It's tough to see the real magic of a cigar worm in the water. Drop one in an aquarium. Let it fall horizontally, squash your nose on the glass and watch both ends wobble ever so slightly while the bait is in free-fall. Watch it turn and glide. Little else about a cigar worm proclaims, "Yes, I really am alive." Subtle, constant movement like that is hard to duplicate by manipulating the rod tip, though we try.
Shaky-worms are the rage. These techniques involve a jigworm, but any kind of worm rigging can apply. The object is to allow a jigworm to hit bottom, then lift and shake it by snapping the rod tip up and down. Repeat that process throughout any fish-holding zone, often until the worm is directly under the boat. Make it shake and the fish take.
Cigars shake all by themselves, in a manner shaky-worm techniques can't duplicate, though you can certainly shake a cigar with positive results. Shaking or vibrating the rod tip makes a worm jump, flap, bob, and weave while it more or less levitates. It's fairly aggressive but works well for smallmouth and largemouth bass, at times. But methods that allow both ends of a cigar worm to vibrate on the drop are potent indeed, especially in clear shallow water, on calm days, in highly pressured fisheries, or when any of these conditions are combined.
Wacky-rigging a cigar is the easiest way to take advantage of this worm's natural talents. Hooked through the center with a #4 or #2 baitholder or wacky-style hook, cigars have enough weight to produce long casts with 6- to 8-pound-test monofilament or thin braided line. Let the cigar sink on a semi-slack line. Where possible, let it settle on bottom. After a pause, the options are to twitch it in place, lift it high (3 to 5 feet), and let it fall again, or treat it like a shaky worm.
On shallow rock reefs, where it can be dangerous to allow a bait to settle, count it down above the rocks and pull it gently along. Let it drop a few feet, then lift it back up while picking up slack. Even around sharp rocks, light line produces more strikes because casts are longer and the cigar is free to glide. When wave action or purposely misplaced hooks unbalance a wacky rig, cigars glide off to one side or the other, which amounts to another built-in triggering device.
The same technique can be applied with a jighead, using 6-pound line and a 1/16-ounce bullet-, ball-, or darter-head jig instead of a bare hook. A wacky-rigged cigar on a jig falls much more slowly than a cigar rigged with the weight forward in jigworm fashion. Wacky-rigging with a jig allows the cigar to work its magic, trembling all the way down. In slightly deeper water, or in the presence of highly aggressive fish, jig-wacky cigars excel. To reduce tearing, slip a rubber O-ring onto the middle of the bait and run the hook through it.
In middepths, when bass show near bottom on sonar, rig a cigar worm on a belly-weighted worm hook like the Falcon Bait Jerker or VMC Wacky Weedless Jig. In deeper water, when smallmouths are pinned to bottom, a Carolina-rigged cigar works fine on a 2- to 3-foot leader behind a swivel, a glass or plastic bead, and a sliding weight. I often use a Texas-rigged cigar with a Bullet Weight cone-style sinker in these situations, too. Sometimes I peg the sinker up the line to mimic a Carolina rig without the noise.
Nose-hooking a cigar worm and slowly reeling it in accounts for more smallmouths than most anglers are willing to believe. Use a #2 or #4 drop-shot or baitholder-style hook and slip the point through the nose of the worm. Let it fall and start reeling slowly at a pace that keeps the worm horizontal (not rising or falling). The worm's density allows long casts without weight when using a limp mono. But adding a split shot 10 inches or so above the hook gets it down a bit deeper on a slow retrieve. The barbs on a baitholder-style hook help keep nose-hooked cigars from sliding off, but if it becomes a problem, substitute a small offset-shank worm hook.
These last few rigging tips are perfect for presenting "cigars in space." Make a long cast above or beyond bass-holding structure or cover, get on the trolling motor, let out a little more line, then slowly pull the cigar along at about 1 mph. When smallmouths follow plastics up to the boat and turn away, "strolling" a cigar works wonders. The bait remains equidistant from the boat at all times, giving you more chances to trigger followers. Cigars in space turn, glide, quiver on the drop when the boat turns, and rest on bottom during a pause. Few techniques work better for pressured, skittish smallmouths when they hold in depths of 10 feet or less in clear water.
