It’s no revelation that Bassmaster Elite Series anglers must have a diverse repertoire= and Cliff Pirch is no exception. However, the accomplished Western pro from Payson, Ariz., has exemplified adaptation by not only learning, but fully embracing several baits and tactics established east of the Mississippi River.
Like most hailing from the Pacific Time Zone, Pirch has shared plenty of West Coast know-how with fellow Elites, but he has also recognized the wisdom of soaking up as much as he can from the nation’s right half.
“You learn that, sometimes, there’s a reason for what they do locally,” he said. “Whether it’s the best way to fish a type of cover, or it just happens to work better than some things.
“Rather than remaining stuck in your ways, you need to play their game sometimes. And there are times when I find that I can use a less common technique on a certain place, but a lot of times, there’s a reason why something works well and you’ve got to go with it.”
A versatile angler with Top 10 finishes from Florida’s St. Johns River to New York’s St. Lawrence River, Pirch has clearly demonstrated his prowess at seamlessly integrating his Western craft with a wide range of Eastern U.S. specialties. That being said, he definitely has is faves.
Something of an old-school technique established on grassy southern fisheries, the swimming worm provides an effective method for covering water — especially heavily vegetated water — to find active fish. This is something Pirch learned on the St. Johns, where thick eel grass beds harbor fish throughout much of the year.
“We don’t have eel grass in the West and there’s not a lot of things that work well in that cover, but I’ve learned that swimming a worm not only fishes the cover well, but it catches them well,” he said. “That’s something I’ve picked up by fishing in the East that I really didn’t do in the West.”
Pirch’s worm preference is the Big Bite Baits Tour Swim Worm, which features a ribbed body and a paddle tail that includes an angled perforation, which allows him to fish the tail closed or open, depending on how much thump vs. action he needs. He mostly fishes the 7 1/2-inch worm on a 4/0 Hyabusa straight shank worm hook but finds the smaller version works better on fisheries with thin opportunity levels. Weight size varies with depth and current, but 1/4- to 3/16-ounce usually does the trick.
“Every time we go to Florida, the swimming worm is a player, and I caught them really good at Guntersville,” he said. “It works at a number of fisheries, but most of the time, it’s been in and around grass.
“If the fish are spawning, I like to make contact with the bottom, but I’ve seen other times, when just winding the bait really slow like a swimbait over the top of the grass has worked.”
Pirch’s technique tip: Most of the time, he’ll fully separate the Tour Swim Worm’s tail sections for maximum action, but if all that commotion tempts too many bait stealers (small bass or panfish), he’ll keep the paddle tail intact and rely on that thump to tempt the larger fish.
Also, while swimming worms are best known for their grass application, Pirch won’t hesitate to run this enticing presentation across a laydown or past any other shallow wood. Off-color water is usually his cue to try this strategy.