All Shook Up

Having trouble putting bass in the boat? Try this new technique, and you won’t for very long.

Whether you like fishing tournaments or not, you can’t argue that they are the proving grounds for all the latest and greatest tackle in your box. Fishing tournaments are also the testing grounds for new techniques and tactics that eventually sweep their way across the nation.One new technique that is starting to dominate bass fishing is also leaving a scattered mess of shattered egos in its wake as it sweeps across the south. The Shaky Head hasn’t been too kind to all the old “Bubba” anglers who insisted they would never be caught dead with a “Fairy Wand” a “Sissy Stick” or a “Prissy Pole” in their hands.

Check out “Bubba’s” hands today, though, and you’re likely to see his meaty paws wrapped around the very pole he used to curse. The reason is that this hot new technique called a Shaky Head is best fished on a spinning reel. It’s a finesse presentation that requires light lures and even lighter line.

You want to keep catching fish on today’s hyper-pressurized bass lakes? You better check your ego at the door and pick up a spinning rod with a Shaky Head attached.

“It’s just that important,” said Texas Tournament Trail angler Sid Havard from Simsboro. “If you follow bass fishing tournaments at all, you’ve no doubt noticed that a Shaky Head has won a lot of money the past couple of years.

“Even power fishermen are using it nowadays, and I don’t think I’ve seen a boat deck yet that didn’t at least have one laid out on it at the morning take-off.”

Rookie FLW Pro James Davis from Ferriday said just as much, but he even went so far to say that he thinks the Shaky Head is such a necessary technique that some angler is going to perfect it to such an extent that he or she becomes famous for it.

“Take somebody like Denny Brauer” Davis said. “When you think of him, you think of pitching a jig. And when you think of throwing crankbaits, David Fritts comes to mind. I think in a couple of years that some pro’s name is going to become synonymous with Shaky Head fishing. I just hope it’s me.”

Davis has gotten off to a great start trying to make a name for himself with a Shaky Head. He just finished his first FLW tournament as a professional, and he wound up earning a check thanks to his now-favorite finesse technique.

During tournament practice, Davis found three spots at Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, that were holding fish. The spots were a mixture of clay bank and big rocks. The water was clear, which only strengthened Davis’ notion that he should dedicate himself to throwing a Shaky Head the entire tournament.

“I went into that tournament determined to catch a limit of fish every day,” he said. “And there’s no better way to catch a limit than with a Shaky Head. I was determined to keep all my old Louisiana swamp fishing lures like big spinnerbaits and big jigs put up. The lake set up perfectly for this finesse approach, and I stuck with it no matter what.”

Don’t think, though, that just because a Shaky Head is a finesse approach that it doesn’t have a place in Louisiana. Davis has used this approach to win a two-day tournament on the Red River in Shreveport, and he has extensively employed this little worm technique in the Mississippi River oxbow lakes like Bruin, St. John and Concordia. He also sees applications for it at places like D’Arbonne, Claiborne, the Ouachita River and just about anywhere in between.

Havard explained that a Shaky Head needs to be on the deck of your boat at all times because it’s just the thing that could put those two fish in your livewell to help you finish well in a tournament. In fact, that very thing happened to him at Cross Lake recently.

“I was fishing a tournament over there last spring, and needed two more fish to get my five,” Havard said. “I pinched down a black emerald Trick Worm to about 3 inches, and put it on a Shaky Head. I caught my limit, and did well in the tournament. In that particular case, I used it out of desperation because all the normal stuff just wasn’t working.”

A Shaky Head is far from a desperation technique, though. As Davis proved in the Lake Travis FLW tournament, it’s a great lure for throwing all day long in lakes that have a large population of smaller 2-pound fish. In other words, it might just be perfect for fishing marsh bass.

“It will work all across the state,” Davis insisted. “One of the best kinds of cover for a Shaky Head would have to be a dock. You can bump it on bottom around the pilings, pull it around the brush and skip it unbelievably far under a dock where the fish might not have ever seen a bait before.”

Davis is also partial to fishing it around rocks. That’s how he fished it when he won the tournament on the Red River. Havard likes it on the rocks, too, but he’s adamant that a football-style Shaky Head is best for fishing around the hard stuff.

“I have my best results with a ball head because that’s what I most frequently fish,” said Havard. “But when I get around some rocks, I make sure to use that football head. Whereas a ball head will fall into all the little cracks and crevices around the rocks, a football head is wide enough to keep it from falling in. This allows me to catch fish through stuff that everybody else is getting hung up in.”

Of course you can’t think about fishing Louisiana without addressing cypress trees. Davis says that a Shaky Head will work great around them as long as you keep one little modification in mind.

“Being such a small presentation,” he said, “it makes it easy for the Shaky Head to fall down in the cracks around the base of a tree. The way to get around that is to use a lighter head so that when you pick it up, it kind of swims over the cover without falling down into all the little nooks and crannies. I throw as light as 3/32-ounce heads around trees, but I most often go with a 1/8-ounce head.”

