I get asked a lot about fishing soft baits in very shallow water and grass. We frequently fish in less than 3 feet of water, and sometimes less than that, and especially in the spring, with lots of grass. Even with weedless spoons, grass gets picked up on almost every cast, and with exposed hook lures, fishing over rocks in very shallow water results in lots of rockfish. Given fishing this shallow is pretty specialized, here are some tips for rigging soft baits weedless, and also avoid hooking shallow rocks.
Here are some standard soft jerkbaits and a variety of offset worm hooks. These hooks were developed to Texas-rig soft freshwater baits for bass fishing. I started using them in the salt about fifteen years ago and these rigs are among the first I go to in shallow water in the winter and grassy water in the spring and summer.
There are many soft jerk baits, and many sizes and shapes of offset worm hooks. These baits happen to be a Stanley Wedgetail, a Bass Assassin 5 inch shad, and a DOA CAL jerkbait. The most important part of selection is making sure the hook fits the bait. The size of the gap in the hook and the height and thickness of the body of the jerkbait determine whether a particular hook will work with a specific bait. For most 4 to 5 inch jerkbaits, you will be using a 3/0 or 4/0 sized hook, but those sizes vary by manufacturer. If you place the hook over the bait you can make an educated guess as to whether it will work or not. The first step is to stick the point of the hook through the nose of the bait, and push the hook out through the bottom of the bait. The distance on the bottom between the exit point of the hook and the nose of the bait depends on the length of the offset at the base of the hook.
Pass the hook through bait and rotate it so the hook is facing upward and offset part of the hook is inside the front of the bait.
The next maneuver requires some experience. You need to compress the soft bait forward toward the nose and push the point of the hook through the bait and out the back of the lure. Selecting the amount to compress the bait, and thus the spot at which the point of the hook enters the bottom of the bait requires some experience but you will pick it up rapidly once you try a few of these rigs. What you end up with is the hook laying along the back of the bait.
Here are some pictures of the smaller DOA bait with a smaller gap worm hook.
It’s important that the hook lie very closely along the back of the bait. This allows you to “skin-hook” the very point of the hook just under the surface of the bait, keeping the point very lightly covered. It will cause a slight bump in the top of the lure where the hook is covered. Some baits, like the DOA bait, actually have a small groove in the top of the bait that the hook can lay in to keep the point hidden.
Because I fish in very shallow water, I don’t use weights. Many hooks either come with small weights on the bottom loop of the wide-gap hook, or allow you to add them. Personally, more frequently I use the smaller gap hooks so the hook isn’t exposed below the bait. I want the bait to sink slowly and I work it simply with a few small jerks to keep it moving as it flutters toward the bottom. However, the same rig may need these weights if you fish in deeper water. My usual rig includes a 15 to 18 inch flurocarbon leader of 20 or 25 pound test, thrown on a 2500 sized reel with 10 pound Power Pro braid. If you fish with a light rod and line, you will be amazed at the distance you can throw these lures, even without any weights at all. I usually will try and set up with the wind at my back regardless of lures, just to allow longer casts which are very important in shallow water for stealth purposes. You do need to give the fish a little time to get the lure into it’s mouth, and you also need to set the hook a reasonable amount to pull the point out of the skin, but you don’t need a massive hookset like with largemouth bass.
I love this rig. It fishes very slowly and safely over rocks without getting hung up, and works through heavy grass better than any other lure I’ve seen. And my largest trout in the past few years was caught by Dr. Bob Watson fishing this rig with a Bass Assassin Die Dapper soft bait in two feet of water over a rocky bottom. That’s a pretty good recommendation. Play around with hooks and baits until you find the right combination of size and weight for your location. You’ll be amazed at how weedless and snag-free these baits fish.