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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

• 7.5" Original Culprit Worm

Anglers cannot talk about soft plastics without mentioning the plastic worm. Wait a minute, though. The word worm no longer conjures up the same image it once did. Over the years, the basic design has gone from a simple nightcrawler impersonator to one with elaborate tails and appendages, meant to mimic worms, baitfish, and other prey. While many designs deviate from the accepted norm, some of the most productive soft plastic worms out there stem from one branch of the plastic worm family tree. One such bait is the curl-tail worm. There are anatomic variations among individual curl-tail worms, but that tail is what makes this kind of bait so special. It may not be considered a revolutionary bait and its popularity may be on the way out, but the curl-tail worm still catches fish.

Despite all the variations within this family, the basic structure is comprised of an all too familiar slender body worm and a tail that makes a concentric loop. When one envisions a curl-tail worm, what comes to mind looks much like the the Original Culprit Worm this post is about. This particular iteration of the curl-tail is a few decades old and it's not going away any time soon. Although Culprit worms come in different lengths, the 7.5" version is widely accepted as the best all around curl-tail worm for most anglers. Why? It's an ideal meal between a teensy weeny worm and those monsters beyond 10 inches in length. The current trend in bass fishing is to go big, so while they are all throwing 10" and 15" monster worms, do not forget that sometimes big isn't always better. Even though this lure is one of my least productive soft plastics, its reputation alone justifies having it in my tackle box. While it does not produce much for me, I can at least share my thoughts and point you in the right direction.

The Culprit company site is actually classicfishingproducts.com, although culprit.com will redirect you to the same place. From there, you can browse the catalog. The Original Culprit Worm used to come in packs of 20, but the latest offerings have been limited slightly, selling in 18 count packs. Color choices are so diverse that your head may be left spinning. Anglers can select from up to at least 74 color schemes, so even if you are unable to find exactly what you are looking for, you can probably find something that comes close. Popular colors include red shad, anything in a shade of purple, and of course, those colors in the so-called "natural" watermelon and pumpkin range. The bait is apparently "flavor enhanced," but I'm not sure what that means. Nothing really stands out in terms of smell or flavor aside from a plastic aroma and added salt. You can usually buy packs for less than $4. Compared to other products on the market, the Culprit worm is a pretty good deal.

Now let's talk about using the bait itself.

Rigging the worm is a simple task, although you do have options. Most of the time, I rig this worm weightless and use it like a search bait, although Texas rigging with a pegged or sliding weight is perhaps a more popular method. I prefer threading on a 4/0 EWG offset hook, but the worm can accommodate anything from 2/0 to 5/0 and still work as intended. Rigging instructions are available on the Culprit web site within the PDF catalog, but I'll briefly explain the process here. The end result is important for proper bait action and depends on the direction the tail curls.

Set the worm down on a flat surface. Notice which way the tail rests when flat. The hook will end up on that side and the hook point will go through the body of the worm and out the side opposite the curved tail as illustrated below. The hook should also line up with the seam along the sides of the worm, a residual artifact from the molding process. (For what it's worth, I haven't noticed a huge difference in the bait's effectiveness with the hook rigged in the opposite direction.)

ProBass.net also has the same rigging illustration.

In addition to rigging the worm as shown above, your fishing pattern may require adding some weight to the rig. Too much weight can hinder the rippling motion of the tail, so I usually go with a bullet sinker weighing less than 1/4oz. A sliding sinker allows the worm to move at its own pace, taking advantage of its ability to float. However, I find that sliding weights make bite detection more difficult. A pegged 3/16oz weight is ideal for me, especially since I'm primarily a shallow water angler. For those of you fishing deeper water, I would assume a heavier weight is preferred, but I have little experience fishing deep water structure. Carolina rigging the worm is also a great option, although I'm not a big C-rig fan, myself. Simply adjust the leader length to suit your needs and off you go.

As far as technique is concerned, I go with two approaches and leave it at that. The first and easiest way to fish a Culprit worm is to swim it. Slow and steady appears to work better than fast or erratic in my experience, especially in clearer water. I've watched bass just stare at the bait using either speed. They were more curious about a slower moving worm, at least curious enough to investigate. Fast snaps of the worm left the bass aloof and uninterested, perhaps even intimidated. When swimming the worm, lift can be a problem, so stay mindful of where the bait is in the water column, letting the worm fall back down when it leaves the strike zone. My second, and slightly more productive approach, is to drag the worm, whether weightless, bullet-weighted, or C-rigged. Both approaches work great this time of year when bass can be in a less active post-spawn mood. Outside of specific seasonal patterns, consider using this worm for its vibration producing potential. Low light conditions often call for baits with a more pronounced presence in the water, for example. In my case, most bodies of water around here are frequently heavily stained and baits with a tad more thump are necessary. In addition to the wavy tail, the ribbed sides should create extra vibration to set off the senses of any nearby bass. Now, although I feel I have a good grasp on these two techniques, the Culprit has not been a productive lure for me. Reasons for my lackluster success are numerous. While the area waters are heavily pressured and fishing populations are not optimal, I also recognize that I should dedicate more time fishing the bait. After all, a lure does no good sitting idly by in the tackle box. Then again, if the fish aren't around, nothing I do will get a bite.

Don't let my approach to fishing curl-tail worms stop you from getting creative. There are other uses. For example, sometimes I use one as a trailer on spinnerbaits or swim jigs, adjusting the length of the worm in proportion to the bait I'm using. Along the same lines, this worm could also be fished on a skirtless jighead. I'd imagine one could thread the worm onto a Hitchhiker attached to a crankbait. I'm not sure there is a wrong way to fish the Culprit worm.

While the Culprit is made from a very sturdy-feeling soft plastic, at some point, regular use and bites from fish will take a toll. Eventually, you will have to swap out for another one. That being said, I can help make these baits last a little longer for you. Read my post on keeping plastics securely in position and add a little extra life to your baits without sacrificing action. Short hits will definitely sacrifice a tail or two. Proper rigging will often protect the lure from other sources of damage, but inevitably, the worm will slide down either contact point on the hook. Again, try to secure the plastic in place and you'll get more out of the bait.

Companies like Berkley and Zoom probably have Culprit beat in terms of popularity and availability, but I wouldn't count Culprit worms out completely. If one curl-tail worm does not work for you, there is nothing wrong with trying out another brand. Culprit even sells a few other styles of curl-tails, including the new 7" Fat Max. Each unique tail design should produce a slightly different vibration signature. When fishing different rattle-baits, for example, one noise or vibration might produce when another does not. The same is true for a worm with a wavy tail. I would not recommend giving up on the bait entirely. With the success of stickworms and creature baits, fewer anglers are throwing worms like this. At some point, you'll be the one angler out there throwing something different from everyone else and it will pay off.

Culprit/Classic Fishing Products Store: 7.5" Original Culprit Worm

1. Classic Fishing Products. "The Original Culprit Worm." Master Lure Guide. 4 August, 2009. p. 8. < http://www.classicfishingproducts.com/catalog.pdf >. 29 April, 2010.
2. "Culprit Logo." [Online Image] 2010. Lures Online -7.5 inch 29 April, 2010. < http://www.luresonline.com/75-inch.aspx >