With the temperatures around the country starting to drop drastically and winter fast approaching, many anglers start to pack up their gear and wait for the spring to start fishing again as many of them feel that bass cannot be caught in the winter. Of course this is a myth and whilst a Bass’s metabolism does slow down, you won’t get 20 to 30 bites a day but maybe only 5 bites, the fact is that bass do eat in Winter. The other aspect which makes Winter fishing so exciting for me is that those 5 bites are usually from better quality fish and it is not uncommon to break your PB in the colder months. However to be successful in the colder months, does require a mindset change and together with this a change in tactics.
My preferred way of targeting bass in the colder months is by slowing down considerably and this is where the mindset change is required, and by slowing down, for me, there is no better way than by adopting finesse tactics, in particular the “Shaky head” method.
Shaky head fishing was originally started by the fisherman in Alabama USA and was developed for enticing spotted bass into striking. However this technique proved to be as productive for both largemouth and smallmouth bass alike. Shaky Head fishing was a closely guarded secret amongst the top US pros and it was only until KVD won the Elite 50 tournament on Lake Lewisville, Texas and smashed the lake record with a massive 11-pound, 13-ounce Bass, that the technique became known. It was quickly adopted by many of the other Pros and became the go to tactic for ensuring fish in the live well.
So now that we have covered a brief history on Shaky head fishing, we can discuss the type of tackle I prefer using for shaky head fishing. You would firstly require some Shaky head jig-heads in different weights and hook sizes depending on the size of baits you wish to fish. I mainly use the 1/8oz and 1/4oz for most applications. There are many different types and brands on the market, but none that compare to the Xcite X-lock jig heads from BWG. From left to right, Watermelon Red, Green Pumpkin & Black. They are available in 1/4oz and 5/8oz.
As for the rod and reel setups, I basically use two types of outfits, a spinning rig as well as a bait casting rig, which I will expand on in the article. The spinning rig I prefer for deeper water whilst the bait casting rig I use in shallower areas with structure. However it is important to bear in mind that although generally a finesse technique, it is not limited to light tackle and can be fished using conventional worming tackle. But for the purposes of this article I will concentrate on the finesse aspect of shaky head fishing.
Deep Water - The first rig I use consists of a spinning rod and reel. I use a 7 foot medium action rod, coupled with braided line, Maji Kamba being my preferred choice. The reason I prefer braid is due to it handling much better on a spinning reel and ultimately results in less tangles due to the line having no “memory” unlike Mono or Flouro which is too hard. The other benefits of using braid is that the line is ultra thin in comparison to Mono or Flouro and has an excellent strength to diameter ratio whilst being super sensitive, which allows me to feel even the slightest bite at depths. I use 12lb Maji Kamba which sounds quite heavy for a finesse presentation, but as said above, the diameter is the equivalent of about 5lb mono. Due to me using braid, I therefore prefer the softer medium action rod so that there is enough give when a big fish is on the line as braid has no stretch and using a stiffer rod can result in the hook tearing free from the fishes mouth, or your line breaking. As for the length, the 7 foot rod gives me the added distance I require when casting and leverage when striking at distance. The last thing I do is attach a Flouro carbon leader using the double uni knot to the braid and a swivel which assists even further with line twist from a spinning reel. I then tie this directly to the Jig head. The reason I prefer this setup for deeper water is that I usually target specific areas in 20 plus foot of water and the spinning reel allows the shaky head to sink better when spooling the line of the reel, especially if I am fishing directly above the structure or alternatively allows me to cast the lighter bait out much further than a bait-caster. The importance of this is that when you are fishing water which is 20m and your targeted area is 25m in front of you, you need to be able to cast out to 60m. If you don’t, the chances are that by the time your bait sinks to the bottom, it will start to pendulum towards the boat missing the strike zone completely. Lastly the slower retrieve of the spinning reel allows me to play the fish better from the depths below and assists with reducing the effect of an inflated air bladder by gradually bringing the fish to the surface.
Shallower water and grassy areas or weed lines – The second rig I have is a 7 foot MH bait casting outfit. This rig I prefer to use in shallower water around weed lines, jetty’s, brush piles etc, in water below 15 feet. This is coupled with 12lb Flouro carbon line and a high speed bait-casting reel. I prefer this setup when targeting heavier structure, giving me a better chance to land the fish once hooked. I am also able to cast more accurately, especially when targeting weed lines or pitching underneath jetty’s etc.
