Among bass-heads, few phrases turn heads faster than “secret rig” or “hot bait.” Authentic bass catching gold-nuggets are rare commodities these days, but tricks do exist, especially in the realm of jigs, softbaits and creative ways to rig them. Sometimes, the slickest stuff going simply draws on forgotten systems—a little wrinkle on a tournament-tested presentation that’s loading livewells with hawgs in select regions. Interestingly, when baptized in waters beyond their original testing-grounds, these insider rigs work near magic on these bass that have yet to see the new trickery.
Some anglers are simply incapable of casting the status quo. Dudes like these always have another trick up their sleeve, some little tweak that generally makes the right kind of difference. Like the angler who insists on tying his own flies or the guy who prefers to catch his own livebait—catching fish just feels a bit more special this way.
So it is with bass aces Ted Capra and Jeff Gustafson. Two of the more inventive fishing minds of the 21st century, these boys have seen more bass water and won more tournaments than almost anyone has a right to. Having won many recent events on his home waters in Central Minnesota, Capra offers keen insights on fine-tuning jig presentation in cover.
“When I’m on bass that are stationed in dense submerged vegetation,” says Capra, “species like coontail, pondweed and even milfoil, one of the most important elements in presentation is drop speed. I always select a jig that drops and flutters as slow as possible. Yet it still needs to penetrate through the vegetation to the bottom.” While this might seem like a bit of a contradiction, Capra has a different take.
“Very few jigs have been intelligently crafted to fish well in deep vegetation. Most bass jigs plummet too fast through the cover. Usually the bass just watch these jigs pass right on by. Other jigs are too light and designed with the wrong jig head shape for the type of cover.
“One great, unique jig is the Northland Tackle Jungle Bug. It’s this really compact design built around a precision-weighted 3/16- or 5/16-ounce pivoting jig head. These are lightweights compared to customary flippin’ jigs, but the compact football-shaped head packs a lot of punch for its size, allowing it to penetrate through dense grass. Meanwhile, the special collared silicone skirt on the Jungle Bug slows its fall, sort of like a mini parachute. It also adds a dimension of ‘crayfish-iness’ that appeals to really big bass—both largemouths and smallmouths.”
Contrary to the heavy lines most anglers use in these cover zones, Capra goes as light as possible, relying on medium spinning tackle and 6-pound test monofilament, particularly within weed pockets and along outside and inside edges. In the thickest cover, he converts to 14-pound braid. To further the Bug’s appeal, he dresses it with either a #101 Uncle Josh Pork Rind, Northland Jungle Craw Chunk or Yamamoto Double Tail.
“Pitch this little dandy into the thick stuff, feed a bit of line, and just let it flutter slowly down, all its little appendages quaking and quivering. Give it a few short rod tip shakes as it sinks, otherwise, the jig’s enticingly slow drop does the real work for you. Bass have plenty of time to watch this thing flutter down—it’s an incredible trigger— and they usually respond with rod thumping strikes.”
While Capra’s out working Jungle Bug love on some of the biggest, most inaccessible largemouths on busy Twin Cities lakes, Kenora, Ontario’s Jeff Gustafson is doing similar damage to his pet smallmouths, albeit in slightly more rustic settings.
Two-time champion of the hotly contested Kenora Bass Invitational on Rainy Lake, Ontario, “Gussy” doesn’t usually make a habit of divulging tournament secrets. So when he does dole out an inside-tip, the wise among us lend an ear. “One of the most overlooked smallmouth baits anywhere,” says Gussy, is Northland’s 4 ½-inch Slurpies Shakey Worm. This premium softbait couples a slender body profile with a subtle paddletail. It just gives off the right kind of thump to ping bass’ lateral lines like live prey.
“I seriously keep a hundred packs of these worms in my boat at all times,” he continues. “Especially the Bluegill and Watermelon Red colors. These things always get bit.” Gustafson matches his Shakey Worms with a 3/32-ounce Northland Lip-Stick Jig-Worm jig for quivering, shaking retrieves over shallow and mid-depth rock structures. “I like that these worms are really user-friendly,” he adds. “It’s all about casting them out and just shaking ‘em in place. Reel up slowly, pause in place and then continue shakin’. Smallies bite these things with arm-jarring jolts of power. You gotta love that in a bait.”
Floatin’ a Carolina
Continuing our theme of slick softbaits that are easy to fish, you’ve got to hear about one last goody. Conceived by walleye anglers who present live minnows on Roach Rigs, the “Floatin’ Carolina Rig” converts ordinary plastics to near-livebait deliciousness—at least in the eyes of big bass.
Start with a bullet sinker that can be pegged in place on the line. Northland Fishing Tackle’s unique Sling-Shot Worm Weight is ideal. The Sling-Shot sports a soft-rubberized line gripper that allows you to instantly slide different sinker sizes on and off your line without retying. For the Floatin’ Carolina Rig, a 3/8- to ½-ounce is right on. Pinch the Sling-Shot in place anywhere from 18- to 36-inches above the tag end of the line. (Heavier cover dictates shorter leaders.)
Here’s the other twist. Rather than a standard worm hook and softbait, take a floating jig head, such as a #1 Northland Gum-Drop Floater, and slide it inside a 3-inch soft tube. Northland’s Slurpies Baitfish Jiggin’ Tube is ideal, as it can be rigged weedless. Imbed the hook-point lightly inside the tube cavity, hook down, and then secure it to the leader with a strong knot.
Unlike a standard Carolina rig whose trailing softbait sinks and settles on bottom, this modified version elevates the minnow-like tube where it remains ever-visible. It’s an absolutely sweet trick for deadsticking reluctant bass, and for hovering a bait motionless over cover without snagging up. Cast it out and let it sit. Give a short rod sweep, which swims the tube with a gliding motion. Twitching the rod tip dances the bait toward bottom like a live minnow. You get the picture.
As top anglers Capra and Gussy attest, there’s more to the world of softbaits than the Texas rig. There’s always a better way—a bit of creative thinking that energizes the old classics. Call it putting lipstick on the worm if you wish, though where bass are concerned, the line between sexy and tasty is rather beside the point.