When smallmouths are deep, the most impressive results with cigars tend to result with wacky rigs on a drop-shot setup. During a few days in August on Lake Erie last year it seemed to be the only way to catch any smallmouths at all.
On Erie, the technique that worked involved lifting the rig 2 or 3 feet, then shaking it while it dropped, making both ends of the cigar flap like crazy. Bites happened only when we practically shook the color off the worm. Other days, the best trigger when wacky-rigging on drop-shot equipment was letting a cigar fall softly, right to bottom. We'd let the sinker touch, tighten the line, and let the lure drop. Smallmouths often hit on the drop or pick it up off bottom when we used a long dropper (about 18 inches between sinker and hook). Obviously, a lot of latitude for experimentation exists between those two methods.
The Bobber Wacky
The most productive wacky-rigging technique I employ with cigars in the North Country (mostly Minnesota and Ontario) involves a float. A bobber-wacky rig is simple and effective when smallmouths gather around shallow reefs, weedlines, and rocky shorelines. Sometimes, nothing works better for bass suspending in depths of 10 to 20 feet in clear water. Smallmouths often rise 10 feet or more to hit a bait suspended in space, undulating up and down with wave action. Superlines work best because they float. I use 8- or 10-pound Berkley FireLine. Superlines allow lengthy casts, getting the rig way out of the spook zone around your boat.
A Rainbow Plastics A-Just-A-Bubble slides onto the line and is fixed in place by turning the end cap, which twists the surgical tubing in the center of the float where line runs through. Fixed floats are important, causing wacky-rigged cigars to drift rise when you pull the float, and allowing you to see "up bites" when smallmouths take the bait on the rise.
Attach a small barrel swivel below the float, and tie on a 3- to 8-foot, 8- to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, depending on the depth of the area you want to fish. At the end of the leader, tie on a #4 Gamakatsu or Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp baitholder-style hook. Because of the potential for long leaders, a long rod is required. The ideal one, in my opinion, is the telescoping 8½-foot St. Croix Slip Stick. It has backbone to set hooks from afar and length to control line.
With no other weight on the line, the worm falls as it should — horizontally, with the tapered ends twitching all the way down. Then it stops and suspends as it reaches the end of its tether under the float. But each wave lifts it and the process starts over. Calm days tend to require more manipulation on your part. Smallmouths can hit bobber-wacky cigars on the drop, on the pull, or after the float is twitched in place by shaking the rod tip with a tight line. Playing with the bobber-wacky to develop new triggering moves is half the fun.
Any waves that won't swamp the boat are fine. The bobber-wacky system actually produces better in 3-foot waves than it does on flat calm seas. Something about a wacky-rigged, suspended cigar seems to spell "helpless" to smallmouths. Strikes are aggressive — at times, too aggressive. If bass are swallowing swallow the hook, I switch to a hardbait.
Size and Color Conundrums
When a 4-inch cigar fails to catch any bass, I often switch to a different style of plastic or a hardbait. But a few years ago I tried downsizing instead. Switching to a 3-inch YUM Dinger on 4-pound line produced one of the biggest smallmouths of the year. Downsizing often fails on the waters I fish, but when it works, does it ever.
Four-inch baits prevail most days. A 5-inch cigar, by contrast, almost always catches smallmouth bass, even in cold water, but tends to produce the best numbers every day only on big bodies of water, like Lake Erie or Lake Michigan. Five-inchers produce best when smallmouths become aggressive, but size can become a function of matching the hatch. Where smallmouths are accustomed to large chubs, shad, or gobies, 5-inch cigars excel.
In open water, laminated colors (dark on one side and white on the other) produce well. Solid, subdued colors (no metal flake) tend to attract more strikes in clear water. Green pumpkin seems universally good and black works well, sometimes smoke with black flake.
The point isn't color, however. Color preferences can change over time. The story is the versatility and fish-catching ability of the cigar worm. A cigar worm's magic is displayed in the way it vibrates — subtle, almost imperceptible vibration is its calling card. Bass rarely fail to respond.