By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Ever wish you had that answer to why fish don’t bite? Maybe the water temperatures are at one of the extremes, too hot or too cold, and largemouth just don’t want to cooperate.
Elite Series angler Brandon Palaniuk has been there. When all else fails, he’s not shy about breaking out a shaky-head worm. Here’s his strategy for this finesse technique:
Palaniuk considers extremely cold to be 42 degrees or below and warmer than 90 degrees to be prime conditions for a shaky-head. At one extreme, fish are just up shallow in the spring and beginning to get aggressive, yet not ready to eat a jig despite holding tight to over.
When facing the colder extremes, a shaky-head affords Palaniuk the opportunity to fish a small, weedless finesse bait that’s easy for those fish to eat because their metabolism is still slow and they're somewhat lethargic despite becoming more aggressive.
On the flip side, Palaniuk has found that fish get Sluggish on southern lakes, especially in Texas, noting that the uncomfortably warm waters create the reverse effect of a slow metabolism.
“Bass realize that they can either continually chase down prey and eat everything to keep up with their metabolism, but burn more energy, or they chill out in the shade, burn less energy and have to eat less,” he said. “A shaky-head is really good way to pick off some of those bigger fish out of the brush piles that maybe aren’t willing to chase down a crankbait or eat a bigger worm because they’ve seen a million of them over the past couple of months.”
In the Crosshairs
When Palaniuk is throwing a shaky-head, the majority of the time it’s target specific – he’s throwing at a bush, tree, rock pile, rip-rap or a dock.
When picking apart a brush pile, he’ll start from the outside. If it’s sunny, he’ll approach it from the shady side.
“If I can get that fish to come out and bite on the outside of the brush pile, it gives me a better opportunity to land that fish,” he said. “If I don’t get bit, I’ll continue to make those casts more to the inside of the brush pile so that if I do have to force that fish to bite, at least I’m getting that fish to bite and I can worry about getting it out after.”
Where things get tricky is he won’t venture above 10-pound test line in these scenarios. Some might liken it to bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Once Palaniuk feels a bite, he’ll take up the slack before pulling into the fish. He’ll do this fairly quickly without snapping the rod, but with enough power to drive the hook home by getting “all the way into the backbone of the rod,” he said. “Typically, if you keep a good steady pressure, those fish will work themselves out of that brush pile.”
Palaniuk keeps a tight drag while fishing a shaky-head. By using a 7-foot, medium-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Regista spinning rod, it compensates for the hookset and the 8- to 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line he fishes as a leader on the tail end of 8-pound Berkley Nanofil spooled on an Abu Garcia Revo MGX 30 spinning reel.
The majority of the time a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce head gets the job done. The deeper and windier the condition, the heavier the head he’ll use.
His primary bait is the 6.25-inch Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper.
“It has enough meat where I can fish it through heavy cover and not have to worry about it getting hung up and the hook popping through,” he said. “Yet, it’s thin enough that I can drive that hook if it’s at the end of the cast and it’s not going to get all balled up on the hook.”
In dirty water, black emerald and junebug work while in clearing waters, green-pumpkin red is key. He’ll use watermelon red when faced with gin-clear water.
When targeting deeper water and wanting more vibration, or to switch things up, the Berkley Havoc Money Maker offers a compact profile with more vibration. The ball on the top holds the bait better in place while the other end is “a touch heavier so it creates a lot of action.”
When faced with big fish that live in Texas brush piles or ledges on the Tennessee River chain that don’t want to eat a big jig, Palaniuk offers an oversized shaky-head.
“It’s easier for those fish to swallow a 10-inch Berkley Power Worm than a small, fat compact football jig,” he said.
Perhaps the fish just finished eating and wasn’t totally full. They don’t need a huge meal, but are still keyed on bigger baits.
“They’re an opportunistic feeder so they say, ‘Okay, I’ll take one more bite,’” he surmised.