom. The bait glides left or right, instead of falling straight down. It falls slower. It acts more alive. All of which led to placing an egg sinker above a bead, swivel, a short leader and an offset hook—the Carolina rig.
Separating weights from baits defines classic rigging, but any new way to hook a plastic becomes a rig in the bass-fishing world. Some say the famous wacky rig was invented back in the 1950s when some guy from New Jersey began hooking those brand new Creme “rubber worms” through the middle and fished them weightless. Some say a Toledo Bend guide invented it and others say it was a novice who didn’t know how to rig worms “right.” Whichever the case, specialty jigs were developed to fish wacky rigs deeper and faster. O-rings came into play to improve the longevity of plastics, which began to include not just various worms but craws, creatures, soft jerks, and all manner of things.
And that led to the Neko rig. For most anglers, a Neko is an “off center” wacky rig with the hook placed 3/4 of the way toward the fat end of a plastic worm. A peg weight inserted into the fat end makes the bait dive nose down. But, if rigged a little differently, it seldom falls the same way twice.
The Neko File
“About 70 percent of the guys fish the Neko rig that way, with the hook inserted into an O-ring placed 3/4 of the way down the bait, toward the fat end,” says 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli. “But when it’s 3/4 of the way up the bait, it has the biggest glide. On the fall, it has the most erratic, backsliding motion. When I’m trying to get in and under cover, skipping middepth to shallow docks or overhanging trees, that’s the way I rig it, with a lighter sinker for a slower drop. It never glides the same way twice. You make five casts to a dock and it might make five different presentations. Eventually it falls right in their face, triggering fish that aren’t hungry. When it turns into their face, they don’t like it.
“With traditional Neko rigging, most bites come on bottom,” he says. “With the hook away from the weight, 75 percent of the bites come on the fall, so you have to watch the line with that one. If I don’t get bit on the drop, I do a big lift with it.”
Neko rigging is relatively new. “I’ve been picking it up from different people over the last five years, so it’s a new finesse technique for me,” Iaconelli says. “There’s no one set way to fish it. There are three primary hook positions. We discussed the first two, but some guys put the O-ring right in the middle—a wacky rig with one end weighted. Traditional rigging emulates that minnow pecking motion on the bottom. We’ve all seen bluegills, darters, chubs, and other minnows pecking on bottom, so its a natural look. When I want it pecking around during the spawn I like the traditional method, with the hook closer to the weight. It gets down quick with a straight fall, which is great around bridge pilings, seawalls, and spawning bass.
“Having the O-ring in the middle is best for horizontal fishing,” he says. “When I want a Neko action in shallow water—a massive flat or a slow tapering point—I like to rig it that way to slow the fall. Still sticking the nail weight in the fat end, but with a lighter weight. It doesn’t peck as good, but gives the bait a different action, pecking at more of a horizontal angle.”
He usually puts a nail weight in the fat end of a worm, but sometimes inserts it into the body between the fat end and the hook for a different action. “I’ve seen guys experimenting every which way with these weights,” he says. “Every time you change the amount of weight and the position of the hook, you change the presentation of the bait. That’s why Neko rigging is so exciting. Modification of things on the fly and instant changes are cool.”
Line choice affects presentation, too. “Braid lets you make long casts and eliminates stretch, but don’t count out fishing it with straight fluorocarbon,” Iaconelli says. “After a 60-foot cast, a Neko rig falling on straight fluorocarbon has a better fall, with better action. Braid floats and wants to pull the rig up. In current, or with heavily pressured or cruising fish, I’ve seen fluorocarbon outfish braid. My preferred tackle is a 7- to 71/2-foot spinning outfit spooled with 6- to 8-pound fluorocarbon or 10-pound braid with a fluorocarbon leader. I like 1/0 VMC Neko hooks, VMC nail weights, and shrink wrap instead of O-rings. It’s cheaper. Just slip it on, hit it with a lighter quick, and you’re in business.
