Weightless Wonder

If you’ve got the patience of Job, you can catch a tournament-winning stringer by using a technique that has propelled two young bass pros to prominence.

The lure plopped lightly into the water next to some flooded brush, slowly falling toward the bottom.

The 5-inch piece of soft plastic didn’t fall vertically. Instead, it remained horizontal, fading from sight at an agonizingly slow rate.Greg Hackney didn’t seem to be paying any attention to the lure.

The Gonzales fisherman had made the cast, feeding out a foot or so of extra line, and now stood hand on hip looking around at the scenery.

It was an incredible scene, considering Hackney is one of this year’s most-accomplished professional bass anglers, having won the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year title and missed the Angler of the Year honors by just 3 ounces.

But there he stood, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his bait was in the water. His rod tip was pointed at the water, and twists of fluorocarbon even lay on the water’s surface, normally evidence of sloppy fishing technique.

Hackney wasn’t quite as out of touch as it appeared, however.

Quick glances back to his line gave him all the information he needed: The loops still were there, so he was free to consider other things.

And then the loops slowly began to pull tight, disappearing one by one.

“There we go,” Hackney said as he patiently waited and slowly reeled.

When the line had tightened, the 30-year-old angler set the hook, and a bass launched from the water in a struggle to free itself.

Seconds later, Hackney had the bait back in the water, again apparently lost in thought.

Some would think that the angler was just winding down after four months of hard-nosed competitive fishing, and to a certain degree, that would be correct.

He was enjoying a no-pressure day on Louisiana’s Old River.

However, the Tiki-Stick he was using actually is directly responsible for his four top-10 finishes during the seven Bassmaster events between January and May.

“It’s probably the biggest thing that’s come out in a while,” Hackney said. “It will catch some fish.”

The lure is, simply put, deceptive.

Tiki-Sticks, along with other Senko-like dead-stick plastics, aren’t flashy. They don’t have curly tails, and there are no wild legs to grab a fish’s attention.

They basically look like 5-inch plastic cigars.

In other words, it’s not a bait designed to catch fishermen.

That’s OK, because it does catch fish.

“It’s like a power finesse worm,” Hackney said.

That means that the chunk of plastic has plenty of action, despite its plain-Jane appearance.

The key, however, is to know how to fish it.

While it is an extremely versatile bait, producing bites when Texas- or Carolina-rigged, the most effective way to fish it is to dead-stick it.

In other words, just toss it out and let it sink; the lure is heavily salted and balanced to sink flat instead of nose-down.

Left alone, the bait is a dead-on imitation of a worm, caterpillar or grub that has fallen from a tree.

“It’s got a lot of action,” Hackney explained. “It’s like a big old grub wallowing through the water. It’s so natural.”

The lure actually pulsates gently, seductively wiggling as if struggling to stay alive.

That, said Hackney and fellow bass pro Brent Chapman, is why the lure is so great.

“Everything we’ve got out there is pretty gaudy,” Chapman said. “I think the fish just kind of get accustomed to everything that has all those wild arms and legs.

“A Senko is the closest thing you can get to a live nightcrawler in the water.”

That’s particularly important when fishing heavily pressured waters, said the Kansas pro, who used Yamamoto Senkos in his run to a Top-10 Angler of the Year finish.

“It’s real subtle, but I think it’s enough to trigger that strike when (bass) have had a lot of fishing pressure,” Chapman said.

Hackney proved this in March during the Santee Cooper Bassmaster Tour, when he had to move from his favored jig to make the top-12 cut and clinch his Rookie of the Year title.

“I was catching some big fish on the deeper cypress trees, but there was just so much pressure in there that those fish moved off the trees,” he said.

So he adjusted, picking up a Tiki-Stick and moving slightly shallower to catch chunky males that were guarding spawning beds.

He finished ninth, earning $10,000 for the tournament, $10,000 for Rookie of the Year and another $30,000 for finishing second in the Angler of the Year race.

The same qualities that make Senko-like baits great back-up lures also make them perfect for anglers in the back of the boat.

“It’s a great co-angler bait,” Hackney said. “It’ll catch fish the guy in the front of the boat misses.”

