Move over power fishing!
There’s a whole lot of shakin' going on!
SHAKING UP BASS
In spite of tackle razzle-dazzle, pro anglers are going “old school” putting limits in the boat on highly pressured fisheries.
BASSARAMA promoter Ronnie Bache credits pro angler Fred “Taco” Bland for innovating grubhead shaking worm bass fishing. Bland got the idea 20 years ago. After sharing a boat with Fish Fishburne who won shaking a small jig head with a 4-inch worm directly below the boat, Bland tuned the technique. Light line presentations under Logan Martin docks with light wire, exposed Crappie jig hooks made bass difficult to land. Tinkering with molds, he incorporated a stronger, longer hook. Able to Texas rig, his presentations were snag-proof and stronger.
Shakey heads aren’t your father’s fishing technique. Aaron Martens and Kevin VanDam are winning on this presentation! Dale Hollow One-Stop Tackle storeowner Stephen Headrick credits tournament wins and media attention for reviving and innovating shakey head fishing. ”Fishermen come looking for the heads and now they’re asking for specialized worms.”
B.A.S.S. Elite Series angler, Stratos/Yamaha pro Frank Scalish says the secret’s been out a while. Many anglers are reluctant to use this simple technique, Scalish describes as a finesse technique with many triggering qualities. Comparing to vertical dropshot presentations, Scalish leaves baits in the strike zone for extended periods. A precise method of fishing, he locates cover: docks, brush, rocks, humps and ditches. “Guys who use it get very familiar with how it works and are cashing checks on it. Others are just trying it.” Bass fishing in his 4th decade, Triton/Mercury pro Guy Eaker says shakey heads highlight his tank seminars. “It’ll catch them when you can't catch them on a Texas rig….It’s one of my best confidence baits.” Eaker says, throw it long enough you’ll catch fish.
Outdoors writer Darl Black observed pros tweaking this technique for 20 years. Rooted in Alabama’s deep clear lakes with suspended bass, Black says shakey heads varied according to region: Westerner Don Iovino doodling, Midwest jig and worm walleye fishing, back East Charlie Brewer’s Slider Heads were being used. According to Black, Crème worms threaded Texas style on round ball heads launched early shakey head fishing. “Everybody’s been power fishing so long, you wear those fish out on bigger baits. You have to drop down to a finesse presentation…it’s going to pay off, the more pressured the fisheries are.” Why so long to find it’s way into tackle boxes? Up to now not much has been written and before dropshots gained popularity, power fishermen wouldn’t touch this method with a shakey stick!
For Nitro/Mercury pro Shelly Perry, patience produces paychecks. The West Virginian rattles off top 10 finishes recounting her shakey head experiences. “That’s probably the most versatile, best fish catching technique I've learned. It may not always catch big ones, but it always catches fish.” Perry says tournament anglers are learning. “It’s a limit finder and good for rounding out a limit. Be patient...it’s not something you’re going to master overnight. Get the feel of what you’re doing, eventually it becomes second nature.” Perry always has a shakey head tied on, especially in heavily pressured areas or under tough conditions. “When they slow down and they don’t want to eat anything, they can’t resist it.”
“I got introduced to it when I was qualifying to fish the tour in the ‘99 season. I drew Taco Bland and took him to my spot. I caught one fish with a Carolina rig. He got five (with a Shakey Head) and got my attention,” says Pops Marine Triton/Mercury Pro Mike Hicks. Since, Hicks used shakey heads taking 7th in last year’s Potomac Everstart and 11th in a BASSMASTER Open. “It is so subtle and different. Up here it’s amazing how they react to it…they just don’t see it often.” This bait falls fast, stays put, and can be fished in current, an excellent Potomac choice especially deeper than 6-8 feet. “Texas rigs are hard to keep in structure and feel, but lead head ball jigs cut through water and stay, allowing you to work water more effectively.”
Triton/Mercury guide Wayne Olsen’s been using a shakey head on Lake Anna for 10 years. “Finesse fishing”, as Olsen calls it, is his staple along side or under docks. “Clients take this skill to their home water and triple the number of fish they catch…they’re elated with what they learned.” Finicky Lake Anna fish hit these rigs when they won’t hit anything else. Olsen fishes docks in warmer weather and goes deeper in cooler months.
