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Bill May: Worm fishing for trout, and more | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

Fishing the Patapsco River at the border of Howard and Baltimore counties, I often encountered the smiling face of Roland Avery, as effective a trout fisherman as I’ve ever met. Over the years I used and adapted his simple method.

The Basic Rig

Roland used an ultra light rod and matching reel spooled with 2-pound test monofilament. His only lure was a pink, Berkley Powerbait Trout Worm, about 2 inches long, with the center part strung along the shaft of a small, barbless hook, leaving sections of worm above and below the shaft free to move in the water. A split shot about a foot above the worm completed the rig.

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His technique was simply to make a short, quartering downstream cast then drift and bounce the rig along bottom.

I immediately saw the advantages of Roland’s rig over spinners when using spinning tackle. It is terrifically effective; the single, barbless hook is less damaging to fish; and it’s a lot cheaper than a spinner when lost to a snag. You can also fish this rig with a fly rod.

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Roland Avery is seen here fishing the Patapsco River.
Roland Avery is seen here fishing the Patapsco River. (Bill May Photo)

Variations to the Basic Rig

But this rig has a couple of limitations. It’s limited in covering water, since the farther you cast the greater the chance of snagging the split shot and losing the rig. There are several solutions, using heavier line like 4- to 6-pound mono on spinning tackle. You can use a drop shot rig, using a couple of small, non-lead split shot for a bottom weight. Or you can tie a loop above the hook and attach a short, lighter dropper line with split shot.

Better yet, clip on a tapered, clear plastic float above the basic rig. This allows longer casts upstream or down to drift the worm just above the bottom. Use an indicator with fly tackle, but don’t expect casts to be pretty. You can quickly switch from the bobber/indicator rig back to the basic rig to meet conditions.

Another limitation is that the Berkley Trout Worm is scented. Therefore it is considered a bait in Maryland and cannot be used on waters restricted to fly and artificial lure fishing only. There are several alternatives.

The San Juan Fly

Developed on the San Juan River more than 60 years ago, this simple, effective fly consists of a 2-inch section of micro chenille with the center tied along the shaft of the hook and the ends free moving and singed to give natural tapers and prevent fraying.

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I took this Patapsco rainbow on a Wacky rigged worm.
I took this Patapsco rainbow on a Wacky rigged worm. (Bill May Photo)

The Squirmy Wormy Fly

Recently developed, non-scented soft plastic worms are not considered baits. Squirmy Wormy material is extremely soft and usually attached to the hook as above or added to the hook at the base of a beadhead or micro jighead using gentle wraps of soft threading. Usually these flies are tied less than 1½ inches.

Both flies can also be fished on spinning tackle as described above.

Wacky Rigging

This idea occurred to me a couple of years ago, and the results are dramatic. Use a short shank hook and attach any of the above materials at a right angle to the hook shank by tying them in with X-shaped wraps. Great action is an attraction.

Beyond Trout

Despite their names like “Trout Worm” and origins like “San Juan Worm,” I suspect these lures can be fished in other waters and for other species. The Wacky rigged worms could do well in the Potomac River for smallmouth bass and those big sunfish as well as take channel catfish, carp, crappie and walleyes. Cast upstream and drift to straight downstream over bottom weeds and rocks.

Expert angler Billy Zeller, takes big, cruising carp in Loch Raven fishing flies on drop shot rigs. The scented Berkley Trout Worms could do well on these drop shot rigs especially with Wacky rigging.

The Wacky rigs can work in quieter water, even ponds. Fish them below a float, letting them drift with the winds over bottoms or grass beds. Bass, pickerel and all kinds of panfish could be attracted. Where bluegills are present, shorten worm material to about an inch.

In Chesapeake Bay, millions of red bristle worms (aka Mayworms) hatch in May setting off feeding frenzies of stripers, perch and other species. Anglers target fish by fly fishing unweighted red San Juan Worms, but the other types can work, too. For surface and near-surface action with conventional tackle use a float with any of the worm patterns.

A selection of rigged worms.
A selection of rigged worms. (Bill May Photo)

Colors

The San Juan Worm is traditionally red and many trout fishermen use pink or red for any worm, but plenty of other colors are available in all of the worm materials, including green, natural earthworm shades and even chartreuse.

Artificial worms can be a good way to start kids fishing in many waters without the expense and “ick” factor of earthworms or bloodworms.

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