Tube jigs are a match made in heaven for smallmouths. Perfectly representing the preferred choice of crayfish and other bottom dwelling prey, the tube jig has been catching smallmouth bass for a number of years. Finally, after learning the hard way, tubes have made their way into my arsenal for successful early season smallmouth fishing. In this short film from early June, my friend Zach Quinn and I fish a deep trophy lake in Vilas County Wisconsin for some last-chance pre-spawn activity. Zach was on a tear with tube jigs so this segment is dedicated entirely to him.
Size: 800 acres
Lake Type: Oligotrophic
Maximum Depth: 65 feet
Avg. Depth Fished: 5 to 15 feet
Water Clarity: Dark Brown
Primary Fishery: Musky, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass
Areas of Focus: Rock bars, laydowns, offshore points
Time of Day: Early morning
Rod & Reel: 7ft Quantum Tour Edition PT (medium heavy) Quantum Smoke 30PTi
Line: Cortland Masterbraid 20 lb.
Lure Used: Strike King Coffee Tubes
Fishing bottom oriented baits for smallmouth bass is an often overlooked spring tactic. Anglers usually turn to the fast, reactionary strike approach of jerkbaits, crankbaits, and spinnerbaits before rapidly slowing down the pace to meticulously fish with plastics such as the tube. Often times, during the spawn period setup, anglers fail to slow themselves to the pace of smallmouths.
Consistency with early season bass requires knowledge with a wide variety of presentations. The classic tube jig is one of them. It’s no secret that tube jigs are popular choices for smallmouth bass. The reason for this lies in the fact that crayfish are favorite natural forage species, as are gobies and other bottom dwelling prey fish which tubes also represent.
When locating smallmouths on precise locations that will be used for spawning, the secret is to fish tubes as slowly as possible, to dead stick periodically, and to keep bottom contact at all times. Give the tube a twitch and hop every now and then, but maintaining bottom contact is most important. I often employ the dragging retrieve, which most closely resembles the behavior of a live crayfish that is scurrying along the bottom. When working the drop-offs of a shallow spawning flat and its nearby deep water, patience will be taken to the limit and tested.
Regardless of your retrieve and manner of jigging, it is extremely important to pay close attention to your line for any movement or hits, and the rod tip for feeling out the bottom and all of its cavities and crevices between rocks and gravel. In my experience, smallmouth bass can spit out a tube just as quickly as they suck them up. Thus concentration, patience, and fast reflexes with a strong hook set are crucial for success.
Tubes are available in a number of sizes, styles, and vast array of colors. They may be rigged in several ways such as Texas rigged, weightless, or with an insert style jig head which is my preferred method for all scenarios.
The insert style jig head is the most ideal rig method for most situations. For deeper water fishing, it is the best and most trusted method I’ve found. Popular jig brands for tube inserts are Bite Me Vertical Eye Tube Jigs (available with rattles and without), and Owner Jigs tube inserts which feature a wide gap hook and maximum hook point exposure. Within the last year, I’ve added a new jig brand to the arsenal, and they are KustomKicker Jigs, a new favorite of mine. Produced by a small independent manufacturer in Northern Michigan, they are quite possibly the strongest, sharpest, and most unbreakable surgically sharpened hooks I’ve ever used. What I look for in a quality smallmouth tube is its plastic formula, its level of salt and additive impregnation, availability of colors and attention to detail, and durability. A few brands meet all these requirements for my preferred tubes, and they are made by Strike King, YUM, and Stankx Bait Company. In my opinion, color seems to have less of an impact or significance than the size, profile, and scent of the tube.