While docks, rocks and trees are probably the best places to throw a Shaky Head in Louisiana, both anglers made sure to say that those aren’t the only places. It often pays to experiment and try the little worm around the edges of grass, in creek mouths and eddies where there is river current, and on deep structure where Carolina rigs dominate.

Learning to rig a Shaky Head is almost an afterthought when discussing the technique. Simply put, a Shaky Head is just a lead-head jig on which a piece of plastic is threaded. Since this method has caught on, though, several companies are offering specialized heads.

Tru-Tungsten, for example, offers heads that work best in grass, heads that are better for rocks, and heads that are better for timber. The Spot Remover head is actually flat to help keep the plastic sticking up straight off the bottom. And there are myriad other companies that offer something just a little bit different with their heads that supposedly makes them better than all the rest.

The most popular plastic added to a Shaky Head would have to be a 4-inch finesse worm followed closely by a 7-inch Trick Worm. Don’t limit yourself to just these two offerings, though, because trying other baits can sometimes pay big dividends.

Havard has done well fishing a Zoom Speed Craw threaded on a Shaky Head, and Davis had his success at Lake Travis on a Zoom Swamp Crawler worm.

Bait choice is most often a personal preference, but Davis said letting the fish tell you what plastic to use should be the determining factor.

“Take that Swamp Crawler for instance,” he said. “I used it in that FLW tournament because I wanted something smaller than a Trick Worm because of the tough conditions, but I wanted something bigger than a finesse worm because I was looking to attract the biggest bites I could get.

“I’ve experimented with the Critter Craw and a Baby Brush Hog, but I haven’t tried them in a tournament yet. There are just so many options out there that you could drive yourself crazy trying them all.”

Davis has discovered that selecting the right head can play a part in how many bites he gets. Take a Spot Remover head for instance. Its flat bottom is perfect for when you don’t want a lot of action in the bait and you want it to stay stationary.

On the other hand, a ball head kind of rolls, flips and flops when you pull it over cover, thus making the plastic gyrate around. Therefore, he tries a ReAction Screwed Up ball head when the fish are active and a Spot Remover head when they aren’t.

While there are some nuances in choosing Shaky Heads and soft plastics, the most important decisions to make is in choosing properly balanced tackle. You need something that can handle light baits and light line. That’s why many Shaky Head anglers favor the spinning rod.

Brand name doesn’t matter as much as selecting the right rod actions, line weight and reel sizes.

Take Havard, for instance. He fishes his Shaky Heads on a 7-foot Kistler Shaky Head rod that was designed just for this technique.

Davis, on the other hand, prefers a 7-foot American Rodsmith AR Titanium spinning rod. While the names are different, notice that each is 7-foot, and while you can’t tell it from the names, each also has similar actions that make casting light baits just a little bit easier.

Line choice is just as important as picking the right rod. Again, while Havard and Davis’ personal choice differs, each has the same characteristics. Havard spools up with 10-pound-test Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon line, and Davis fills his reels with 8-pound-test Berkley Vanish Transition.

The most notable similarity in each line is that they are both fluorocarbon. Each angler says using this low-stretch line helps him feel some of the light bites that come with the territory of fishing for finicky fish. Both lines also offer high visibility above the water, which helps show those frequent mushy bites that are only detected by line watching.

Perhaps the most important thing to learn about fishing a Shaky Head is understanding when to shake it and when not to. Davis’ recent FLW tournament was like a crash course in figuring out the bite.

“It was warm when I first got there for practice,” he said. “The water temperature was 61 degrees, and you could shake that little worm as much as you could stand it, and they would still bite it. In fact, if I didn’t shake it, I didn’t get bit.

“The first day or the tournament was the coldest day of the winter for Austin, and the water dropped to 52 degrees. I couldn’t get bit shaking it. The only way they would bite it was if I just slowly drug it on the bottom.”

Davis theorized that the entire food chain was alive and vibrant on the warmer days, much like we would be running around in shorts and flip-flops having a great time on a sunny spring day. Let a cold front come through, though, and we all bundle up, stay inside and try to stay still. Anything that was shaking around on the bottom in cold water just didn’t look natural, and the bass knew not to bite it.

Havard and Davis agreed that part of learning to fish a Shaky Head is learning when not to fish it. It would be a shame to miss out on a big flipping bite because you were out there with your spinning rod all day long. You’ll probably still have your five fish, but they’ll weigh far less than the limits put together by the flippers.

You can really only learn when to pick up a Shaky Head and when to put it down by experience on the water. A good rule of thumb would be to put it down when bass are active and smashing other baits, and pick it up when fishing gets tough due to weather conditions or fishing pressure.

And don’t forget about the desperation bite. If you can’t get bit on anything else, you’d be a fool not to at least try a Shaky Head. It’s that good.

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at