Tour anglers and guides use shakey heads, but it’s perfect for back of the boat fishermen. FLW co-anglers Ranger/Mercury angler Derek Moyer and Ranger/Yamaha Tysons angler Pam Wood learned from boater partners. Still learning, they’re aware it might be what they have to use on tournament day. In 2004, Moyer employed shakey heads at the Lake Logan Martin Championship, finishing 8th. Wood says if the boat’s moving slow enough, use this technique especially fishing behind great FLW anglers. “As a co-angler it’s important to learn because it’s the easiest way to get a limit, and getting a limit is the name of the game.”
A simple rig, shakey heads achieve success anywhere, any time of the year. Bland’s “old man” rig reduces the number of casts he makes. A cast can last up to 20 minutes! “I don’t use Texas rig anymore except in heavy grass.” Fishing bulkheads and vertical cover, like walls, dams, rip rap rock, Bland works fast for the first 4-5 feet then hops it and brings back straight under the boat. ”I can out fish the dropshot by lifting up and shaking.” Shake hard two or three times, falling on semi-slack line. Also great for bed fishing, “They can’t stand that thing sitting down on their eggs.”
Rigged Texas style, Scalish says heads bury in the bottom kicking up debris, contact cover, and allow buoyant Yum Houdini worms to stand up, attracting attention. “It’s exciting and part of the food chain. In a tree it looks like a shad eating off the tree bark.” Similar to drop shotting, keeping baits in the strike zone, but easier to work through cover. Scalish positions his boat over deep brush piles shaking down one branch at a time staying in contact. ”Remember where you get bit. Your pattern will be generated on that precise location…top, bottom, or sides.” Shaking down points, Scalish uses a cast and drag technique locating obstructions. He casts to shallow brush, shaking it to get bites. “You might have to change the angle of your cast. Sometimes as the worm settles toward the bottom, it casts a shadow that precedes the bait to the structure…triggering bites by alerting fish something is coming.” Potomac grass edges are great spots. If he doesn’t have 3 feet of visibility, he won’t throw it. If fish eat it while bringing it in, Scalish ties on moving baits.
Careful not to over-work baits, Perry squeezes the rod handle, transmitting vibration to baits. “This is the action you want, squeeze, let go, with a steady, slow rhythm.” Her rod tip lets her know if she’s overworking it. Slowly moving baits to new locations, without allowing too much slack in her line, she feels for bites more than seeing them. Her rod’s in the 2 o’clock position for leverage to set the hook and to see the rod tip for bites. Perry works it back shaking the rod. A little shake, the worm stands up, waving back and forth. She covers water without casting much farther than 25 feet, targeting current breaks: bridge pilings, wing dams, trees, stumps. “The way the bait sits on the jig head and stands up off the bottom, the action of the bait entices fish to come and get it.”
A little tip movement is all you need for shaking, according to Scalish. Perry shakes on nearly tight line, Scalish a bit more slack. The key…shake in one place bringing fish to the bait. Olsen finds skipping under docks and shaking more effective than other techniques because he can keep his bait there as long as he wants. The bite ranges from a hard thump, to weight or movement. Bites also occur on the fall. Olsen points out, “I pick the shady side of docks. Don’t ever fish a dock without fishing a ladder…especially with big old wooden steps on it. Never seen a ladder on a dock I didn’t like.”
Hicks believes Potomac bass see a lot of moving baits. The shakey head has a different action and stays in the strike zone. “Once I find structure or something on the bottom, I just shake it. It gives the fish a chance to find it.” Often, he’ll use the shakey head
after pitching a jig and get bites. “I don’t believe there are situations, except really muddy water, where it doesn’t work.”
