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by Jim Porter

The second most-asked question about worm fishing is "When do I set the hook?" (The first, of course, concerns what a strike feels like.) Pose the query to a dozen anglers (including their explanation of 'why'), and you are likely to get a dozen different answers, ranging from now, later, and somewhere in-between. Expand the question to hook setting techniques with jigs, crank plugs and spinner baits and the number of differing responses will skyrocket.

We did the above, querying certain members of the Virginia B.A.S.S. Federation, and it made for some fascinating conversations and idea exchanges. In fact, a few of the responses indicated that occasionally the angler should NOT set the hook at all. The following are the consensus of opinions of those questioned, as applied to various types of lures and lure configurations.

Plastic Worm

If using a 'Texas rig", all the respondents indicted that when you feel the bass he has the worm and you can't set the hook fast enough. Observations of aquarium bass striking a plastic worm bear this out. Under those controlled situations, the tell-tale 'tap-tap' was NOT the actual strike. It was actually the bass tugging back at the line and weight resistance felt. It was noted, however, that a strike on the fall of the worm was discernible by a light bump or tap, combined with a sudden slackening of the line tension. Recommendation: Set the hook immediately. The point at which to set the hook on a Carolina rig was noted to be different. First, nearly all strikes appear to come between angler pulls on the lure, when it is still. The fact that the bass has taken the Carolina rigged worm is noted by either a swim-off, a gradual tightening of the line, or the lure suddenly appearing heavy or 'mushy'. Actually setting the hook is done when the pull on the lure or the resistance felt is constant. The angler holds a bit of tension on the line and feels for a constant resistance or a slight tugging. Then, the hook is set. It was advised to try and do this cycle of events quickly, in that bass usually inhale and quickly swallow the free-floating worm. Recommendation: Insure the resistance felt is constant and, then, set the hook quickly.

Jack Chancellor's 'Do-Nothing' worm rig was noted to have a peculiar hook-setting technique applicable. You DON’T. This rig, with its heavy sinker component and tiny hooks, is fished with a slow, steady retrieve along the bottom. The strike, as with any constantly moving lure, is readily noticeable. The small, extremely sharp hooks take hold as soon as the bass pulls back against the resistance of the line and retrieve. The angler must discipline herself NOT to set the hooks in the conventional manner, or she risks straightening them and losing the fish. Simply continue the retrieve, while keeping slight tension on the bass. Do not attempt to bring the fish to the boat until he is completely played out and on his side. Recommendation: Do not set the hooks.

A non-weighted, floating worm used in thick cover areas also requires discipline on the part of the angler. Strikes are usually instinctive, slashing rushes at the lure and the bass may or may not actually capture it in his mouth. Even if he does get it, he may only have the tail portion or have it with his lips. Recommendation: Do not react immediately to the strike. Reach forward with the rod to create slack in the line and wait until it comes tight again. Then, set back hard.


When flipping a jig in cover or hopping it across the bottom, the strike will invariably come on the drop. A slight 'bump', followed by a slack line will be the indicators. Recommendation: Set the hook NOW!

In the Winter, jigs are best retrieved slowly and steadily along the bottom, staying in constant contact with that bottom. The strike will usually be a gradual tightening of the line, or a swim-off to one side. Recommendation: Give to the pressure until the rod is fully extended towards the bass and, then, cross his old eyes.

Spinner Baits.

The strike on a steadily retrieved, conventional 'safety pin' spinner bait is usually a sharp 'bump', followed by a sudden slack line. If the retrieve is in deep water, or is exceptionally slow, a loss of blade vibration may be the tip-off. Recommendation: Set the hook immediately if anything 'different' is felt or noticed. The hook-set with an in-line spinner bait (Mepps, Snagless Sally) is generally the same as with the safety pin style, with one exception. If the lure is being retrieved on the surface, the strike results are a lot like those with the floating worm. Accordingly, give to the fish until the line goes tight. Recommendations: Subsurface- set the hook immediately; surface- wait until the fish draws the line tight. The buzz bait is primarily a surface lure and one of our biggest mistakes is jerking the lure away from the area of the strike. Recommendation: Give towards the strike until the line goes tight. Then, try to break your rod and turn the boat over.

Top Water.

The same rationale given for hook setting with the floating worm and buzz bait apply to top water plugs. Do not set them until you know the fish has the lure. If the fish has your lure, he will pull the line tight without your help. If he misses it and you can refrain from a premature jerk, he will usually come back to try his luck again.

Crank Plugs.

A constantly-retrieved crank plug lets you know right away of a strike. All you have to do is strike back. However, there is one variation. If your plug is in constant contact with the bottom during the retrieve, or if it is clipping stumps or other obstructions on a regular basis, it will be a bit difficult to discern a strike. This is particularly true with smaller bass. Usually, you will be able to note a sudden change in the direction of travel of the bait, or it will stop and you will feel a 'throbbing' sensation. If the angler is lucky enough, a big fish may just try and tear the rod out of her hands (oh, joy!). Recommendation: Be absolutely sure that a fish is on before setting the hooks. Often, the initial hook-set is done on a substantial length of line. Consequently, the flex of the rod and the stretch of the line may impede getting the hooks in well. Always try to set the hooks at least three times, waiting until the line is good and tight to do so. If the bass immediately heads for the surface to jump after the initial set, try to stop him, as he may throw the lure. To do this, thrust the rod tip as deep into the water as you can, reel rapidly and try to pull the bass's head over. Once you have set the hooks a couple of times, then settle back and enjoy the aerial displays.

The angler’s tackle-to-fish contact point is the hook. Recognizing when and how to set that hook can spell the difference between a 'catch' and just another 'bite'.


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