How to Fish a Shakyhead
By: Shaye Baker
Perhaps the most productive bait for the last 20 years, the shaky head swept through bass fishing with a wave of popularity in the early 2000s and became nearly every angler's go-to bait when a bite was hard to come by. Quite a basic lure, composed of a jighead and a worm, the shaky head mastered the art of simplicity. In an industry where companies spend millions of dollars each year on research and development, sponsorships, and advertisements to come up with and promote the latest and greatest gadget, the good… old… simple shaky head still gets bit. So today, we’re going to take a look at old faithful, the gear used to throw it and a few ways to spruce the bait up a bit if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. Let’s dive in.
The Basic Shaky head
The traditional shaky head consists of a ball head jig and a finesse worm. At the technique’s core, that is the lure you’ll find. And though the technique really took off as the term ‘shakyhead’ was simultaneously coined, similar presentations had been used by anglers for decades. Jigheads like the Slider Head had been around for many years and were typically also used with a small finesse worm. And in all reality, there isn’t a ton of difference between a shaky head and the most traditional way to fish a worm, the Texas rig. But something about the shaky head set the fishing world aflame.
No doubt the effectiveness of the bait helped it gain widespread and instantaneous fame. But perhaps one of the other leading contributors to the bait blowing up, was its timely arrival along the same time as the information highway really kicked it into another gear. Where in the past, new baits gained popularity slowly by word of mouth, paper publications or their appearance on archaic television broadcasts of tournaments that would take months to produce and air, now the internet sent information about the shaky head from coast to coast and around the world in a matter of days. Thus, one of the most widely known and fished baits of all time shot to the top of the go-to board.
But enough about its origin, let’s talk about the bait itself. A shaky head is so popular in part because it is so extremely versatile. You can fish it in clean to dirty water, still water or current, deep or shallow, through cover or in open water, in wind or in calm, and fish just eat it. Its effectiveness though on those tough, high-pressure, sunny, and calm days is really what gives it such a foothold in the tackle boxes of novice anglers to tournament pros alike. Even Kevin Van Dam landed an 11-pound, 13-ounce bass on a shaky head in 2005 to help him win the Bassmaster Elite 50 event on Lake Lewisville. So add to a shaky heads resume that it also catches big ones too.
The Gear You Need to Fish a Shaky Head
Both spinning and baitcasting setups are acceptable, though you’ll find some anglers that swear by one or the other. For the finesse angler looking to fish super clear, deep water, spinning gear is best. You’re able to use a lighter line that the fish can’t see or feel it as well. And the thinner diameter line also offers less resistance and so does a good job letting the bait fall farther and smoother than a larger diameter line would. For fishing a shaky head more than 15-feet around fairly clean bottom, there’s really no reason to not use spinning gear. Start with something like a 6’ 9” medium action rod paired with a 2500 size spinning reel and a braided mainline to a fluorocarbon leader.
However, if you’re wanting to fish shallow brush in fairly stained water with a shakyhead, a nice 7’ medium-heavy baitcaster is a good selection. Pair that rod with a 7:1 gear ratio reel spooled with 12- pound test up to even 17-pound test fluorocarbon in some situations and you’re ready to attack the shallows. You have more power with this setup, so pulling big ones out of course shallow brush or out from under docks is a little less intimidating. A baitcaster would even be better offshore in some situations. For instance, if you’re fishing shallow ledges with a magnum shaky head for above-average size fish it’s likely best to go with a baitcaster. Basically, if the water clarity and presentation don’t call for light line, it’s a good idea to consider a baitcaster when throwing a shaky head.
Throw Something Different
Though the ‘traditional’ shaky head features a finesse worm, there’s rarely a soft plastic that comes along not suited for a shaky head. Craws, creature baits, lizards, and almost any other soft plastic will work. Pick a bait you have confidence in, rig it up and see what happens. Though finesse worms still work extremely well on a shakyhead, they are used quite a bit. So, picking something a little different may give you a slight edge on the competition and help develop a pattern within a pattern.
Matching the hatch is always a good idea too, at least as a starting point. So, if you know you’re fishing in an area with a good concentration of crawfish or small bream and bluegill, using something like a MISSILE Baits Baby D-Bomb makes more sense than a straight finesse worm. The profile of this bait more closely resembles the forage the bass are feeding on. The only caveat is that, on occasion, it is a good idea to throw something other than what the fish are used to feeding on. This occurs when there is an overabundance of a particular bait in an area and then you’re better off throwing something a little different to catch the fish’s attention. Think of a scoop of chocolate ice cream when all you’ve had the last month is vanilla.
The shaky head has been around for awhile now, but it is still extremely effective. As other finesse techniques like Ned rigs, Neko rigs and drop shots vie for the limelight, the old steady shaky head sits back and doesn’t waver. Each time anglers pick those other baits up, it seems to take the pressure off the shaky head bite as bass don’t see one every five minutes. And then there’s a little resurgence in the effectiveness of the shaky head. All baits cycle around like this. A recent example being the Whopper Plopper craze. Buzzbaits had become much less effective over time, but as everyone moved to a Whopper Plopper or similar bait, the buzz bait made a comeback.
So don’t sleep on the shaky head even if others do. Tie you one up on a spinning rod and another on a baitcaster and see which setup fits your style or fishery best. Don’t be scared to try different baits either and shake it up a bit. Pun intended.