Shaky Head vs. Ned Rig with Shaye Baker
There are a lot of similarities between a shakyhead and a Ned rig, but also a few key differences. Likely the two most popular finesse baits of all time (with the exception of perhaps a dropshot), it can be a little tricky to determine when you should go with a shakyhead and when you should swap over to a Ned rig instead. We’re hoping to help sort that out a bit today.
For starters, I put the two to the test in a side-by-side comparison a few years ago and was actually quite surprised by the results. I had recently heard a lot about the Ned rig, which at the time was new to the national scene. It was hard for me to believe that it was really that much more productive than a shakyhead, which up until that point was the best bite getter most of us had ever seen.
But I decided to rig up two identical spinning rod setups: same rod, same reel, same mainline and same leader. The only difference, one had a shakyhead on it and the other had a Ned rig. I would fish with one for an hour and then swap over to the other for an hour, just fishing down rocky banks. The Ned rig outperformed the shakyhead about 7 to 1. That’s a drastic jump.
One hangs less
So, I learned that day that a Ned rig definitely gets more bites, given the right conditions at least. In that scenario, I wasn’t fishing around a bunch of stumps, brush piles or other woody cover where the open hook of the Ned rig would be more likely to hang. In those situations, especially when the cover is thick like with brush piles, the weedless rigged shakyhead comes through them much cleaner.
That being said, a Ned rig, even with the exposed hook, still comes through pretty rugged cover fairly well. The trick there is to keep your line fairly tight as you drag the bait along the bottom so that the hook point stays upright. Still, if you’re going to venture into much woody cover or grass, you’ll be better off with the shakyhead or at least using a Ned rig with a weedguard.
Magnum versus miniature baits
Sometimes, the fish will respond to big baits better while other times they’re more likely to react to small lures. For instance, in the situation I described at the beginning of this piece, I was fishing for primarily small spotted bass in the 1- to 2- pound range. So it made sense that the 2- to 3- inch soft plastic bait on my Ned rig was more appealing to those bass than the slightly larger 5- inch worm I was using on my shakyhead.
But often times, with ledge fish for instance, a larger bait is what will trigger more strikes. In these situations, a magnum shakyhead in the 1/2 ounce range rigged with an 8- to 10- inch worm may actually be a better producer. These bass are often bigger, with more competition nearby. So they’re a little more aggressive and looking for a big meal. That’s when the shakyhead reigns supreme over the Ned rig.
Little baits get big bites too
That’s not to say that big ones won’t eat Ned rigs. Ned rigs are especially effective at triggering big bites from clear water smallmouth, and they’re far more productive than a shakyhead in those situations. Part of this has less to do with the sizes of the baits but instead their profiles. Many of these smallmouth are targeting gobies, and the Ned rigs do a much better job of imitating that baitfish than a shakyhead.
Big Alabama and Coosa spots are also a little more prone to fall victim to the Ned rig than a shakyhead, especially in the colder months. These spots grow a lot bigger on average compared to the smaller Kentucky strain spotted bass like I was fishing for in the story at the beginning of this piece, but they regularly still prefer smaller baits. So quite often you’ll see 3- to 4- pound spotted bass like these react better to a Ned rig than a shakyhead.
The general rule of thumb is a Ned rig will produce more numbers, and perhaps even nice sized fish, whenever the cover allows you to fish it. In thick wooded and grassy cover, a shakyhead comes through a little cleaner since it’s rigged weedless. But as soon as you can slip a Ned rig through the cover without regularly hanging up, it’s a good idea to swap over and give one a try.
The one main exception being ledge fishing, where a magnum shakyhead has the upper hand at times. But for open water or high pressure situations, and especially when targeting spotted and smallmouth bass, the Ned rig is going to be hard to beat at producing large numbers of bites as well as large fish.