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How Gary Yamamoto Fishes His Senko

By Russ Bassdozer

"Throughout my professional fishing career, the equipment has always been of prime importance to me. My wanting to fish with the best equipment possible, that's really why I got started in my bait and tackle-making business. I've got a lot of confidence in my product line, not just the soft baits but the rods, line, hooks, jigs, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits that I produce, that I've got the best possible equipment being fished today," says Gary Yamamoto.

Essentially, I require two things, and I design it into my equipment:

1) That fish will not let go of the bait, and therefore
2) That I will hook every bass for which I rely on the rod, hook and line.

Senko Tactics

Weightless Texas Rig - "I believe weightless is the most effective way to fish the Senko, because of its subtle horizontal fall," says Gary Yamamoto. Gary flips, pitches or casts and allows the Senko to sink essentially on a controlled slack line. His focus is to maximize the horizontal falling drop of the Senko. He watches the line for a pick-up as the Senko drops. Due to the heavy density of the Senko, the fact is it sinks unlike any similar styles of baits. It shimmies and wiggles like a finning baitfish as it falls. The key to get this action is to always let your Senko sink on a controlled semi-slack line. Too tight of a line, it will fall too stiffly. Allow just a little bit of controlled slack, and the Senko's action loosens up and comes alive! Remember, you don't need to impart any rod action. Just "do nothing" to maximize what the Senko does as it drops.

If there's no pick-up on the initial drop, Gary glides the Senko along by simply raising his rod tip toward the vertical...slowly....then lowering it. The "raise" is only like raising a flag so the bass can see it. Then on the horizontal drop they eat it. Gary uses the "glide & drop" technique all the way back to the boat or bank - all very methodically and slowly. That's the key to your weightless Senko success, says Gary.

Weighted Flipping/Pitching - I flip and pitch a weighted Senko with 20 lb. Sugoi line around shallow shoreline cover, especially into brush or timber. Texas-rigged on a 4/0 to 5/0 straight-shank hook, with a screw-in sinker between 1/4 and 5/8-ounce, I overcast the target cover and allow the weighted bait to "swim" down toward the base of the brush, then employ the same swimming-and-gliding presentation if I didn't get bit on the initial drop says Gary. However, good cover such as this can be the obvious places for everyone to try, and can receive a lot of pressure from anglers who work flooded brush or trees from the "outside" as just described. However even with a lot of angling pressure, there can be bass tucked deep under the limbs near the base of a brush or tree are often unfished. Most anglers, their baits get hung up too high in the limbs to be effective or pendulum-fall too far out away from the base of the stem, says Gary. They will take some fish off the outside of the cover this way, but bass tucked under the limbs tight near the main trunk stem, these fish often won't come out to the edges. Envision it just like you'd tuck yourself under an umbrella during a downpour. You won't poke your head out from under the umbrella cover, and neither do these bass. So the weightless Senko becomes ineffective in this situation. A weightless Senko would not get down below the limbs but hang up too high in the brush to get a bite.

So I ease the bow of the boat directly up to or over each bush, taking care not to hit the brush with the trolling motor. Then I drop the Senko over the side, work it through the center of the brush or tree until it hit bottom, shake it a little bit and they grab it.

As hard as it can be to get the bait down through the brush, it is even harder to get the bass out. That's where the 20 lb Sugoi made the difference with its abrasion resistance. Also for flipping like this, the straight shank hook (without the offset bend in it) makes a difference as it slips through dense cover better.

Lightweight Screw-in Rig - I also use a lightly-weighted Senko. A lot. On breaklines, points, steep bluff walls, main channel bends, anywhere out away from shoreline cover, especially in mid-depths of 10 to 20 feet. I like to use either a 3/16 or 1/4-ounce screw-in sinker with a 4/0 or 5/0 straight shank wide gap hook, says Gary. I usually don't pitch it too far from the boat. I want it to fall onto prime structure I've located on the electronics. The screw-in weight causes the Senko to spiral as it falls. They say this spiral represents an injured or dying baitfish. But if you look at perfectly healthy baitfish, you see they too often swim in spirals, and the light screw-in sinker lets the Senko imitate this lively baitfish action. Once it settles on the bottom, just start shaking the rod tip, which will cause the Senko to jump one to two feet above the bottom. When you stop shaking, the Senko simply glides back down in a semi-circle. They strike it. By using a 3/16 to 1/4 oz. screw-in sinker to fish Senkos down to 20 feet deep, this is how I finished 13th at the Bassmaster Megabucks on Douglas Lake (Sevierville, TN) in May, 2001, thereby qualifying for the 2001 Bassmaster Classic. Weighted Senkos work says Gary.

