August 15, 2016
By Brian Ruzzo
Every summer at ballparks across America teams promote "Bobble Head Night," dispensing images of baseball players to the first 5,000 or so fans. If you've attended one of these events, you'd think the home team was giving away $500 bills. Fans flock to the stadium for a chance at one of the little dolls. There must be something about a bobble head that's irresistible.
Cast a shaky-head worm into waters teeming with bass and you get a similar response. There's something about the shaky-head action that bass can't resist. Kevin VanDam, the all-time money winner in professional bass fishing, prefers a shaky-head over Texas- or Carolina-rigged worms in certain situations because of this action.
"The biggest bass I ever caught in a tournament was almost 12 pounds and it bit a shaky-head," he says. "I can't put my finger on it, but their action is special." Fortunately, the shaky-head worm is simple to rig and easy to fish once you understand the basics.
The shaky-head worm rig starts with the head, and selecting the right head comes down to shape and weight. Shape is dictated by bottom type and weight is dictated by water depth. Two basics head shapes are available — round and football. VanDam generally prefers a round head for clean bottoms, such as sand and gravel, because they're more streamlined. He says streamlined heads are easier to get good hook-sets with light line and in deep water. If the bottom is rocky, he uses a football-shape head. If the bottom is soft, another type of rig generally works better. "The football head stands up better among rocks," he says. "It catches momentarily in the crevices, so you can shake it and draw strikes."
In water 5 feet deep or less, VanDam prefers 1/16-ounce heads, switching to 1/8-ouncers in 5 to 10 feet, and 3/16- in 10 to 20 feet. In deep offshore areas, he goes to a 1/4- or even 1/2-ounce head.
"My favorite shaky-head bait is Strike King's Fat Baby Finesse worm," he says. "It's a little bulkier than most other finesse worms so it appeals to big fish." Anglers often must choose between a finesse bait for finicky bites and a big bait for big bass. He claims this lure splits the difference and fits both categories.
He adds that although he has favorites, nearly any softbait can be used on a shaky-head rig. Try your favorite worm, creature bait, or craw. But no matter which bait you choose, he recommends rigging the softbait Texposed-style, with the hook point tucked back into the skin of the lure to avoid snags. He runs the hook through the lure, then tucks the point back in a bit, which allows for a good hook-set, yet the lure comes through cover well.
VanDam favors a long rod for shaky-head rigs because it moves a lot of line on the hook-set. Additionally, a long rod makes it easier to add action to the rig by shaking it. He uses a 7-foot 4-inch medium-power Quantum Tour KVD spinning rod coupled with a high-speed Quantum Tour KVD 40 spinning reel spooled with 8-pound-test fluorocarbon line. In ultraclear water he downsizes to 6-pound test and in stained water he uses up to 10-pound. Fluorocarbon excels for shaky-head worm rigs because it's sensitive thanks to reduced stretch, it sinks, and is abrasion-resistant.
Once a bite is detected, VanDam recommends reel-setting. Instead of a standard upward hook-set, reel-setting involves reeling fast to load the rod, then pulling into the fish once the rod is loaded. This quick action removes slack and stretch in the line, which can limit hook-set efficiency with light line and medium-power spinning tackle. He points out that traditional hook-sets — snapping the rod upward — can allow slack once the rod is lowered, giving bass, especially smallmouths, an opportunity to jump and throw the bait.
Shaky-head jigs are particularly effective around docks where bass feed along the edges as well as far beneath the structures, in the shade. Skipping a worm with a side-arm cast is the most effective way to reach these dark recesses. For skipping, VanDam favors light heads. Around shallow docks he uses 1/16-ounce heads, 1/8-ounce for deeper ones. He likes the slow fall of light jigs, as bass often suspend below these structures and the worm remains in the strike zone longer.
After the bait falls to the bottom, he deadsticks it with no tension and shakes his rod to impart lifelike action. He then crawls it back and casts again. He feels that it's important to maintain bottom contact and to shake the worm. "They often lurk under the dock and must be teased into biting," he says. "Once you commit to dock-fishing, work them slowly and thoroughly." Since the target zone for a dock is relatively small, he works that 4- to 6- foot area, then retrieves quickly and targets another high-percentage location near or under the dock.
Since docks often teem with bluegills, he's partial to green pumpkin worms with a bit of chartreuse, which mimics sunfish tails. Crayfish colored lures are another good choice for dock-fishing, especially in lakes where crayfish are common. In murky water, he recommends redbug or morning dawn, which is purple with a blue iridescent laminate that mimics baitfish.
"A shaky-head presentation produces a lot more action than a Texas rig," VanDam says. "But you can't pitch them into holes or punch through thick vegetation. Fish a shaky-head in clean spots along the edges of grasslines where you often find sand and gravel bottoms. These types of spots are especially prevalent in northern lakes."
If the target is a clump or visible edge, he uses the same approach and presentation he uses for docks. He fishes the patch of vegetation or outside edge slowly and methodically, dragging and shaking the lure. This approach works well around brushpiles and rocky outcrops, too.
Around expansive weedbeds, VanDam speeds his approach, seeking to find patterns in depth or bass location within the vegetation. He uses a heavier head to drag the rig a bit faster while maintaining bottom contact. And he works discrete sections of a large area of vegetation, then skips similar-looking zones if he doesn't score.
He makes long casts parallel to the edge and works the lure back to the boat, shaking and dragging it along bottom. If he doesn't get a bite, he skips the rest of that edge and moves along. He continues this process of shaking and dragging along a section, then skipping further down the breakline until he finds fish.
This approach is all about efficiency, as VanDam believes bass move several feet to hit a shaky-head, particularly when they're in a group. This tactic only works in clear water where the fish can see and move to strike. This approach ups the odds of contacting groups of bass and boosting the catch rate.
VanDam upsizes his jighead when fishing for big offshore bass during summer when they occupy ledges, roadbeds, rockpiles, and other reservoir structure.
"Where a lot of people fish football jigs, Carolina rigs, or 10-inch Texas-rigged worms along ledges at waters like Kentucky Lake, I prefer to rig big worms shaky-head style," he says. He fishes a 10-inch Strike King Thumper Worm on a Tour Grade Football or Round Head Jig with a 7-foot 4-inch medium-heavy power Quantum Tour KVD rod paired with a Quantum Tour KVD high-speed casting reel spooled with 14- to 17-pound fluorocarbon.
"It's a power-finesse tactic," he says. "It tempts tentative bass to bite, but has the power to boat lunkers when they school offshore in summer and fall. Don't forget to shake it rather than drag it."
In VanDam's repertoire, he uses a shaky-head rig both as a vertical tool and a horizontal one, by varying jighead weight, tackle, and casting distance. He also relies heavily on the side-, down-, and 360-images of the underwater world provided by his Humminbird units when targets aren't visible.
It's a simple system that catches bass in a variety of situations when other setups come up short. Give it a try wherever you fish. –
Brian Ruzzo, Carlisle, Ohio, is a freelance writer and contributor to In-Fisherman publications on a variety of subjects.