“Toss it out and let it fall straight to the bottom on a semi-slack line,” he says. “When I bring it up I twitch it every few inches to make it look alive but then I let it fall straight back down. I do this until I’m out of the strike zone. Think about it this way: The only reason you pull a Neko rig up is so that it can fall.”
Winner of four Bassmaster Classics, Kevin VanDam told sponsor Mustad he needed a weedless hook for Neko rigging. “The Mustad TitanX Neko Hook has a double piece of fluorocarbon tied to it,” he said. “It’s a game changer, making it easy to hook fish on light line, but allows me to skip a Strike King Ocho Worm under a dock and not get hung up. It’s a critical thing to have. I would prefer to expose the hook whenever I can, but this isn’t a big, beefy weedguard. I like that style of hook—more like an O’Shaughnessy. It’s versatile—I even use it as a drop-shot hook. The super-slick titanium surface penetrates with little force. You can just start reeling after a bite and never lose a bass.”
Don’t overlook suspending a wacky rig with a Rainbow Plastics A-Just-A-Bubble. A Senko or finesse-style worm, rigged with an O-ring on a Trokar Weedless Wacky Hook or Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap, drives all species of bass crazy. Sometimes it’s the best presentation all day, especially in a slight chop. The float slides on the line for instant depth changes. Use 5-inch baits and 1/2-ounce floats for largemouths and 4-inchers under 1/4-ounce bubbles for smallies and spots.
Classic Carolina rigging attracts with noise as heavy brass or tungsten sinkers click over rocks, gravel and wood, or by leaving trails of puffy sediment. The disruption is followed by a pause and the slow fall of a soft-plastic lizard, craw, or worm on a short leader. Tungsten sinkers, like the new VMC Tungsten Flipping Weights, are hardest, and make the most noise. A plastic bead clicking between it and the swivel adds to the tiny symphony of attraction. Dragging is the point.
At the other end of that spectrum is the split-shot rig, which is subtle because it’s harder to drag, makes much less noise, and the drop is farther and even slower than a Carolina rig. It needs only three components—split shot, hook, and a plastic bait. Between those extremes is the highly efficient Mojo Rig. A Carolina rig requires at least six components—weight, bead, swivel, leader, hook, bait—and three knots. Mojo Rigging requires only four components—weight, rubber peg, hook, plastic bait—and only one knot. And it slides on the line, allowing instant experimentation with leader length.
Bass pro Chris Zaldain has appeared in three Classics. He appreciates not only the efficiency, but the “best of both worlds” nature of Mojo rigging. “I use a lot of Mojo Rigs,” he said. “It’s not as subtle as a split-shot rig, and not as aggressive as a Carolina. It consists of a cylindrical lead weight you can peg to your line, saving time tying rigs. It’s an in-between option I often find more effective than those other extremes. A split shot is 1/16- to 1/8-ounce and fished slowly. Mojo weights most effective for me are 3/16- to 3/8-ounce, and Carolina rigs tend to be heavier, noisier, and faster. I peg Mojo weights anywhere from 12 to 18 inches from a soft jerkbait, and it’s easy to change that distance by sliding the weight.
“Mojo rigs are great around snaggy objects like timber, sparse lily pads, docks—just a nice, in-between weight that’s versatile,” he says. “You can cast it a long way and it creates a slow, subtle presentation that gets a lot of bites. A lizard is popular or a curl-tail worm. The beauty of it is that it’s not ultra finesse like a split shot or aggressive like a Carolina rig. The weight doesn’t get hung up because it’s slender. It slips through cover and obstacles. I rig it on 10- to 15-pound fluorocarbon line.
“I Texpose it (basically Texas rigging with the point and barb pushed through the plastic and just the tip reinserted) with a 3/0 Trokar worm hook,” Zaldain says. “You can use it with any plastic. Use your favorite. It darts left-right when making little 6-inch snaps with the rod tip down. It stays near bottom and snakes through snags. It’s a finesse approach, but not as quiet or subtle as a split-shot rig.”
