Technique: Earthworm's methods for fishing the Yamamoto Ika and Senko
I am very skeptical when it comes to trying new baits. I am also very loyal to baits that have performed for me. So much so that in the 2000 season I relied on only 3 brands of soft plastic baits: Jersey Riggs, anything that I poured myself, and the 9Js Slim Baby Senko and 92 Ika by Yamamoto Custom Baits. The latter of which I had to be force fed by some friends on the Yamamoto Staff. After all, I just couldn't see dropping 5 or 6 dollars on a bag of softies…..no matter how good they are.
In the beginning, I was impressed with the Ika. I had liked the idea of a solid body tube bait, but never really liked the Venom Super Do all that much. The Ika was perfect. A great short, yet stout-looking bait that is really soft and the tentacles are cut evenly. The Senko left me with doubts as I saw it looked like a big, ugly slab of plastic. I actually had about 10 bags of them that just collected dust for most of last season….before I realized their potential.
This article will cover my favorite techniques that I employ with both of these baits. I consider myself a very adept soft plastc fisherman. I jumped on the finesse movement very early on and learned to adapt all of the West Coast "sissy bait" techniques to my own New York conditions. This has helped me increase my catch of both numbers and big bass.
I have been very partial to the Ika which is a chunky solid body tube style bait. Available in a 3" size and a larger 5" size, the Ika is what I term an in-between bait (more on that later). The Ika is unique because it is a true solid body tube that features a flaired circular pattern of tentacles, similiar to traditional hollow body tubes. It is in a class by itself as no other solid tube comes close. A strength is that it is available in a host of great colors that I have come to expect from Yamamoto. My favorites include 214-smoke/ black,blue,gold flake; 297 Green Pumpkin; and 334 Smoke with red flake.
I wiped the dust off of my Senkos in late July of 2000. I can't believe I let them sit that long. Sorry, Jerry! The Senko is a straight bait that resembles a cigar and is tapered at both ends. It has a bit of weight behind it and falls like no other lure. I noticed that the bait has a "fall away from the angler action", kind of like a Flying Lure Tube. This unique fall is deadly. The Senko is perhaps one of the most versatile baits as I have found that you can't rig it wrong. I use them in following colors: 20 Black; 31 Blue Pearl w/ silver; 157 Smoke Black with purple, and 297 good ole Green Pumpkin.
One thing you will notice about all of Gary Yamamoto's soft plastics are that they are extremely soft. This may or may not be favorable to you. I prefer very soft baits such as Snoozers handpoured soft plastics, so the Yammies are right up my alley. You will tend to go through a few baits until you get the rigging methods down. I prefer to skin hook the baits so I can get a few fish on them as opposed to hooking the bait deeply so that it tears on the hook set. The baits are salted so this may attribute to fact that they are a bit fragile. I have found that a light wire hook can drastically reduce any durability problems.
I love to fish the Senko weightless, rigged Texas style. The weight of the bait allows it to fall better than any other weightless bait. I use a 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook on 6lb. or 8lb. Silver Thread and skip the bait into bushes or near undercut banks. The bait falls away from me most of the time. It just let it sit for as long as I can stand it. You can't fish it too slow."
Since I feel that these are true finesse baits, I match them up with finesse tackle. I normally fish all of my soft plastics on a 6 foot ML IM8 rod that has a solid backbone. This gives me leverage to fight fish and helps pick up line quickly. I also use a 6-6 ML rod at times as well. These rigs are my normal boat rods, but I also specialize in shallow creek fishing for smallmouths. Here I use either a 5-6' or a 5 foot fast action light spinning rod. I rely on Silver Thread 6lb. line for almost all applications and I stick with two reels – the Pinnacle DNF25 or Diawa Spinmatic Z. Both are light. but each is perfect for light tackle to ultra-light fishing. These two models provide me with all of the features I appreciate in a spinning reel. They are not expensive at all as both are about $50.00.
Fishing The Ika:
I am a huge jig 'n pig fan, in fact I built a business around my jig 'n pig prowess. There are times when bass may not want a jig. This is when I look for an in-between bait. Here I want a lure to perform like a jig, but it must have more subtle qualities. I have found that the 3" Ika is a great substitute during these times. I rig it with either a 1/16oz. or 1/8oz. Gambler Florida rig screw-in weight and a 2/0 Sugoi hook or a 2/0 TTi X point hook. The TTi is made of a thinner steel that has a stronger temper and than most other hooks. It is less apt to tear the plastic. When the bait is put together it looks like a down sized version of the bait that has been tearing up the B.A.S.S. trail, the Mega Tube. Denny Brauer and Kevin Van Dam have made these oversized tubes famous with key wins on the trail within the last two years. I like to skip the Ika through brush and trees and docks. It is very weedless and falls slowly through the water column. I let the bait fall on a controlled slack line and give it a hop or two before winding it back to the boat. If I'm concentrating on fishing extremely shallow water or over bottom growing vegetation, I will omit the weight altogether and stick the bait with a 2/0 or 3/0 Sugoi hook. The bait will take a year to get down to the tops of the weeds and by the time it does, every bass in the area is scoping it out. I have seen bass in clear water travel a long way to get it. Once again, I prefer a skip cast as I feel it imitates a baitfish fleeing on the surface.