Offset vs. Straight Shank Hook

Most of the time when fishing Senkos weightless, I am using the 9-series (five-inch) Senko, and I prefer to use the 63-Series size 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG with an offset shank. That is, with fish of an average size. When heavyweight fish are possible, I'll go to the stouter 64-Series hook in the same 3/0 size, or I'll start stepping up in hook size and may even step up to the slightly larger 9L-Series (six-inch) Senko on big bass waters, says Gary.

Usually with a weightless rig, you use the weight of the soft bait itself to propel the cast. Because the force of the cast is borne by the soft bait, that is why I opt for an offset shank hook on weightless Senkos. The offset shank keeps the soft bait from slipping down the hook easily, says Gary. But when a sinker is used, the sinker weight propels the bait, and I prefer the straight-shank hook here, which I think provides a better hookset ratio.

Rod & Line

If I get 12 bites in a two-day tournament and I miss one bite, I will be upset. I can't let that happen. I rely on the rod and the hook here. With power baits like my 8" 10-series grubs, I use a heavy rod with a straight-shank hook and a power set. I use a lighter action rod than this and do not power-set with the Senko. It's more of a rod pressure load and set. As you may know, I am designing new rods with these two types of actions, for release later this year.

Whether weightless or weighted, I like to use a long rod for Senkos. The length is so I can slowly sweep the Senko along about five feet with the rod. Depending on depth and line angle, this five foot sweep may raise the Senko a foot, maybe more off bottom. Then I pause or lower the rod tip, letting the Senko glide. I'll pause just an instant, just long enough to let the Senko settle back down on bottom, just bounce it along a bit or twitch it, then use the long rod to lift it and glide it some more. I try to create several falls, which is to say I pick it up and let it fall several times before I reel it in. That lift-and-glide tactic is one that works for me weightless or weighted in shallow or deep water, says Gary

I usually don't go below my 16 pound test clear Sugoi fluorocarbon line most of the time with Senkos, says Gary. Due to its strength, I know that whatever I hook with this line will almost certainly be making the trip to the weigh-in basket with me.

Senko Rigging Illustrations

Weightless Texas Rig - Tie a worm hook to your line without a weight in front of it. Insert hook into bait 1/4 inch then exit and push bait all the way up the hook and re-insert hook point into the bait body. With the 9S 4" Senko, a 1/0 to 2/0 hook is about the right size to start, and a 3/0 or 4/0 to begin with the 5" Senko.

Weightless Wacky Rig - Simply tie a short shank hook to your line. For the larger 9, 9L and 9X Senkos, use the new larger sizes (1,2,3) of Splitshot hooks. Then bend the Senko in the middle so both tips touch. Then poke the hook straight through the bend in the middle.

"With the hook in the middle, both ends of the Senko seem to have increased action when you shake your rod tip. This is usually a light line technique for clear water, and it can be deadly," says Gary.

Senko Size Selection

Make no mistake about it, I love to catch big bass with big Senkos says Yamamoto enthusiastically. I usually choose the biggest Senko that I think will work and then downsize if I must. But I don't automatically pin on one of the six- or seven-inchers in every condition. I try to let the water clarity and surface conditions dictate the Senko size. Here are some of my rules of thumb for size selection, starting from largest:

1.) In off-colored water or stained water with a wind-generated chop I'll usually start at the top; a 9X-series (seven inch) 9L-series (six-inch) Senko, often with a screw-in sinker under these conditions and 20 lb test Sugoi line.

2.) Where there are deepwater docks and deep main channel points, I use the 9X-series (seven-inch) Senko weightless - and simply letting the lure fall to the bottom. Without any sinker, the 9X Senko is heavy enough to fall deep fast. What many anglers do not know is that there are larger deepwater baitfish around such locations, therefore the bulky baitfish profile of the 7X works better. In the Bassmaster Invitational on Lake of the Ozarks (Osage Beach, MO) in November, 1999, I placed 13th fishing deepwater docks and deep main channel points like this with the 7X says Yamamoto.

3.) The next step down in size is when fish are sticking close to shallow cover and the water is a little stained. Then I want to give them a slightly more visible target with the six-inch 9L-series Senko, plus I want to target the bigger, more active fish with the six-inch Senko in a tournament. However, most of the time under such conditions I think I can catch as many or more with the 5" Senko as with the 6" Senko, they are not that different says Gary.

4.) But as the water clarity improves or the wind dies, I'll start stepping down one size at a time. Often this means sticking with the five-inch 9-series Senko with 16 lb Sugoi line.

5.) In the very clearest conditions I'll go all the way down to a four-inch 9S-series Senko weightless on 6 to 8 lb Sugoi line and a spinning rod. These are the conditions I faced and how I placed fourth in the International Bass Classic on Bolsena Lake (Bolsena, Italy) in June, 2003.

So for best results try to balance your Senko size selection with the conditions as you find them, regardless of which size may have worked best last week when water clarity or wind conditions may have been different, says Gary.

