AZ Lakes, AZ Pros: Gregg Warne – Splitshotting Any Arizona Lake
July 1, 2023
Back in the day, nearly every Saturday, all year 'round, you'd find Gregg Warne fishing a tournament somewhere in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, or California, and the conditions were not always perfect. But regardless of freezing or torrid temperatures, rain, wind, or cold front, the tournament must go on.
No matter what the conditions, Warne was a very consistent finisher. He almost always managed to get in the money. Gregg had earned a reputation as a master of split-shotting, and for good reason. "Split-shotting is an excellent technique for tough times," he explains. "Clear water, cold water, sluggish fish--any of these things demands a slow, finesse presentation. I've had a lot of luck split-shotting in these less-than-perfect conditions."
What You Want
Gregg says he figures he's gone through about twenty to twenty-five different rod and reel combinations, looking for the perfect spinning rig for split-shotting. "It's not so much what you do or how you do it," he says, "but having the right equipment that makes the difference." When you're fishing a split-shot rig, you usually have a lot of line out, so a floppy rod, combined with line stretch, makes it nearly impossible to get a good hookset. What you want, Gregg says, is a good, stiff, six-foot spinning rod.
You need a reel with a big spool, he explains, not only because it will hold more line, but also because it will take up a lot of line quickly--an important point when gaining control of a rowdy bass is imperative. Warne likes a spinning reel with a rear drag. He keeps the drag tight until he's gained control of the fish, then flicks it back and lets the fish have all the line it wants until it's tuckered out enough to boat.
One Of The Secrets
One of the secrets to successful split-shotting is not holding the rod too tight. Warne barely balances the rod on his hand, without wrapping his fingers around the handle. If you hold the rod tightly, a fish senses the pressure the instant it picks up the lure, then spits it out before you can do anything about it. With the rod loose, Warne can let the fish take the lure completely before he sets the hook.
The hookset is critical, Gregg says, and many fishermen fail to set the hook properly. Jerking the rod up is a no-no. When Gregg feels a fish take the lure, he points the rod tip at the water, reels in the slack, then uses a sideways sweep-set to drive the hook home, bringing the rod tip from straight ahead to almost straight behind him, and keeping the rod parallel to the water at about waist level. Once you have the fish coming at you, and you have the line tight, Gregg emphasizes not to switch the rod from one side to the other. Invariably, this is when you'll lose the fish. Keep the rod on the same side of your body, and run around the boat if necessary to keep from having to change directions.
This is when a reel with a big spool becomes important. For some reason, says Warne, the fish always seem to run straight toward the boat, and you need to be able to reel fast to get control of them. Once he's gotten the line tight, Gregg will back the drag off on a bigger fish--say two pounds or more.
Varies With Conditions
The speed of retrieve, distance from split-shot to hook, and type of lure he uses varies with the conditions he's facing. As a general rule, if the fish are in less than fifteen feet of water, and flat on the bottom, Warne puts the split-shot about a foot up from the hook. With fish that are fifteen to twenty feet deep, and just off the bottom, he moves the split-shot up to about 18" from the hook. For fish that are hanging off the bottom, suspended, or that want a slow, subtle bait (like after a front), he puts the split-shot two to three feet from the hook.
The split-shot itself, and the hooks you use, are just as important as the rod and reel, Warne says. Always use non-removable split-shot: the little ears on the other kind not only snag more, but they also act like rudders, causing your line to twist and making the lure do loops through the water. He uses very small split-shot, the lightest he can get away with. "You want to always keep the shot on the bottom, and the line tight." he explains, "so that you can feel the bite or pick-up." For deeper water or windy days, he simply adds another shot to the line, always keeping it as light as he can without losing contact with the bottom.
Split-shotting isn't like Carolina-rigging, Gregg warns, and you don't want a big huge weight crashing around on the bottom scaring everything for 100 yards. Split-shotting is what you do when the fish are wary, sluggish, pressured, or just plain unwilling to take a big, flashy, noisy lure. Finesse is the key.
Determined By The Fish
The speed of your retrieve will be determined by the fish. A breeze that moves the boat along at a steady pace will usually mean a more aggressive bite, and you can simply let the boat carry you along. This is one of those times that requires two split-shots and a lot of line out.
A slower bite calls for a medium retrieve. Warne describes this as moving the rod tip slowly, 6" at a time, and allowing the shot to settle in between moves. For a really slow, tough bite, Warne forces himself to move the rod only about 3" at a time, with agonizing slowness. "This is where that old saying comes into play," he says. "Fish as slow as you possibly can, then slow down some more." It's really hard to do, he says, especially in a tournament, since you may cover only 100 yards in 3 hours. "Finding the recipe" is what he calls it: you start out fast, hoping the fish are aggressive, then start slowing down until you find out what they want.
Type Of Lure
The type of lure he uses also depends on the conditions. For more aggressive fish, he'll use a Yamamoto grub for its fantastic tail action. Berkely power worms are the baits of choice for slower bites--the 4" curly tails for medium speeds, and the 4" finesse worms for the slow times. Warne fishes reapers a lot, too--he gets big reapers and bites off about a 1/2 inch from the front. Reapers should be Texas-rigged with the keel down, Warne adds. Most people rig them up-side down, and that makes them spin around and twist the line.
Extremely sharp, light hooks are critical, especially when you have a lot of line out. Warne uses offset Gamakatsu worm hooks, and matches the size to his lure. Size 1, 1/0, or 2/0 are the ones he uses most. He rigs the lures Texas, but after turning the hook around, he just barely hooks the tip under the surface of the lure, on the side. This skin-hooking means you don't have to pull the hook all the way through the body of the lure on the hookset.
Not Always Easy
Some people call split-shotting easy, and sometimes it is, but Gregg Warne can tell you that's not always so. During one particularly tough tournament at Mead, Warne discovered that the bite was not really a bite. The fish were picking the lure up and just holding it, and Warne found that he had to lift the split-shot slowly off the bottom, then wait to see if it settled back down when he lowered the rod. If it didn't that meant a fish had it.
"I was whupped after that tournament," Gregg recalls. "Standing there all day balancing the rod and concentrating on the most subtle cues will just wear you out until your back and arms feel like they're on fire." The fact that he won that tournament convinced him that split-shotting is the way to go when times are hard.