Split Shot Ika:
I've used variations of the split shot rig and Mojo rig for years before they were ever popular. I crimp a small piece of shot abot 18" above a size 1 Sugoi hook and rig a 3" Ika Texas style on it. I often match this with a grub guard to prevent the bait from hanging up on the bottom. This also allows the bait to penetrate weeds easier. Normally, I try to keep a slow, steady retrieve at all times. I use this method in water up to 20 feet deep as any deeper you tend to lose contact with the bait. You may try Fireline or braid to give you increased sensitivity in greater depths. Generally, a strike can be detected as a mushy sensation or a dull weight feeling. I set the hook when I feel anything different.
The Mojo rig is essentially the same concept, except that a thin cylindrical weight is utilized and pegged 18 to 24" above the hook using rubber or silicone filament. Here you eliminate any damage that crimping split shot may cause. The weight also comes through the weeds better than any other I have used. I almost always put a glass bead above the weight to give the rig some noise. The bead is also good for reflecting light.
I have been experimenting with this technique for some time now. Most guys fish this rig in deeper water. Last season I adapted it to my own shallow water fishing needs. You may want to pitch instead, but shallow dropshotting achieves a similiar goal. I'm sure that most guys won't be able to view this as a shallow water method, but if you can get past that you are in for a treat. For this method I use a tabless piece of splitshot on the end of the line and tie a size 2 Sugoi or TTi hook 18 to 24" above the weight using the palomar knot. The shot is nice because it pulls off if you snag the bottom. I normally utilize a 3" Ika for this, although Yamamoto has recently introduced a 92T Ika which is thinner and smaller, but is made with a harder plastic to make it more durable. The color schemes are top notch and it should be dynamite rigged with a size 4 or 6 Splitshot hook. Here is where I change the rig up a little. I add a small foam float similiar to what you would use with a Float 'n Fly jig. This does several things. First, it lets you know exactly where the bait is. Second, it provides you with a verticle presentation that you simply can't do any other way in shallow water. Without the float you are simply dragging the bait along at a 45 degree angle.Third, the float is a strike indicator. If you have a hard time envisioning the set up, imagine a pogo stick on the end of your line. Fish tend to smack this set up hard in shallow water and hook ups are no problem as I tend to Texpose the hook if I utilize a Texas rig Ika. With the splitshot hook I prefer to rig the bait through the head.
Fishing the Senko
Wacky Rigging Insanity:
I have always been a huge fan of the wacky rig. The Slim Baby Senko seemed like a natural for this. It has replaced my Jersey Rigg worm for this method. I rig the bait through the middle with a size 2 straight shank Gamakatsu hook. I do not use any weight. For me this is a shallow water technique that I use for sight fishing. Both Pat Xiques and Jerry Puckett have given me advice on this method from rigging to hookset. Jerry suggested to use a size 6 splitshot hook. The important thing he kept telling me was to remember not the set the hook. This would actually pull the bait out of the fishes mouth. Instead, he recommended putting steady pressure on the bass as the hook would find a way to penetrate the corner of the bass' mouth. I cast the bait to visible cover and let it settle on a taut line. I wait several seconds and give it a gentle shake or two and the reel in for another cast. I prefer to target covered boat houses or docks. Bass will literally inhale the bait and swim off with it. Watch your line and remember to apply slow steady pressure on the fish. It isn't easy especially if you watch a 5lb. bass take the bait. Initially, I was setting the hook as I would in many other methods. I noticed that I was losing about 30% of the bigger fish at boatside. The sharp hooks I was using led me to believe that the fish were never hooked. I changed from the straight shank hook to the splitshot hook and used pressure rather than a hookset. I immediately noticed a difference. Thanks, Jerry!
Deadsticking the Senko:
I love to fish the Senko weightless, rigged Texas style. The weight of the bait allows it to fall better than any other weightless bait. I use a 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook on 6lb. or 8lb. Silver Thread and skip the bait into bushes or near undercut banks. The bait falls away from me most of the time. It just let it sit for as long as I can stand it. You can't fish it too slow. I use this method around weed and grasslines as well. Every so often I will give the bait a twitch or two, but for the most part, I don't over do it with extra action. Bass pick the bait up and swim off with it. I drop the bait into pockets of weeds or pads and let it flutter down to the bottom. Deadsticking the bait allows for a subltle presentation that is not intrusive to bass. It is especially good in front situations when the fish have shut down.
The Senko is equally at home performing as a soft jerk bait. It has an erratic action that I've never seen any Slug-Go mimic. Although it is not my first choice for this method, I have been known to actually switch my deadsticking retrieve to lure a cruising bass into striking.
These two baits are very unique. As of this writing, I have only seen one copy cat Senko bait. There are tons of guys who swear on the Senko and it has helped me in tournaments. Check out the latest "secret colors" on Yamamotos Insideline web site. The Ika and Senko are very versatile and can be rigged in a vast amount of ways. I only scratched the surface by describing my favorite methods to use them. We will hear much more about these baits in the future as major tournaments will be won on them. Along with my favorite other brand of softies, Snoozers, Yamamoto baits wil be the only others that I carry next season.