Chapman backed this up by telling of his father’s day on the water with 2001 Bassmaster Classic Champion Kevin VanDam.

“Everybody knows how Kevin VanDam fishes very fast,” Chapman said. “My dad was catching some nice fish behind him with the Senko, and VanDam ended up digging around in his boat trying to find something to match what my dad was throwing.”

When fish are aggressive, no one can beat Kevin VanDam, but sometimes fish aren’t actively feeding, and that’s when the slow fall of dead-stick baits comes into play.

“It stays in that strike zone so much longer,” Hackney said. “That worm or lizard or jig is falling so fast, but that Tiki-Stick is floating.”

And, just as co-anglers will find it productive from the back of the boat, Hackney said the bait provides just the kind of fish-catching capability when fishing behind someone in a canal or isolated fishing area.

“If somebody is fishing ahead of me and catching a few fish, I want to catch those fish that he’s catching, plus those fish that he’s not catching,” he said. “These baits will allow you to do that.”

That’s possible because anglers rarely catch all of the bass while fishing a stretch of water.

“Typically, the active fish are a small percent of the fish in an area,” Chapman said.

Hackney and Chapman also agreed that these baits are perfect for catching fish that have missed topwater lures.

“I’ve never found a bait hat works as well to catch a fish that has missed a topwater bait,” Chapman said. “It looks so much like something that a fish has gone up and killed and is floating down.”

The key, whether using it as a primary bait or to follow up on a missed strike, is to leave the lure alone to do the work.

“If you move it, it doesn’t do much,” Hackney said. “You don’t want to do anything. You don’t want to over-fish it.

“The main thing is you have to have patience.”

The goal is to allow the lure to sink to the depth at which bass are holding.

That might be easy to do in shallow water, since it would only take a matter of a few seconds for the slowly falling plastic to touch bottom, but Hackney and Chapman said the lures also are great for fishing suspended bass in deeper water.

“When they get suspended around the bushes, they’ll wack that Tiki-Stick,” Hackney said.

Chapman also likes using Senkos around docks.

“Fish will suspend around docks, and it’s a great way to catch them,” he said.

Hackney added floating docks and even mats of lilies and hydrilla.

“If they see it, they’ll come 20 feet for it,” he said.

Again, however, an angler has to be patient to get the maximum effectiveness out of the lure.

“If you’re in deep water, you let it fall down there to where the fish are suspended, and then reel it back up and throw it again,” Hackney said.

Exercising such patience can be maddening, especially for tournament anglers who only have hours to catch their fish.

“It drives me nuts,” Chapman admitted.

But Hackney pointed out that the goal of tournament fishing isn’t to catch the most fish — it’s all about catching the five biggest fish.

His dead-stick bait does the job.

“You can’t weight but five fish,” Hackney said. “A lot of people think you have to catch a lot of fish to do good, but that ain’t true.”

The way these anglers fish the lure is basically the same, with both wanting the lure to fall as freely and naturally as possible.

However, they differ on the mechanics.

Hackney, as already illustrated, tosses out his Tiki-Stick, points his rod at the water and immediately feeds out extra line.

“You definitely want to give it a lot of slack,” he said. “I don’t want there to be any drag on the lure.

“You want a good sway in your line.”

That’s because it helps maintain the correct action, but there’s also another reason.

“If you don’t (fish with a lot of slack), they’ll feel that resistance,” Hackney said.

That way, when a fish nabs the lure all it feels is what seems to be a natural worm or caterpillar.

Chapman agrees that slack is important, but he has a slightly different technique.

“Whenever I finish the cast, I immediately move my rod to the 12 o’clock position,” Chapman said.

That allows him to maintain fairly close contact with his Senko without ruining the action.

“That way, I can feed it slack by lowering the rod tip,” Chapman explained.

Whichever style is used, when fish pick up the lure, there is plenty of time to make a good hook set.

“They hold on to it,” Hackney said. “I sneak up on everything that bites it; I just reel until I pull the slack out of the line, and then I set the hook.”

Don’t expect to feel the bite, however.

“Very rarely do you feel a strike,” Chapman said.

Hackney confirmed this.

“It’s a big line-watching deal,” he said. “It’s not one of those baits that they’re just going to hammer. They know it’s not going to get away from them.

