I've been hooking softbaits through the middle of the body for almost 40 years, since I was introduced to the "Helderberg Rig" (named for the BASS Federation club from upstate New York who apparently first popularized this technique) or "twink worm." Bassmaster Magazine revealed its power as "Rayle's Rig" after New York angler Brian Rayle used it to finish high in the 1980 Florida Invitational on the St. Johns River.
My first experience came at Cayuga Lake, New York, when a tournament partner skewered a Mann's 6-inch Jelly Worm through the middle and skipped it beneath docks. I was amazed at how many he caught and it wasn't an hour before I was emulating his trick.
I recall East Texas bassers as being the first to use the term "wacky," as they found it deadly when cast into pockets of hydrilla that was becoming a key feature of fisheries there in the early 1990s. Over the years, wacky rigging has experienced fits of popularity, but continues to be overlooked and underused today.
The earliest wacky rigs relied on the slow fall and undulating action of a straight-tail worm weighted only by a hook to tempt bites from reticent bass. This method works so well, many top anglers use this simple method exclusively. But in the last decade or so, I've found how unique worm presentations can be performed with a jighead anchoring a wacky rig. The head provides a pivot point around which a supple worm can be wiggled by shaking the rod tip. Watch its rolling action in a pool or tank to get an idea of the lifelike appeal possible. This is the appeal of the Flick Shake and other jighead setups.
Another key to its allure is that when a soft stickbait is impaled on a jighead, it wobbles wildly as it falls. Most soft sticks quiver on the fall, but a jig enhances this action. Z-Man's ElaZtech baits are excellent for weighted rigs, as the material is highly buoyant, so the ends of the worm remain upright when it sits on bottom. And the materials' durability means you can catch dozens of bass on one before it's pulled free.
Some wacky baits are built with the two ends wider or equipped with enlarged appendages, notably the Lunker City Spanky, Reaction Innovations Ball Breaker, Berkley Havoc Money Maker, and Bass Assassin K.O. Wacky. When these baits fall, they produce substantial vibration that you feel through the rod. Such extra action can garner extra bites anytime. But they seem to excel when the water is less than clear, as the fall rate is reduced and vibration maximized. Case Plastics' Wacky Jack, in contrast, has tapered ends to produce subtle shaking action that's deadly in clear water.
Choice of weight depends on bass position in the water column and feeding attitude. A lightly weighted wacky worm is deadly when bass school in the upper layers of the water column, occasionally busting baitfish on top. Cast it where the school has gone down. A light-color lure slowly falling is hard to pass up.
Several weighting systems help present a wacky worm and reduce the tearing that happens often when heavily salted lures are hooked through the middle. Lake Fork Trophy Tackle offers Hyper Whack'n Weights, a lead collar (1/16- or 3/16-ounce) with holes for a hook, which comes with the rig.
Since the hook passes through the collar, the bait's less likely to tear. That's the idea behind Strictly Bass' Wacky Keeper, which uses a short section of clear tubing with a pair of holes to accommodate a hook. The tubing takes the brunt of casting, hook-sets, and fighting fish. They're sold with a Gamakatsu Wacky Hook.
Eco Pro Tungsten offers the Pro Wacky Weight, a disc-shaped tungsten sinker with a hole in the center for a wire insert that runs through the worm's body and provides a loop to hold the hook. The pressure of the body of the lure on the hook keeps it secured, but occasionally weights are thrown on the jump. To save your tungsten, try Bait Buttons, small silicon discs that slip over a hook point and prevent ejection. They come in a neat dispenser.
This past season, pros made wide use of another weighting system to catch bass from river ledges on impoundments of the Tennessee River and elsewhere. These breaks hold a lot of bass but also attract heavy angling pressure. They discovered the appealing action of a neko or nail rig. It's essentially an off-balance wacky worm, with a weight on one end to make it stand up on bottom.
Spots scoured with crankbaits, swimbaits, and jigs surrendered many big bass to this subtle presentation. They used a large finesse worm, such as Zoom's Magnum Finesse Worm, inserting a specially designed weight or nail in the head end. Over 20 years ago, Lunker City designed lead Wacky Weights for use with Slug-Gos and they work great. And Damiki released Neko Weights that embed in the end of a worm. I've found this rig deadly for offshore rockpiles or other hard-bottom structure in natural lakes. Bass conditioned to other lures can be caught with this rig, fished slowly on bottom.