Senko Color Selection

With the growing popularity of my baits in recent years, I've been losing the advantage of having my own "secret" colors, laughs Gary, adding proudly that this is okay with him. Generally, there is not much specific you can say about color except you need to uncover whatever color works according to what the fish want to hit on any given lake or day, says Gary.

I am constantly trying numerous new colors and color combinations. Yet at the same time, I have a small selection of reliable stand-bys that work well everywhere across the country, indeed worldwide. So while innovation and experimentation with color is endless and ongoing, here are some of the steadfast stand-bys that have given me and other top Team Yamamoto professionals our advantage on the national and international tournament trails, says Gary:

Color 912 (Green Pumpkin w/Black & Watermelon w/Black Laminate) - I've always relied equally well on my 297 color (green pumpkin with black flakes) and my 194J (fading watermelon with black flake). They're both top fish catchers. Among customers 297 and 194 are my two top-selling colors. Personally, I found that I'd always be experimenting, switching back and forth between the two colors, looking for it to make a difference. So I'd be using the 297 and doing well with it, yet still wanting to try the 194J to see if I couldn't entice an extra fish or two into the livewell on that. At times it didn't seem to matter at all. Other times, it appeared as if 297 would be favored over 194J or vice versa. Many times, it wasn't clear whether this favoritism was real on the part of the bass - or was it just my own confidence in 297 or 194J on any particular day? So, on one hand, I had two great confidence colors. On the other hand, if I was constantly juggling and judging which color was best, then that could potentially distract me from other more important aspects of my I came up with the idea of laminating them together into one bait. You can't always see the contrast difference between the 297 and 194J laminate. It is not so apparent unless light catches it. Rather than stark contrast, I think it is the similarity of the 297 and 194J colors that appeals to bass so much in this Senko. It's subtle and it works well.

With the 912 laminate, I now focus all my attention on the more important aspects of my presentation, and I'm not concerned whether bass prefer 297 or 194J. You see, whichever one they want, I have confidence I'm using them both at once...and scoring well! I have used this 912 color to my competitive advantage on the Bassmaster and FLW pro trails for about two years now. In fact, I used this color exclusively to win sixth place at the Bassmaster Pro Tour on Lake Guntersville, Alabama in April 2002. I simply used one rod the whole time with 16 lb. test Sugoi line and a weightless Texas-rigged 912 Senko, says Gary.

Color 231 (Plum w/Emerald Flake) - I placed ninth with color 231Senkos during the FLW Tour on Kentucky Lake (Gilbertsville, KY) in May 2003. Color 231 has worked well for me and for members of Team Yamamoto's national pro staff everywhere we've gone on the Bassmaster and FLW Tours. And not just recently reveals Gary. "For a long time 231 has been a personal confidence color of mine whenever a june bug type Senko is called for, color 231 is what I use," says Gary wisely.

Color 323 (Watermelon w/Black & Gold Flake) - Gary says this is a color he first made some years ago for Lake Mead, Nevada and he's held onto this 323 color as his own secret for a while now. Having several years of success under his belt with the 323, it is a confidence color for Gary.

"Since Mead, I have used 323 all across the country and I have also had a number of Team Yamamoto's top Bassmaster, FLW and international anglers test it for me too. 323 has consistently proven to be a strong color worldwide," says Gary, adding that, due to the small gold flakes in it, that differentiates 323 from my other watermelon patterns. The gold flakes make 323 more like a bluegill color pattern, especially in dark or deep water. In shallow water, it can appear to be a baby bass or small golden shiner, he says.

Color 214 (Smoke w/Black, Blue & Gold Flake) - I achieved seventh place at the Bass Masters Classic on Lay Lake, Birmingham, Alabama in July, 2002 pitching 214 and 912 Texas-rigged Senkos up tight to boat docks and to bass buried deep inside dense grass beds in shallow water. Like 323, the gold flakes make color 214 more of a bluegill or panfish color pattern but it can appear to be a blue-tinged shad or minnow too.

Color 021 (Black w/Blue Flake) - Whenever the fish want dark color Senkos, 021 is what I use says Gary.

Color 222 (Watermelon w/Green & Red Flake) - Color 222 helped me take third place at the Bassmaster Invitational on Sam Rayburn Reservoir (Jasper, TX) in March, 2001. Most of the time, between pre-fishing, the actual tournament and what you've been doing well with lately, that's what helps you uncover a particular color that works, says Gary. So there is nothing too specific I can say about the 222 ("Christmas Tree") color pattern except that I have a lot of luck with it all across the country as well as with 208 (Watermelon w/Black & Red Flakes) which is complementary to 222.

These are the fundamental techniques and criteria that I am using now to fish Senkos concludes Gary.

 Please enjoy and thank you from Gary Yamamoto.

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