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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 12, 2012
Do you remember the 1980’s? Ronald Reagan was in the White House. A leg warmer clad Jane Fonda was a hit at video stores. Crockett and Tubbs were busting bad Floridians on television and we all knew that if a spook showed up we were going to call the Ghost Busters!
In the bass fishing world a couple simple, yet super effective bass baits rose to prominence in the 80’s. The first bait to emerge was the curly tail grub. These soft plastics had been around since the 1970’s when the Mister Twister company made them widely available, but it wasn’t until the early 80’s when bass anglers discovered how deadly they could be during both winter and summer in a variety of conditions.
In the mid-1980’s with the finesse fishing craze taking hold, Bobby Garland’s deceivingly effective tube bait dubbed the Fat Gitzit began winning tournaments both large and small, catapulting the bait to must have status for anglers coast to coast.
Today the spotlight that grubs and tubes occupied in the 80’s has dimmed to a large extent, as the ever changing array of baits that arrive on the bass fishing scene, like new model autos hitting car dealerships have turned the attention of most bass anglers to other offerings. While the fickle desires of bass anglers often change with the shifting winds, bass remain steadfast.
The instincts, feeding patterns and behaviors that made bass vulnerable to grubs and tubes two decades ago are still in play today and these baits are just as effective as they ever had been. In fact they may be even more effective today, since not as many anglers are throwing them and bass see them a lot less than did during pinnacle of these baits popularity.
Before we take a look at these baits individually let’s ponder what makes these lures attractive to both bass and bass anglers. First of all, both grubs and tubes are versatile. They'll both catch bass all year long. They can be rigged in a variety of ways to tailor the presentation to the current attitude and behavior of the bass. Finally these baits are easy to fish. You don’t need to be Bobby Barrack or Roland Martin to have a big day fishing grubs and tubes.
In terms of being attractive to bass, these baits have a lot of subtle built in action. They both have a life like appearance and silhouette that is similar to that of crawfish or baitfish, which of course are primary forage items for bass. To top everything off these baits have a soft life like feel that make bass hang onto them for that crucial two or three extra seconds that often mean the difference between a missed strike and a keeper in the live well.
Early on it was smallmouth anglers such as Al Linder and Jerry McKinis that first began singing the virtues of grubs. Back in those days, grub selection was pretty much limited to the curly tail variety and the flat tailed type like Tom Mann’s Stingray Grub. It’s no secret that smallmouth love crawfish and these anglers discovered that walking a grub rigged on a leadhead down rocky points, rip rap, and steep shorelines would not only catch big numbers of smallmouth, but trophy bass as well.
It took a little while longer, but largemouth anglers also stumbled on the fact that lead head rigged grubs would also take largemouth holding on clean rocky structure, but then they took things a step further. While largemouth can be found on rocks they also frequent trees and weeds where the open hook of a jig head is a big liability. Being the improvising crowd that they are, largemouth anglers started experimenting with “Texas” rigged grubs. Around submerged trees and brush the preferred method became a Texas rigged grub with a pegged worm weight to get it down. When weeds were encountered the Texas rigged grub was utilized on a Carolina rig to skim across the top of submerged weed beds.
At this point there are dozens of different grubs available from different manufacturers. The most useful are the standard curly tail type, the double tail and the spider which combines either a single or double tail grub with an integrated soft plastic skirt. All of these are offered in a long list of colors from natural brown, green and gray hues to outrageous selections such as hot pink and chartreuse.
At the core of any grub fisherman’s arsenal is the curly tail. These grubs come in a range of sizes from 1 to 8 inches in length. The most useful sizes are in the 3 to 5 inch range, but you might want to pick up some 6 or 8 inch models to experiment with when big bass are on the prowl. I spend most of my time fishing clean structure and as a result I most often fish my curly tailed grubs on a darter style jig head. If your home waters feature a lot of vegetation like Clear Lake or the delta you’ll probably find that your grub use is evenly split between darter head rigging and Texas rigging.
A spinning rod is the proper tool for fishing a darter head rigged grub. For open water with no nearby tangles, 8 pound test line is fine. If there are weeds or brush nearby 12 pound test is a better choice. Curly tail grubs can be used as a search bait, primary bait or a follow up bait. Regardless of how I’m using the bait I prefer natural colors. These baits have a subtle life like action and I believe you are best served to employ them for “matching the hatch”. In situations where the bass are likely eating crawfish browns and olives are the way to go. When the bass are targeting baitfish, nothing beats a clear or smoke colored grub with metallic flakes.