A wacky worm also makes a fine drop-shot option. Brandon Palaniuk, a Bassmaster Elite pro from Idaho, is a drop-shot ace and often combines a drop-shot and wacky rig, both in his home western waters and across the country on tour. "I fish a wacky drop-shot rig when bass are holding close to the bottom," he says, "as this setup anchors the rig and allows bass time to come over to investigate. Smallmouths, in particular, can be finicky on deep structure, and the vibration and action of a wacky rig lure them in to bite. But largemouths love that setup, too. Berkley's Havoc Money Maker falls with a balanced vibration that does not twist the line.
"When bass hold higher up, I use Eco Pro Tungsten's Wacky Weight instead of a drop-shot, as its slow fall gets them to eat. I also like this rig for skipping beneath boat docks. Its flat surface scoots way back there." He's found that rig excellent for bass suspended in standing timber as well.
Palaniuk, who teamed with Berkley lure designers to create the Money Maker, feels that the vibration from a wacky bait can be important. "A bait like the Money Maker vibrates as it falls, as its two enlarged ends catch the water. This can be key in darker water. You may need to increase the weight of your drop-shot sinker on a wacky rig, as it falls slower than a standard rig.
"In some situations you need to get down fast, such as when you visually spot fish 12 to 15 feet beneath the boat on clear lakes, or when sonar marks one under you on deeper spots. This is where a drop-shot excels."
Like many experts, he matches a braid mainline with a fluoro leader of 6- or 8-pound test, joined with an Improved Albright knot. His leader is about 10 feet long, since he likes to get a couple of braid wraps on the reel when big bass come boatside, for insurance against knot failure. He finishes the rig with a VMC Wacky Hook, or a Weedless Wacky around thick cover. "But I've found I can lure bass out of cover with a drop-shot rig," he says. "I drop it outside a brushpile or weed clump and they come out to bite, which is nice with this light tackle.
"I fish a wacky rig from 6 inches down past 60 feet. It's highly efficient and effective for getting bites anytime the bite is tough."
Waste Not Wacky Rigging
When bass show a strong color preference, you hate to run out of the hot one. Moreover, anglers today are making a concerted effort to keep soft plastics out of our waterways. Considering how often bass fling wacky baits off a hook or jig, it pays to secure them as best you can. An early solution was pulling a rubber O-ring (available from Case Plastics in several colors) over the middle of the worm and securing the hook beneath it. This method helps, but size of the ring must be just-so or the lure can be pulled out as the ring and worm stretch slightly. Mississippi River ace Kyle Schauf offers a cool modification, crossing a pair of O-rings around the middle of the worm and pinning the hook under their intersection. It gives a much surer hold.
When heated with a lighter, heat-shrink tubing forms a tough skin over a bait, and the hook can be pulled through it to hold securely. Electrical tape also works. Strictly Bass Lures offers the Wacky Keeper, which secures baits in a short section of clear plastic tubing. And Lake Fork Trophy Bass Lures offers the Hyper Whack'n Weight, a lead ring that accommodates a hook.
High floating worms such as Z-Man's Finesse WormZ can support a light-wire hook, forming a delicate surface presentation that can be deadly on hot, flat-calm days when bass often suspend, but remain finicky. Tweaking the line causes the worm's ends to pinch together, then straighten, like an inchworm that's been blown offshore.
Where smallmouth bass roam rocky shoals, floating a wacky worm can be amazingly effective. The system starts with a fixed float such as Rainbow Plastics' Adjust-A-Bubble. About 4 or 5 feet below it, tie on a wacky hook, weighted with split shot or a light jighead. Impale a thin worm, like the Berkley Gulp! Wacky Crawler, Jackall Flick Shake Worm, or other straight-tail worm, and wing it out there to bob along in a light chop. Pulling the float forward raises the worm and then it slowly falls.
Soon enough the float submerges and you set the hook on a big brown battler. Long spinning rods and light line are ideal for this technique as you often can drift the rig 30 or 40 yards across a reef, tempting any fish lurking among the boulders.
Wacky rigs work their magic in all sorts of situations, for all species of bass. Match your setup to the bottom type, depth, and fish position, and let that crazy little worm do the rest.