The largemouth bass may get the most press time of any fish in North America, but that other bass - the smallmouth - is gaining a large following. Many anglers firmly believe that ounce for ounce, the smallmouth bass could very well be the most clever and strongest fish in freshwater.
Smallmouths are called by many different names. Some call them smallies, others refer to them as bronzebacks, and the name smalljaws has been used and in some areas of the south where anglers there actually use the name green trout. No matter what part of the world you fish for smallmouth bass, one of the hottest lures to use is a tube jig. Tube jigs are effective from the shallow shorelines to deep drop-offs. They also work during any season.
Tubes are such good smalljaw lures that many anglers have actually gotten away from the more traditional lures such as bucktail and marabou jigs, and have gone strictly to using soft plastic tubes. With just a few assortments of colors and lure retrievals, tube jigs can represent a wide variety of smalljaw forage. You can take a white tube and swim it quickly across the surface with a light jig head, and the lure closely resembles a shad or an alewife darting about. A brown colored tube, hopped along a rocky bottom with a heavier jighead, takes on the resemblance of a crawfish. A watermelon or green pumpkin colored tube, slowly crawled along weed edges, may look like natural bait such as a sculpin, mad tom or even a perch.
Tubes can actually be rigged effectively in three different ways. They can be rigged with a wide bend, offset hook and a bullet weight - aka the so-called "Texas style", much like plastic worms are used for largemouth bass. This rig works well around weeds and logs, but in more open water, you may miss some bronzebacks that will often only swipe at or bump the lure.
The use of open hooks with jigheads are the most effective ways to hook up on smallies with tubes. However, they can be fished with the hook inserted from the outside of the head inward, or with the head of the jig stuck completely inside the tube, with only the hook bend and point sticking out.
Tubes come in a variety of sizes, and avid smallmouth bass anglers usually carry more than one size to match the size of the bait corresponding to the season they are fishing. Small, light 2-inch crappie tubes on four-pound line may be needed in shallow, clear water; while another situation may call for large heavy flippin' tubes on ten-pound line in 30 to 40 feet of water. The best overall size for smallies on most days is medium sized tubes in the 3- to 3 1/2-inch range.
More tube fishing tips
Rigging a tube with the lead head or sinker on the outside of the body will give you more sensitivity to feel what is going on with the bait. However, studies in recent years have suggested that this set up may actually spook inactive fish by the unnatural sound of the lead banging on the bottom. When a tube head is inserted inside the lure, you may get less feel of the bait, but the natural, quiet sound of the tube can trigger the often cautious smallmouth bass.
No matter which way you decide to rig your tubes it's often a good idea to use some sort of scent on them. Tube bodies that are molded with salts and scents have been proven to be more effective in helping the fish hold onto the lure longer. If you're having trouble rigging tube heads inside the bodies, try adding a fish attractant made with an oil or greasy base to help slide the head into the tube.
In spite of the previous mentioned study, that cautions against thudding lead heads spooking fish, it often pays to add the triggering aspect of sound to your tube baits. It's hard to find tube heads with rattles attached so try making your own. Take small glass rattles and attached them to the shank of the jig-hook with a 3/4-inch piece of heat shrink tubing. Just slip the tubing over the hook, insert the rattle, and heat the tubing with a lighter or match until it shrinks around the rattle. Don't overheat as this could cause the tubing to split. It also helps when tube fishing to use larger hooks such as, 3/0 or 4/0, on the jigheads for better hookups. Also, hooks with needle points that are ultra sharp will help you hook and hold smallies, noted for breaching the surface with spectacular leaps.
Most smallie anglers prefer to fish tubes on spinning outfits with line in the six- to eight-pound test range. Many of the professional anglers, who are fishing the larger tubes in deep water, where you don't have to worry about presentation as much as in shallow, clear water, are going more to casting rods with ten-pound test. Rods up to 6-foot long may work well in shallow water with tube jigs, but when you work them deep, it's a good idea to use a rod in the 6 1/2- to 7-foot range for a better hookset. The extra length of rod gives you an added advantage to quickly get more stretch out of your line.
No matter what name you have for the smallmouth bass, the use of tubes for these cunning fish will definitely help put the odds in your favor at almost any time you fish for them. The next time you decide to fish for smallmouth bass make sure and carry an assortment of body and head sizes so that you will be prepared for any situation.
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