For tackle, it’s spinning gear. Hicks has the beefiest presentation, a 7-foot Titanium All Star rod with 15-pound Big Game line spooled on a Shimano Stradic 4000. Spooling 8-10 pound test moss green Stren Magna Flex on a 300 Cardinal reel, Eaker likes the 7-foot Fenwick Techna rod. Scalish spools 10 lb test Silver Thread fluorocarbon line and drops to 8-pound test if it’s windy or he’s going deep. A medium or medium heavy 7’ rod, while sacrificing casting accuracy, provides better hooksets. He feels spinning gear provides shaking control. Perry agrees, using a 6 ‘6” medium action Pro Qualifier spinning outfit with 10 pound XPS fluorocarbon line on her Pro Qualifier reel. Perry’s rod has backbone, the line less stretch, offering sensitivity and solid hook-sets. Skipping under Lake Anna docks, Olsen uses a shorter 6-foot medium Eagle Claw Aristocrat rod and an Eagle Claw Colorado reel with 8-10 pound Eagle Claw Lazer Line, Smooth. Rod builder Joey Couvillion with 2iG Ultra Strike rods (BASSMEDICS.com) says his medium action 6’6” spinning rod is perfectly designed for shakey head fishing. “When you contact cover it has just enough backbone so it doesn’t slingshot it over the cover…it’s not too light to stay hung up in it.” His rod loads in the first third with backbone to set the hook.
Perry and Scalish caution against hard sets to avoid breaking line. “Reel and sweep” hooksets are best when using fluorocarbon. Perry reels, loads the rod and pulls straight back. Scalish maintains tight pressure while reeling, sweeping the rod. Hicks positions his rod in front and uses a snap set. Olsen’s dock fishing technique involves “coaxing” bass out. “I don’t really set the hook, I let him pull. You get them in the top of the lip.” says Eaker.
“Shaking plastics” are 4-6 inch buoyant straight tail finesse worms. Scalish says 4 and 6 inch Yum Houdini worms have fatter tails and heads. Longer worms might get bigger fish, but he uses them to rise above emergent grass. “I let the fish tell me if I need to go smaller.” Color in clear water is important…otherwise watermelon, green pumpkin or red bud, sometimes dipping heads or tails in chartreuse dye. Darker baits for deeper situations. Olsen “worms” Zoom finesse 5-inch worms, also in greens, on open hooks to skip under docks where hang-ups are scarce. In Lake Anna’s stained upper rivers, he uses green pumpkin. Eaker rigs a “hump” in 5-inch Gulp Finesse watermelon or junebug worms. “They hold on better…like eating a candy bar”, says Eaker. Hicks uses larger profile baits: creature baits, grubs, Lil Hustler tubes. In stained water, he uses straight 6-inch black trick worms. For tough bites, Perry uses small creature or other small profile baits. Bland says heavily salted baits don’t stand up well. Shakey head fishing has revived hand-poured baits. Do-it-yourself supplier, LURECRAFT (www.lurecraft.com) has seen a spike in mold sales. Fishermen who never thought about making baits are hand-pouring shakey worms. Owner Kim Straley has seen sales increase in straight tail and spade tail worms for shakey head and drop shotting.
Improved premium head designs keep the Patent Office busy. Bland’s back porch shakey head business has grown into millions sold yearly. Small baits, light line require quality hooks, many heads made with larger and longer Mustad Ultra Points. Scalish feels 90-degree eyes are best for sensitivity and shaking. “Old fashioned” ball head jigs come in 1/8 and ¼ ounce. Bland, Scalish, Perry, Hicks, Eaker and Olsen use the lightest fishable. For deeper (more than 10 feet) and windier applications, heavier sizes are used. For skipping and shallow presentations, lighter sizes. Brown and black heads are common. Opting for green pumpkin, Scalish concedes color isn’t that significant. Hicks uses two heads. For deep structure, shorter shank, finer wire for easier penetration through the worm. Fishing shallow, heavy wire hooks won’t flex during hookset.
Shakey heads put limits in boats. Scalish says “Big ones eat it too! You’ll catch the fish you’re around. Once tour guys realized that, they started using it more.” Not only that, but Eaker says once hooked, he doesn’t lose many. “All I want to do is get it around the fish. I’ll start off with it to get a limit then maybe a bigger worm or deeper water to upgrade.” Hicks says shakey head fishing isn’t flashy. “So many baits are made to catch fishermen. This bait is a no frills thing that is very effective, doesn’t cost $17 dollars, and it works!”
Jig heads, straight tail worms, spinning gear…sound simple? It is! An industry of jig heads, worms and tackle has been launched nearly 20 years after Bland began to catch fish and cash in on this technique. Today’s young pros didn’t wait 20 years to start winning, fishing shakey heads. Isn’t it time you started shaking up your way of fishing?
Steve Chaconas is a bass fishing guide on the Potomac. For updated Potomac River reports, go to: www.nationalbass.com. Contact him at info@NationalBass.com.
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