Maybe FLW pro and tackle rep David Swendseid should consider a Mojo Weight for something he calls a Turbo rig, for instantly adjusting leader lengths. “I use a short Carolina-rig leader with a barrel weight or Carolina-style sinker and a small, shallow diving, highly buoyant crankbait,” he says. “The crank rises a foot off bottom on the pause and digs lightly when pulled forward. It not only gives the bait a unique action, it takes my small, subtle Japanese-style crankbait all the way to bottom. It can run 1 to 3 feet off bottom at any depth and slow roll along. On the pause, it rises quick and stops suddenly. Dragging it slow, it bangs bottom occasionally or all the time, depending on how fast you work it and how long the leader is. You can drag the sinker off bottom with this method, too. You can add a crank that runs a little deeper, but I mostly use cranks that run in the 2-foot range.
“When using lead, I go with 1/2-ounce cylinder weights or classic Carolina weights,” Swendseid says. “I pitch with 7-foot baitcasting rods and 8- to 12-pound Seaguar Fluorocarbon, or sometimes Berkley XT or Big Game, depending on what it was rubbing against down there. A medium-speed reel and a medium-power Swenseid Turbo Riggin turbo rig helps when fishing deeper humps in windy conditions. Drag it at an even pace and it’s easier to maintain speed and location of the lure.”
Not In Texas Anymore, Toto
Bass rigs are morphing faster than I can keep track. Last fall, Wisconsin Guide Chris Beeksma put VMC Half Moon Wacky Weights in the butt of a Texas-rigged Z-Man Finesse TRD to nail big smallmouth bass on Chequamegon Bay. “It’s more weedless than a Neko rig, but pecks along on bottom in the same fashion,” Beeksma says. “And the slim size and shape of the plastic, with no action tail, slips through weeds and junk well. Venom makes a similar worm—the Dew Drop—in a unique size that works well, especially with the Half Moon Weights. The exposed lead produces better feel and causes more commotion.”
Iaconelli uses skirted nail weights to emulate dragonflies with Texas rigs. “It’s basically weightless Texas rigging,” he says. “I slip the weight in just above the worm band. I go with the lightest VMC Skirt Weight and Texas rig a soft stickbait that mimics the color of the dragonflies around the water. Sometimes they’re blue, sometimes red, or brown, or green. The skirted weight emulates wings.” He subtly swims the bait, twitching it to make the “wings” fly. “The skirt acts like a parachute, creating a new kind of action,” he says.
The Owner Jig Rig produced an new way to go Texas style. Anglers can choose between slim lead or tungsten weights attached to the eye of an Owner worm hook with two small split rings. The 3/16- to 1/4-ounce tungsten versions, heavier and more compact than lead, dive straight down through weeds faster and more efficiently than a classic Texas rig. Once on bottom, the bait pivots left, right, up, and down as the sinker tap-tap-taps along. The action is entirely different from that produced by a sliding sinker—more of a shaky-style presentation. And the hook is deadly.
Can you imagine a rigging article that doesn’t mention drop-shots? Not long ago, I wrote about swimming drop-shot rigs through open water for smallmouths. Lately I’ve been experimenting with dual drop-shot baits by tying two Trokar Helix Drop-Shot Hooks (with built in swivels) about 8 to 10 inches apart. Or rig it with twin Owner Down Shot Offsets to swim through edges of cabbage beds, using a Bakudan Drop-Shot Bomb. Otherwise, the bottom hook/swivel holds a foot-long dropper to a light Quick Drop sinker for true swimming action. Nose-hook a pair of soft-plastic jerkbaits and the rig becomes a Ron Lindneresque “school of somethings” swimming or strolling past deep structure.
Anglers are doing so many things with bass rigs now, it would be difficult to describe all of it in 10 articles this length. As a result, VanDam says the think tanks are working overtime on rigs. “The new wacky market is off the hinges,” he says. “That whole super-finesse Ned Rig, wacky style everything, new Neko weights, bullet heads, and tungsten weights—so many nitpicky little weight systems and styles—you have to fish every day just to try them all.” Sounds like a challenge. (And a few hundred cold dinners.)
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Matt Straw is a multispecies angling expert and a long-time writer for In-Fisherman publications.