“Sometimes the line just gets fast: It’ll just be falling, and then just start moving off.”

Hackney’s technique means watching the curls in the line for signs that a fish is swimming away with the lure, while Chapman’s style is more in line with fishing a jig.

“It’s one of those deals where you just see the line jump, or the line tightens up,” Chapman said.

And because fish hold on so long, there’s little fear the fish will quickly spit the lure.

“Normally when one bites it, you don’t have to hurry up,” Hackney said.

Of course, that means fish can easily swallow the lure before a hook set.

“They will eat it,” Hackney said. “You don’t want to wait too long because they’ll end up with it in their throat.”

Chapman recommended keeping a pair of heavy wire cutters handy to cut hooks that become embedded in a fish’s throat.

“You can cut the hook, and work it out that way,” he said.

Barring that, he advised just cutting the line and leaving the hook.

“That hook will rust out in no time,” Chapman said.

What you don’t want to do is yank on the hook once it’s in the fleshy part of the fish’s throat.

“If you jerk on it trying to get it out of the soft area of the throat, that fish is going to die almost every time,” he said.

If dead-sticking these lures is so effective, one might expect Hackney, Chapman and most of the other pros to have nothing but these lures in their boats.

Obviously, that’s not the case.

One of the first considerations is water clarity.

“Generally, you’re going to fish a Senko in clear water,” Chapman said.

Hackney agreed, but added that the water doesn’t have to be gin clear to be acceptable.

“It’s got to be just clear enough for them to see the bait,” he said.

Because clear water is preferable, both anglers prefer to use fluorocarbon line.

“Fluorocarbon has the same light-carrying characteristics as water,” Hackney explained. “It disappears in the water.”

The specialty line also aids in getting the bait down without altering the action.

“Fluorocarbon sinks, so it helps the bait to sink a little faster,” Chapman said. “Monofilament floats.”

And both said the lack of stretch, when compared to mono, is important.

“You get a better hook set,” Chapman said.

The two young pros said that some touring bass anglers prefer braided line, but added it just doesn’t work for them.

“You’re usually fishing a Senko in clear water,” Chapman said. “The fish can see that braid.”

That’s not to say there aren’t times when braid might be preferable.

“If I were fishing down in Venice in those canes, I’m going to fish it on braid,” Chapman said.

Of course, water clarity along the river generally isn’t clear enough to make braid very visible, anyway.

But while Chapman has mainly used the lure in clear-water situations, he’s learning that Senkos will catch fish even in dingy water.

“It’s better in clear water, but I’m finding it catches fish in muddy water, too,” he said. “I’ve caught bass in water with 3 inches of visibility with a Senko.”

Another consideration is whether or not such a slow presentation is necessary.

“There’s times when (bass) want something fast,” Chapman explained.

Hackney agreed.

“When fishing’s pretty good, I don’t fish it,” he said. “If I can fish a fast bait, I will.”

It’s all a matter of making the best use of their time.

“It’s more efficient to fish faster when the fish are aggressive,” Chapman said.

But if fish turn off, it’s time to slow down.

That happened to Chapman during the 2003 Classic in New Orleans, when fish he was catching on crankbaits just refused to bite.

Chapman brought only 5 pounds, 13 ounces to the scales on the first day.

The second day, he improved his catch by switching to a Senko.

“I knew those fish were there,” he said. “I started flipping that Senko around the grass, and did fairly well.”

He missed the top-25 cut by only 3 ounces.

Chapman’s Classic experience proved that just because fish stop hitting a lure doesn’t mean they have left an area.

“When I know there are fish there, and they just won’t bite faster-moving baits, I go back with a Tiki-Stick,” Hackney said.

And when the lure requires so little actual skill to fish, it allows more time to analyze where fish will be holding.

“I’ll throw it and let it sink down, and then reel it up and throw it again,” Hackney said. “If I don’t get a bite, I’ll move to the next (target).

“There’s no reason to be working it around. A fish is going to hit it or run.”

Chapman said that’s what makes it such a great bait — it will catch fish when nothing else will.

“The neat thing about the bait is that it’s a great bait for somebody who doesn’t know a lot about fishing,” he said.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.