When using a curly tail grub as a search bait or primary bait I prefer to use a quarter ounce jig head most of the time. This head weight is a good compromise for working open water and the bottom in up to 15 feet of water. Once you find a pattern you can experiment with lighter or heavier heads to see which weight is most effective based on the water depth, wind and preference of the bass.
To start find an area of the lake that has a variety of structure and depths such as a flat with a submerged creek running across it that terminates in deep water near a rocky point. If the creek and flat features some cover like submerged trees or brush, so much the better. Begin by rigging up a natural colored grub such as a dark smoke colored model with red flakes. Such a bait does a fair job of imitating both crawfish and baitfish. Once willing fish are found the color can be fine tuned to match the forage.
Begin by cranking the grub crankbait style through open water past obvious ambush points such as stick ups, large rocks and points. At first don’t allow the bait to sink much. As you precede count it down and work progressively deeper until you are hoping the bait along the bottom crawfish style.
If the bass are aggressive and willing to chase the bait in open water the bass are clearly keying on baitfish. You can then change to a crankbait or begin experimenting with the color and retrieve of the grub to determine what combination is most effective.
When the strikes don’t come until the bait is being hoped on the bottom two assumptions can be made. First you can conclude that the bass are either feeding on or are willing to feed on crawfish. Secondly it is very possible that the bass are inactive, since they refused to chase. At this point it is wise to shelf the single tail and go with either a crawfish colored double tail grub or a spider grub. When the bass are inactive such as after a cold front has moved through a sparse double tail worked methodically is generally the best choice. If the bass are fairly active and yet prefer feeding on ‘craws the spider grub hoped along at a good clip will likely draw the most attention.
Remember that crawfish come in different colors. The trick to matching the color of ‘craws in a given water is considering the color of the bottom. In waters with lots of vegetation green tones like watermelon are about right. In clay bottom areas dark root beer browns are the ticket. Rocky areas call for grayish brownish colors like light motor oil with black flakes. In terms of size I always begin with 3 inch and then try bigger sizes once I determine where the bass are holding and what colors they prefer. At times a bigger bait will draw strikes from bigger fish, but at other times when all the crawfish or shad are in the 2 to 3 inch range all the bass regardless of size will generally be keying on that size bait.
When fishing a crankbait, spinnerbait or other reaction bait it is sound strategy to have a white or smoke colored single tail grub on a darter head rigged on a handy spinning rod. When a fish hits your reaction bait and misses you can often coax a hookup by slowly swimming the grub through the area. At times when you pulled a couple fish off a piece a structure with reaction bait, don’t leave until you take a couple shots with the grub. This strategy will often result in additional hookups and at times will fool larger more reclusive fish once the little guys are out of the way.
Grubs are cast and retrieve baits, meaning that the angler tosses them out and then works them back through likely holding areas. Tubes are vertical presentation baits that are best suited for bass that are holding near some type of vertical structure such as submerged trees, docks, bridge footings or even tules. They are also effective for targeting suspended fish. Anglers that fish tubes well usually do fine with Senkos and anglers that understand Senko fishing will have no trouble when it comes to working tubes baits.
Tubes can be rigged a number of different ways but the most common methods are to rig them on an internal jig head with an exposed hook for open water situations and Texas style with light pegged bullet weigh for working around snaggy cover. In open water a spinning rod spooled with 8 pound test is the best tool around cover a spinning or bait casting rig can be used with at least 12 pound test line. I know a number of delta anglers that routinely flip and pitch tubes on baitcasting equipment spooled with 65 pound braid.
Tubes are primarily used to imitate an injured dying baitfish and for this reason they are highly effective for drawing strikes from inactive bass. Clear flake, smoke and white do the best job of imitating baitfish. Tubes range in size from 1 to 6 inches, but 2 to 4 inch model are by far the most useful. I always start out fishing tubes without adding any action. I just cast the bait to an area where I think a bass is holding and let the tube sink. You don’t need to keep the line taught. Just watch the line as it sinks. If it stops or twitches you’re likely getting hit. You don’t need a tight line, because once a bass begins mouthing a tube they seldom spit it out. Just make sure you set the hook before the bass turns the bait and swallows it.
In situations where you want to expose the bait to a larger area without recasting, such as when fishing under a dock or pier, cast the bait out and allow it to sink. If no strikes occur vigorous crank the bait up in the water column while vigorously twitching the rod tip. Once the bait is near the surface allow it to sink once again. In this way you can yo yo the tube the entire length of a dock.
If you’ve used grubs and tubes in the past and have forgotten them, or if you’ve never tried them before, you should pick some up. They are the secret baits of pro anglers from coast to coast and they should be a part of your bass fishing arsenal too!
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