On the fifth day of May, residents of Mexico and many parts of the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a festival commemorating the 1862 battle that forced the French Army to leave Mexico.
Bernie Schultz is always in a celebratory mood in May. Although he doesn't dress up in a costume and dance in the street, the well-known Florida pro eagerly anticipates what he calls "Senko de Mayo."
To Schultz it means enjoying a full month of frenzied fishing action using one of the country's hottest soft plastic baits.
"This is usually an outstanding month to fish a Senko pretty much across the country, depending on what kind of winter you have," said the six time Classic qualifier.
"Basically, May is a period where you can encounter pre- and postspawn fish, as well as spawning fish. And that's where a Senko really shines on the fish that are staging up, the fish that have left the nest and the fish that are on the nest. It'll catch 'em all."
Introduced by Gary Yamamoto's Custom Baits, the popular Senko features a tapered head, a thick midsection and a tapered tail. Heavily laden with salt, the Senko casts easily and sinks quickly. But it's the unique manner in which it descends that apparently makes it so irresistible to bass.
"I guess what makes it unique is that it's featureless," Schultz said. "It's a fat-bodied, straight-tailed worm, and it has the most unusual sink of anything in that class. There's nothing like it. They've tried to duplicate it, but there's something in the chemistry in the way he (Yamamoto) builds that thing.
"I don't know what it is, but it wiggles as it sinks. If you rig it wacky style, both ends will wiggle as the weight of the lure pulls it to the bottom. If you rig it without a weight, Texas style, it still wiggles but it has more tail action. The other thing the lure does is back up. If you pull it through the water column and then give it slack line, it will back up. There's not many worms that will do that."
To fully exploit the 5-inch Senko during the month of May, Schultz will rig it five different ways.
"I don't know of another worm that can be fished in so many different fashions. A worm that's conducive to wacky worming isn't going to have the same effect as a flipping bait. That's the nice thing about a Senko. It has the bulk and the width so that it matches large profile sinkers for pitching and flipping. With normal wacky-style worms, you wouldn't flip them with a big weight. But with this one you can."
Below are five ways for fishermen to fully celebrate "Senko" de Mayo this month.
Schultz routinely rigs a Senko Texas style, without a weight and with the hook point barely tucked into the outer portion of the plastic often referred to as "Tex-posed."
He uses a 3/0 or 4/0 Gamakatsu wide gap hook to accommodate the bulky body of the lure. Although it's most often fished with baitcasting gear, spinning tackle turns the Senko into a super skipping bait.
"It can be rigged on either end," he added. "That's something I learned recently from (fellow Florida pro) Doug Gilley. It actually has more action if you put the hook in the tail end. There's plenty of beef there to do that. You don't have that opportunity with a lot of other plastics. If you're using it as a 'jerk' worm, that's when you want to do that. If you're just casting and letting it slowly sink and fishing it on the fall, I prefer to rig it at the fat-body end. It's a great skipping tool for docks, overhanging trees and undercut banks. The key thing is to Tex-pose it because of the thickness of the body and the density of the plastic. I think that's important."
This setup involves impaling the same type of hook into the middle portion of the Senko and leaving the hook point exposed. Under Schultz' system, the 'wackified' Senko has considerably more applications than a traditional wacky worm.
"It is really good when you want slow-fall presentations, like around platform docks or Styrofoam (floating) docks," he said. "It'll sink slower than it would if you Texas rigged it.
"And it doesn't need a real clean bottom like you might think. They throw it over grass in Texas like crazy. Some guys use a weedless worm hook. Some don't. The benefit you get from the wacky rig is you have action at both ends of the bait rather than just one end. It's also good around isolated cover and for casting to key targets anything from a clump of lily pads to a single stump."
For this rigging technique, Schultz uses an Extra Edge preassembled kit that includes a ½-ounce weight. A ¾- or 1-ounce sinker is not necessary with a Senko, he said.
"The fact that it has no action makes it so appealing on the end of a Carolina rig," he explained.
"Less is best. That's the best way I can say it. The Senko has very minimal action compared to most Carolina rigged soft plastics. Most have lots of appendages or extremities like lizards, (Zoom) Brush Hogs, and curly-tail worms. The Senko is more effective because it's subtle on a Carolina rig."
When selecting a soft plastic creature for flipping or pitching presentations into cover, most anglers would never think about using a Senko. But that was the combination Schultz used at Lake Okeechobee in January en route to a third place finish in the Bassmaster Tour event.
"The reason I like it so much for flipping is it doesn't stick to cover," he noted. "If I'm flipping flat reeds or bulrushes in Florida, a lot of times you have a problem with soft plastics (wanting) to grab the cover. Dock pilings are no exception. If you're fishing a soft plastic bait that has a flat side to it and it hits that piling, it's going to stick. And it goes through hyacinths very well."
When rigging a Senko for heavy cover, Schultz chooses the lightest bullet weight possible and a 3/0 or 4/0 wide gap hook. He likes the fact that the body of the bait closely matches his pegged Extra Edge sinker to create a streamlined presentation.
"The other cool thing about the Senko is there's really no seams or anything to be concerned about," Schultz added.
"If you don't rig some soft plastics just right, they'll twist and spiral. That's not desirable, especially (when) flipping, because you end up with twisted line and the bait doesn't look natural."
Bernie Schultz remembers thinking how odd it was to see tournament partner Zell Rowland pitching a jig teamed with a straight-tailed worm as a trailer. His opinion changed when the veteran Texas pro "spanked" him that day.
"When the Senko came out, I found that because of its diameter, it's actually a better trailer than what Zell had available at the time. It helps the jig fall straight. It's got a stand-up appeal to it. When the jig is on the bottom, that trailer stands up. I don't know why, but fish like that."
Rod When throwing a Senko, Bernie Schultz uses the following Shimano V-Rod models: a 6-foot-8 baitcasting model (medium/heavy) for general applications; a 7-foot baitcasting model (medium/heavy) for Carolina rigs and for flipping/pitching; and a 6-foot-8 spinning rod for skipping presentations and light line situations.
Reels A low profile Shimano Calais for lighter lines and a Calcutta for flipping/pitching presentations and Carolina rigs. For a spinning reel, he opts for a Stella 3000.
Lines Schultz most often uses 8- to 10-pound-test Rapala Finesse Line. For flipping and pitching, he switches to Rapala Tough Line, 17- to 25-pound-test strengths.
Colors Junebug and green/pumpkin for most situations, according to Schultz; pearl or various smoke/glitter variations for schooling bass and the times when they're feeding on shad; black/blue, black/red and several laminated patterns.
Water clarity "It's one of the best clear water baits I know of," concluded Schultz, "but it works equally well in stained waters. But when you start getting into muddy water, that's questionable. You'd probably be better off with something that has more appendages to it, something with action in the tail or legs."