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Shakin' Up Bass

Posted by 
June 4, 2013
Published in News & Tips > Fishing > Bass
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Finicky fish are no match for the shaky head system.

One craze that hit the bassin' scene may be short on looks and flash, but is a big-time producer when it comes to finessing finicky fish. Dubbed the "Shaky Head," this jig-and-plastic combo garners its strength, and name, from the subtle and natural action that the bait transmits. When times are tough, shaking up some bass may be your honest-to-goodness best bet.

Shaky Head 101

A shaky head jig is a lightweight leadhead, with 1/16 to 1/4 ounce sizes being the most common. This ball-shaped jig is coupled with a light wire bass-style hook, making the use of finesse plastic baits a reality. A retainer system is often a standard feature, which allows plastic baits to be fit snug and tight, while also giving an angler the option to go completely weedless.

The eye position of the bait is generally affixed to the jig in a horizontal manner. This, coupled with the design of the head itself, gives the jig the ability to "stand up" when resting on bottom. Add to this the action of the plastic trailer, and you're left with one tantalizing morsel that is begging to be slurped up.

The plastic baits you use should incorporate a thin profile and be subtle in appearance. They will generally fall between 3 and 5 inches in length, and are almost always in the form of a worm. Baits such as these will project an unobtrusive and natural look in the watery world of the bass, and that is paramount to the ultimate success of the technique.

Since we are dealing with an ultra finesse presentation, spinning gear and light line is the only route to go. Six-and-a-half or 7-foot medium-light to medium action rods are mainstays on the shaky head front, and should be coupled with quality reels that offer smooth drags and excellent cranking power.

Monofilament line in 6- or 8-pound test is fairly standard, as is fine-diameter braid. If using braid, ensure that a fluorocarbon leader is part of the package.

Shake at the Right Time

The art of shaky head fishing relies solely on the ability to impart finesse. This is in sharp contrast to the mainstream actions most of us use as "power" fishing generally rules the roost when out for a day in the boat. Although big baits, quick speeds, and over-the-head hooksets definitely work when bass are chomping at the bait, switching gears to a subtler and overtly finesse approach will bag fish when bites are few and far between.

An example of the rigging protocol for shaky head fishing.

The shaky head presentation excels when certain criteria are met. Clear water is one such case. The clearer the water, the greater the chance of bass becoming extremely finicky or spooked. During these tough times, regular baits often won't cut it.

A shaky head and finesse worm, subtlely twitched and quivered on bottom can illicit strikes, turning these non-takers into biters. If you can see the fish clearly in the water below, or if you have frequent follows and short-strikes, then a shaky head needs to be next out of the box.

Cold fronts are another scenario when shaky's can shine. We all know what a tough fish it can become when faced with bluebird skies and passing fronts — it's almost as if the fish have packed up and moved on to another lake. But drop a finesse worm and jig through the depths, and the fish are almost certain to "reappear."

If sight fishing or searching for bedding bass is your thing (and legal), the shaky head system truly shines. Spooking fish is a thing of the past when tossing this bait to fish you have your sights on, and the natural look and action will trick these wary creatures each and every time.

Shaky heads also make a great technique when dealing with high angling pressure, especially when working "community" fishing holes. Spots such as these can get beat up pretty quick, and bass become programmed to turn up their nose at the everyday lure that routinely swims by. Give them something small and different, while giving it that subtle shake, and these wise-old fish just may let their guard down.

Some tournament co-anglers have had phenomenal success when fishing a shaky from the back of the boat. With the pro's working larger power presentations from the front, these savvy anglers in the back were cashing in with their finesse baits. (Kind of like choosing to take the mint but passing on the dessert.)

Subtleties of the Shake

The great thing about shaky head's is how easy they are to fish. Imparting a light, quivering action — either through the rod tip or via the slack line — is all that is ever really needed. You're not looking for flash or fireworks with this bait, but the most natural of appearances you can produce. Even when left alone, the finesse worm will sway and undulate with the action of the water, and this subtleness alone will often get the job done. The greatest key when tossing these baits is to not overwork them.

Cold front conditions are an excellent weather pattern to be tossing shaky head jigs and finesse worms.

Slowly dragging a shaky along bottom, especially when working larger areas, can also be an effective tactic. Although it is called a "jig," jigging it up and down isn't really recommended.

Keep your movements subtle and always along the lines of finesse, and you can't fish this system wrong.

The shaky head can be thrown to a wide variety of places, but definitely excel when tossed alongside weedlines and clumps, rip rap and humps, beaches, docks and laydowns. Depending on the severity of vegetation will play a part on whether to go weedless or not.

Smallmouth and largies love this bait, so making it a go-to lure for both species is definitely beneficial.

Top Baits

Many lure manufacturers have their own design of shaky jigheads. Nuances in head design, weed guard, hook style and weight are typical with jigs of this nature, but most will get the job done fine. Some of the more popular baits on the market are made by Strike King, Chompers, Bite-Me, Luck "E" Strike, Buckeye, Parasite and Fin-tech. My suggestion is to get a decent selection that will cover the spectrum of weight, color and rigging design.

Finesse worms come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some to look out for are the Bass Pro Shops' Drop Shot Worm and Quiver Round Tail Minnow, Berkley Gulp! Shaky Worm and Zoom Shakey Head Worm. Again, pick up a variety of colors and sizes in order to cover all bases.

See what the shaky head fuss is all about this coming season. It is one tactic guaranteed to convert finicky fish into sure biters.

Tagged under Read 3808 times Last modified on August 26, 2013
Justin Hoffman

Justin Hoffman is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer, with a fishing specialty, based in Ottawa Ontario, Canada. A graduate of the North American School of Outdoor Writing and currently a field editor with Ontario OUT OF DOORS magazine, outdoor pursuits with a journalistic approach keep him returning to the field week after week. A well-established freelance writer since 1999, Justin has publishing credits in many North American magazines and web sites. His photographic stock work also appears regularly. In addition to his writing and photography work, Justin is also a Pro Staffer for TUFF-Line and National Pro Staff. For more information visit

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