Major League Fishing pro Stephen Browning
Photo by Mike Pehanich

Stick worms are staples in bass arsenals everywhere.

“It’s one of those baits I have tied on 95 percent of the time,” says Major League Fishing pro Stephen Browning, who tallied nearly $1.4 million in earnings as a B.A.S.S. standout. “It’s a go-to bait, a bait that gets you bites.”

Many anglers overlook it as a flipping and pitching tool today, allowing creature- and beaver-style baits to take up much of that action. Browning warns: abandon it at your own risk!

A Texas-rigged stick worm is extremely versatile. It can be used to cover water with long casts or pitched to tight cover locations.

“The stick worm gives the fish a little different look,” he explains. “It doesn’t present the big profile of the jig or a big soft plastic like your beaver-style bait. It just delivers more of a finesse-style look than some of those others.”

Studies hint that the shape alone of a stick worm may have much to do with its bass appeal. That shouldn’t surprise us, notes Browning, who holds a degree in fisheries management. Bass have known that familiar shape since their earliest taste of zooplankton.

“If you think about it, a young-of-the-year bass starts feeding on little bitty worm-like microorganisms,” says Browning. “That shape is imprinted on their brains from a very young age as food. It’s good stuff that’s not going to harm them.”

Major League Fishing Pro Stephen Browning
Photo by Joel Shangle

Rigging to weather

Weather factors heavily in the mood and activity levels of a bass, Browning stresses. His worm rigging options are similarly influenced.

“I really feel weather affects how bass are going to feed on a particular day,” he says. “If we have a little rain or cold front forecasted, the fish will hit a little more actively on the pre-frontal bite than they will after the front pushes through.”

Browning fishes his stick worms with baitcasting tackle, preferring a Lew’s BB1 Pro reel spooled with 20-pound Gamma Fluorocarbon line. The reel’s line capacity serves well in pitching and flipping situations, yet it enables long casts as well.

His standard rig is a Z-Man ZinkerZ stick worm on a 4/0 Mustad Grip Pin Hook. He positions the head of the worm atop the Grip Pin’s keeper system. That enables him to take advantage of the Z-Man ElaZtech material’s durability. Rigged this way, the worm will hold its position on the hook and maintain its integrity.

He uses Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten bullet-nose weights ranging from 3/16 to 5/16 ounce. Weather dictates the weight he will use and the pace of presentation.

“On those pre-frontal days, I go to a 5/16-ounce weight to get a faster rate of fall,” he explains. “I can cover more water that way.”

Post-frontal conditions call for a slower presentation.

“Once the front passes through, I go to a 3/16-ounce weight, and I really slow that bait down,” he continues.

Details, details

Browning makes a point of NOT pegging his sinker unless necessary. A free-sliding sinker gives his worm freedom as it falls and undulates, presenting a more tantalizing target to his prey.

“The exceptions would be where I might be fishing in vegetation as in Florida, or around boat docks that have brush piles,” he qualifies. “If I feel I need to get my bait down through the brush, then I peg the sinker.”

Browning adds that stick worms have universal bass appeal. They can fool big fish and fill limits.

“Even though it’s a ‘finessy’ looking bait, big fish will eat it just as well as the little ones,” he says. “I have caught fish from one pound to 10 pounds on it.”