Gerald Almy

Gerald Almy

Today’s bass anglers have so many superb lures available that it’s sometimes difficult to decide which bait to tie on the end of the line. Topwaters, grubs, crankbaits, buzzbaits, swim baits, jigs, spinnerbaits, blade lures, tailspinners. The list is a long one. And then for each category, there are usually several different brands available as well as multiple sizes and colors and running depths.

It’s enough to make an angler’s head spin. Of course, over time we all tend to settle on a few that we tied on the line several times and had good results with. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. In fact, it’s a very good way to go about sorting through the myriad of lures or “baits” available to the modern bass angler.

But just be sure you don’t overlook some of the more traditional offerings out there. Many of them will still catch plenty of bass as well as other gamefish such as northern pike, muskies, and walleyes.

One such lure that will be a strong producer as we head into the heart of summer is the plastic worm. Choose models ranging from 3-10 inches. Select either two-hook pre-rigged offerings or rig your own Texas or Carolina-style. But don’t overlook this incredible lure. It’s a perfect choice for popular lakes such as Anna, Frederick, Brittle, Burke, Smith Mountain, and Gaston. It’s great for local farm ponds. And it is also productive for our local Shenandoah River smallmouths, though it’s not typically a first choice for most river anglers.

The story of the invention of the plastic worm is an interesting one. A patent had been issued for a rubber artificial worm in 1877. That indicated that someone was onto the track of imitating a nightcrawler nearly a century and a half ago. But unfortunately, that lure never gained much traction because it was stiff and not very lifelike.

A few other anglers tried to duplicate the worm with an artificial offering, but no one succeeded until around the middle of the 20th century. That invention took place in the shop of Nick Crème, of Akron, Ohio, in the year 1949. Crème wanted a lure that was soft and slithery, unlike the wood and metal products most anglers were tossing. Something that would appeal to wary, hard-pressured bass.

He realized that natural live baits often scored better than fakes. Nightcrawlers had caught plenty of bass for him over the years. He decided in a stroke of genius to melt vinyl and pour it into a mold to create the first artificial plastic worm. He used a real worm for a model and added color and oils for scent appeal.

The result of that wizardry was the Wiggle Worm. He marked the first 6-inch version in 1951. Later, the lure name was changed to the Scoundrel.

The new lure caught fish exceptionally well and before long was a standard component of every bass angler’s tackle box. Other companies soon began offering different versions of the plastic worm. But one of the most important refinements came with Tom Mann’s Jelly Worm, first offered in 1967. It had a softer, slithery feel and was translucent, allowing light to penetrate and make it more realistic looking.

It’s said that plastic worms have won more bass tournaments than any other lure. They are also a standby many amateur anglers turn to for summer and fall fishing outings.

The variety of styles, colors and sizes of worms available is incredible. Panfish-focused worms may measure just 2-3 inches, while a pro looking for lunker bass may tie on a 9, 10, or even 11-inch model. There are worms with curly tails, fat worms, slender worms, Wacky Worms, flavor-fortified worms, and salt-infused worms.

Texas and Carolina-rigging are most popular, but the pre-rigged worms with multiple hooks will also perform well. Those are best where snags are not too common. They are good bets for the Shenandoah River in stretches where weeds are not prevalent.

If you are fishing near heavy brush and blowdowns, use a Texas-rigged worm with the hook embedded in the worm. This helps prevent snags. Carolina-style is best for open areas and clear water conditions.

Retrieving is simple. Cast out and slowly reel in so the worm inches across the bottom and over any structure you encounter. Also try the lift-and-drop presentation. Don’t’ expect jarring strikes. The fish may just feel like a weight on the line. Set the hooks hard and you’ll soon realize why the plastic worm is still going strong today, 68 years after Nick Crème offered his first version in Akron, Ohio.

Bass simply can’t resist them when conditions for feeding are right.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.