Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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A jig and a tube: all you need for spring smallmouths

By John Tertuliani
Contributing Writer


Who doesn’t enjoy having a smallmouth bass on the line? They’re usually easy to find and easy to catch, though they can be more difficult at times to find than largemouths. Smallies seem to roam a bit after the spawn. They are not so much roaming as following prey. Locating prey is a good way to find smallmouths.


Schools of forage can be located with electronics. Crayfish, not so much, unless you can find rocky bottoms. You can visually search for rock coming off of the bank, such as riprap or exposed gravel or bedrock. 


Once you find rock, focus on slight changes in elevation. It doesn’t take much change in slope to attract fish. Maps make it easier to locate attractive structure such as points and humps in the main lake.


Wave-swept points and bars are other places to try, as wave action tends to wash the dirt and debris away, keeping the bottom clean, exposing rock and gravel. Another option is to locate rocky areas by making contact with the bottom using a search lure such as a jig.


As far as tackle, if you want to use shad or perch patterns, there are unlimited crankbait options available. The same can be said about rods, reels, and line. Crankbaits are effective under most conditions, and when you locate forage, cast along the fringes of the school. 


Unless a steady wind has pushed baitfish against a bank, casting parallel to a wind-swept bank is effective then – no need to concentrate on the edge of the school.


If restricted to one lure, you will fare well with a green pumpkin tube, 21⁄2 to 31⁄2 inches in length. Green pumpkin is a common color of crayfish. A 4-inch tube works, but this is longer than a tucked crayfish. Less is more when using crayfish patterns – clawzilla does not represent an easy meal.


A smoke-colored tube is also a good choice to imitate prey fish. Smoke comes in several versions.


Two types of jigs are commonly used with tubes. One style has the hook eye offset, which puts the weight inside the tube. The other style has a straight-up hook eye, and the weight can be put inside or out.


Anglers putting the weight outside prefer a mushroom head so they add a drop of super glue to attach the tube to the flat back of the jighead. The idea of weight on the outside is to widen spirals on the fall, making a tube more attractive. Keep in mind a spiraling motion is more prone to snagging, but snags will be inevitable. Expect to get snagged if you are using tubes correctly.


Use the lightest jighead possible to maintain contact with the bottom. If you can use a 1⁄16-ounce jig, do it. On an average day, 1⁄8 ounce is the lightest you can get away with. Depth and wind may require the use heavier jigs. A lighter tube comes closer to imitating the natural movement of a crayfish – the darting and falling back to the bottom. A heavy jig can plow the bottom, like a crayfish with lead in its tail.


When retrieving a tube, drag it – yes, drag it – over the bottom until you feel resistance from a rock or something else on the bottom. When you make contact, pop the rod to make the tube dart up. A reactionary bite often occurs when the tube darts away.


If you use the lightest jig possible, spinning tackle is the way to go. Light line and light tubes can put more fish in the boat.


Line is a matter of preference. Braided line with a fluorocarbon leader is effective, but so is straight fluorocarbon. Premium mono, 6- to 10-pound test, is effective and somewhat forgiving, compared to braid, and fluorocarbon to a lesser degree. Depending on your habit of fishing, a little more give in the line or the rod can add up to more bites becoming catches.


A specialty rod is not required; a familiar rod does just fine. Length is not mandatory, either. A 6-foot rod may be more appropriate in a kayak, whereas a 61⁄2- to 7-foot rod may be favored when standing in a boat. Rod choice is like the type of line you prefer and it depends on your habit of fishing; a medium-heavy action is a good place to start if you have no preference.


Many anglers are successful with a medium action. Tournament anglers lean toward a heavy action. Some anglers believe a medium-actioned rod gives “a better feel.” 


Others want a heavy-actioned rod for sheer power – the ability to set a hook during a reactionary bite by merely cranking the reel, when the rod is often raised up above the ideal hook-setting plane. A heavy-actioned rod that is super sensitive will be very expensive.


No matter what kind of tackle you use, smallmouths don’t care. Their concern is an easy meal. A chunky tube of green pumpkin, slinking over the bottom, darting and falling back to the bottom on occasion, is one of the best ways to get their attention.

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