When it comes to rigging the baits, this is quite simple. Firstly choose the right size jig head for the depth and size of the bait you going to use. There are lots of shaky head styles out there. One of the biggest differences is the angle of the hook eye - either a 60 degree flat eye or a 90 degree vertical eye. A 90 degree angle provides the best upright presentation. I prefer the xlocks as they are designed to stand up to near 90 degress, coupled with the Xcite Baits SlimX, Xcite Maximus or Xcite Craws which are designed to float, deliver the perfect presentation for me as I believe it results in more strikes than if I were using a conventional jig head which falls to the side, cancelling the action of the bait as shown below.
For shallower water I use a 1/8oz, whereas for deeper water I prefer a 1/4oz to 1/2oz jig head. You also need to match your hook size to the bait you intend fishing, in general I use a 2/0 hook for 4 inch or smaller baits and a 3/0 or 4/0 hook for 5 inch and bigger baits. Next simply thread on your favourite bait onto the jig head by entering the hook point into the head, push it out the bottom side, and then roll it over so that the hook point enters the main body and protrudes through the top making sure the worm or bait is completely straight. You can leave the hook in the belly so that it is weed less, but better yet, push it through and skin-hook the barb on the topside of the worm so that you when you set the hook you are able to get a more positive hook set whilst still being weed less.
Another tip is to leave a little hump in the worm between the jig head and the barb. This bend provides additional action and can make the worm more attractive to wary bass and cause them to react.
So when it comes to bait selection, there are a wide variety of baits which can be used as the shaky head method is very versatile. I however prefer to keep it simple and prefer to imitate possibly what a bass would be likely to be feeding on. To simplify it further, this can be broken down into 2 categories, worms/baitfish and crab/craw imitations.
The first baits I prefer using are the baitfish type baits and straight tailed or do nothing type worms. The idea here is to imitate a baitfish feeding on the bottom or a worm trying to burrow into the sand and escape. The BWG Frisky Shads, BWG Uberworms, and Xcite Baits SlimX worms being my preferred choices, especially the Slimx worms due to the fact that the lure is a high floating type which is what you want to create the desired effect. These baits used in conjunction with the Xcite Baits X-Lock jig heads make a deadly combination and will irritate the weariest bass into striking. These baits I prefer using in grassy areas or brush piles etc, i.e. areas where baitfish are normally hiding.
The second Category of baits I prefer using are the crawfish imitations, in particular the Xcite Baits Raptor Tail Craw, Xcite Baits Raptor Tail Jnr range, again due to the fact that the baits are high floating deisnged baits which again gives me the presentation I require that will trigger the bass into striking. These baits are deadly in rocky areas near jetties, dam walls and gravel banks, i.e. anywhere where crabs are likely to be hiding.
Shaky Head fishing is usually best for fishing rocky bottoms, sandy flats or around sparse grass beds, but like I mentioned earlier, it can be fished around the edges of thicker cover and just about anywhere you like.
Once rigged, either make a long accurate cast or let it fall to your targeted area. Be ready and watch your line closely as many strikes occur in the first 10 seconds after the bait comes in contact with the bottom. If not, begin shaking the rod tip in short movements, maintaining some slack in the line while you hold the rod in a 10 o'clock position. This movement keeps the worm vertical and the tail quivering tantalisingly. Be careful not to hop the jig, rather inch it along and keep it dancing like a creature feeding along the bottom. The biggest tip is to fish it slow, too many anglers make the mistake of fishing too fast. To give you an idea, practise in your back yard by casting the bait out and then practise moving the bait ever so slowly, just millimetres at a time. Then take note of how much movement of your rod tip this requires and you will be surprised. Learn this and then apply when out on the water to increase your success rate.
Fishing shaky heads is easy, and they're one of the most productive techniques you can learn. It will often produce bites in conditions when nothing else seems to work. Learning to fish a shaky head is an excellent way to develop confidence that can be applied to fishing other styles of jigs. I hope this helps you become a better shaky head angler and please feel free to share any tips or tricks which has worked for you.
Article by Shahid Ebrahim