Worm Walls by Josiah Darr
There’s no doubt, plastic worms are big fish hunters.
It only takes about 30 seconds scrolling through Facebook or Instagram to see dozens of pictures of giant steelhead with bright worms hanging out of their mouths.
The fact is, steelhead are territorial. Especially unpressured steelhead. So, when some unrealistic, undulating space invader comes wiggling and gyrating through their bubble like a stripper struggling to make rent, the fish get pissed. They don’t like being pushed around.
In fact, they won’t allow it and they use their powerful jaws and sharp teeth to rip the invader to shreds.
But you’re not going to catch that big, angry fish because instead of fishing through the slot, you’re tying your leader.
See, you were fishing a big bright worm like you were supposed to, but the cast before you thought you had a bite and set the hook. Well it wasn’t a bite and you reeled in only to find that your leader tore most of the way through your worm. Had you cast again, it would have ripped the rest of the way off. Sound familiar?
There’s no doubt worms are deadly for steelhead when fished correctly. But there’s also no doubt, they’re a huge pain and you spend way too much time babysitting your worm and retying leaders—your efficiency going down the drain. If you’re anything like me, you skip the worm and go back to a yarn ball or bead.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your worm would stay in place cast after cast so you weren’t retying constantly or wondering if you were fishing. It’s that reason alone I can’t justify the hours and hours of getting worms prepared. Especially since I’m often guiding and handing them to customers who don’t have a lot of casting practice.
They are a little more prone to helping rip the worms off the leader.
What if you could fish a worm confidently all day? What if you could whip cast after cast into the river right next to the boat because you forgot to flip the bail and the worm was still threaded exactly like it was supposed to be? What if every time you thought you might have a bite you could take a full swing like Bryce Harper sitting on a 3-0 fastball and when you came up empty, your worm was perfectly in place?
Would you fish them more? I know I would and have! I have no doubt in their effectiveness; it’s their longevity I’ve questioned. At least it used to be. Not anymore.
Now with a little too much time on my hands with all the high water this winter, some thievery from the bass fishermen, a few burnt fingers and a couple melted worms, I can fish a worm with confidence knowing it will be fishing properly even after being thrashed.
I give you, Worm Walls.
One evening while listening to it pour last winter I sat there cursing the rain and tying leaders. I must have been really bored. Like mind numbing bored because I decided to bounce an idea I’d been messing with off my friend Rusty.
The conversation covered a wide variety of topics and we got around to why I called in the first place.
“Have you ever tried to put a tougher wall on a worm so it doesn’t tear out?” I asked.
“Yea, but if they’re tougher they won’t move as well,” he replied.
“But what if you cut like a McDonalds straw into a quarter inch piece and slid it over the worm. Then when you threaded it, you poked the needle through the side of the worm and the straw? I’ve been doing that and it’s been working really well. Not perfect, but the worm lasts a lot longer.
“The straw is hard so it doesn’t rip. The edge will cut the worm occasionally, but they live longer and can still wiggle. What do you think?”
“Shrink wrap,” he said. That was it. That was all I needed. I grabbed my keys and headed for the hardware store.
After messing with a variety of shrink wraps and just about every brand of worm known to man over the next few evenings, I was ready for water testing. After spending a couple days on the water actually testing our new worm walls invention, I’m one-thousand percent confident that using shrink tube to harden the wall of the worm is an absolute game-changer, and I’ll likely never fish another worm without it.
The set up is stupidly simple, whether you like to fish the worm with the head up or head down. To thread the worm on the line, you’ll have to poke the threader through the worm and then back out. Unfortunately the leader tends to cut through the worm from the force of the current pushing against the worm. I had always thought it was unavoidable, but if you place a small piece of shrink tube where the threader pokes through the worm, it will dramatically toughen the hole the line comes through and the worm will last for what seems like an eternity.
Personally I like to slightly heat up the shrink tube when I put it where I want it so the tubing snugs up to the worm and doesn’t slide around. Plus, I feel like it keeps the worm from tearing a little better. Be careful not to over shrink the tube so it pinches the worms and cuts them. I have a pile of dead soldiers that were the casualty of testing.
Also be careful with the flame near your worm and your leader. The shrink tube will shrink before the worm melts, but if you’re not careful or try to heat the tubing too quickly, it’s easy to start a worm-goo fueled fire on your kitchen table. Trust me.
After fishing the toughened up worms for a few days behind my customers to see what would happen, I nailed quite a few beautiful steelhead. There’s definitely something to the idea about some fish wanting a worm that will ignore a bead.
Every time I hook a fish directly behind my customers, it proves it to me again. Some fish are flat out not into a subtle and natural offering, but a worm that rivals an underwater fireworks show will get crushed.
The first two fish told me what I needed to know. How did I know the incredibleness of the shrink-wrapped worm after just two fish? Because the first two fish I caught on a shrink-wrapped worm were only about 4 casts apart and came on the exact same WFO Nightmare worm! And not only were they on the same worm, but on the exact same leader! There was no retying to replacing the worm—no nothing. I simply unhooked the fish after the first battle, slid the worm down the leader back into place and cast again.
If that wasn’t enough, the second fish didn’t destroy the worm either. The worm was still functioning perfectly after both battles. Being smashed on by two wild winter steelhead didn’t even phase it. That was all the proof I needed.
If you’ve been frustrated with your soft worms tearing off your leader in the past, maybe give tougher worm walls a shot. Bass guys have been doing it for years. But like many of our other little tricks, it’s taken a while to cross over from one style of fishing to another.
Now that it has, you may as well give it a shot and get into the electricity and excitement that drift fishing and bobber-dogging worms has to offer.
- written by Josiah Darr