Written by: Andrew Martin
As much as the bass fishing “good ol’ boys” hate to admit it, the West Coast has some deep roots in the sport. California, the infamous land of fruits and nuts, has brought the industry most of the top bass (by weight), some of the most utilized techniques and even many of the top professionals. Innovation has always been something that West Coast anglers have prided themselves on. Whether it be drop shots in deep water, swimbaits for giant bass, punchin’ mats, Dee Thomas’ flippin’ sticks or Don Iovino’s doodlin’ with brass and glass, the West has done more than its fair share of contributing.
For decades, one technique has been a mainstay for West Coast anglers, yet has failed to reach nationwide glory. That technique is the darter head jig. The darter head has been utilized by bass guys in California since at least the 1980’s. Gary Dobyns, most well known for his mastery of the jerkbait, has put thousands of fish in the boat (and thousands of dollars in his wallet) utilizing the darter head. Dobyns, along with many top anglers, have made darter heads an essential part of their finesse fishing strategy.
It is primarily a set up you want to use on your deeper, rocky lakes. It is not weedless and will get hung up in cover, in which case a shakey head or ball head jig is a better choice. However, if you’re fishing bluff walls, rocky points or rip rap banks, then a darter head will put bass in the boat. It is truly one of the simplest setups of any plastics technique on the planet. It is a plan, narrow tipped lead head, with a hook attached. You thread your plastic of choice on, with the hook exposed, and cast away.
Nothing to it.
It is extremely simple, but surprisingly effective.
Like every other piece of terminal tackle, darter heads come in a plethora of sizes. On the deep, clear, western reservoirs that gave birth to the technique, weights from 1/16 to a 1/4 ounce are most popular. They typically come in your standard unfinished lead and vary in design, depending on the brand. Many guys prefer one design over another, depending on how it glides or “darts” in the water. Nearly every major hook manufacturer has a version of the darter head, so experiment a bit and you will find one that suits your needs.
Many different soft plastic baits can be paired up with a darter head. Personally, the RoboWorm “Fat Worm” in the 6-inch variety is one that I utilize often. Try using grubs, senkos, curl tail worms, really any plastic can be utilized. Recently, I landed a nice bag of fish with the PowerTeam Lures JP Hammer Shad. A “goby” style bait that worked well with the darter head when swam back to the boat slowly. Experiment with different sizes and styles. Many times, the fall rate or subtlety of your presentation can make all the difference in the world.
Typically, you are going to want a rod with a softer tip for fishing darter heads. My setup is a Dobyns Savvy Series 6’9 medium/light rod with fast action. This allows for more action on the bait as its falling and helps keep the bass buttoned. Many times, I won’t even set the hook, but rather reel quickly to drive the exposed hook into the fish. Having the faster tip makes this possible.
Really, there is no wrong way to fish a darter head. You can cast and retrieve it, giving it short pauses with a grub or fish it on the bottom in small hops, like a Texas rig. Throwing it up on steep bluff walls and bouncing it down the ledges is one of the most effective for me, but there are guys that will even fish it vertical in conditions that are typical for a drop shot. They watch their graphs, find a school, lower it down and hold on!
Pick up a couple darter heads and play around with it at your local lake. It’s an easy technique that gives the fish something they don’t see every day. It’s a longtime, proven presentation that may end up being a top weapon in your finesse fishing arsenal.