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from Hank Parker!

    If you’re a novice angler having difficulty sorting through all the soft-plastic baits and rigs being offered today, don’t be embarrassed. It’s a daunting task, even for someone like me who has been doing it professionally longer than I’d like to admit.

    So which rig and bait is best for you? Until you have a good feel for it, I suggest you stick to the basics that have always caught fish and will continue to do so. Learn these and you’ll develop your own ideas as your knowledge expands.

    Nothing in bass fishing has withstood the test of time better than the Texas-rigged worm, which is a relatively weedless rig for presenting plastics around cover. It consists of hooking a soft bait through the end of its nose, rotating the hook, then burying the point into the side of the lure to prevent the hook point from snagging on objects. Done properly, the bait should hang straight on the hook and line.

    I’ve Texas-rigged just about every plastic bait available, but the worm remains my favorite. While curly-tailed worms provide more action, the basic straight-tailed worm is tough to beat in any clear-water situation.

    A sliding bullet sinker is an integral part of the Texas rig. You should choose a weight size based upon water depth and how fast you want the bait to fall.

    When making short pitches with a worm into heavy cover, try “pegging” the sinker to the line so that it doesn’t move. Pegging the sinker with a toothpick keeps the bait with the weight as it tumbles through limbs and grass. However, when casting the worm and dragging it on bottom, allow the sinker to slide and you’ll hook up with more fish.

    This is my preferred way to fish open water, points or deep flats when I’m searching for bass. I’ll rig a 1-ounce sliding weight on my line, tie on a swivel and then add a leader from 1 to 3 feet long before I tie a hook and soft bait on the other end. The sinker bounces along the bottom while the soft bait wanders around above it.

    In addition to being able to cover areas quickly, you’ll discover that bass will hold onto a Carolina-rigged bait longer because they don’t feel the resistance of the weight as the line slides through it. The fish only feel the bait until you set the hook.

    My favorite soft bait for this is a lizard because it is buoyant and exhibits a lot of action when pulled through the water. However, the straight-tailed worm may be a better choice when the fish aren’t aggressive.

    This has become one of my favorite ways to fish because it appeals to bass regardless of their aggressiveness. It’s a great way to catch deep bass that are suspended on structure.

    The drop-shot is fashioned by tying a small hook onto small diameter line, leaving a long piece of line beneath the lure onto which a sinker is attached. With the bait “nose-hooked” above the sinker, you can present lures vertically to fish that are just off the bottom and tease them into striking. It’s generally a finesse technique that is best performed with spinning gear.

    Smaller soft baits or straight-tailed worms are best suited for drop-shotting. I prefer Berkley’s Gulp! baits when the bite is tough because of the natural odors they emit. They often entice fish into biting.

    Finally, if you want to envision how these rigs and baits look while being fished, take them to a swimming pool and try them out before heading to the lake. That’s where you’ll see how rod movements affect the lures as they are worked over the bottom and how to make them look more natural. Who knows? You might come up with you own creation that may catch bass even better than one of these.