A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my first fishing outing of the season - catching some great smallmouths on the lower Juniata River with my good friend and fishing guide, Ken Penrod. On that trip, we primarily used soft-plastic tube jigs, which have proven to be our real go-to lure for river bass in the springtime. Since that story appeared, however, I have received feedback from several folks requesting more specific information on how to fish tubes this time of year, so this week I thought it would be appropriate to pass on some specific tips for fishing these versatile and effective lures.
There are no shortage of choices when it comes to soft-plastic tubes. Just about every major lure manufacturer has its own line of tubes, not to mention dozens of smaller lure makers as well. The two brands of tubes I fish most often are Bass Pro Shops Tender Tubes and Campground Specials. Both of these brands also offer tubes in the standard 3 1/2-inch size and the so-called teaser tubes, which are about 2 3/4 inches long. Some days the fish seem easier to tempt on the smaller tubes, so I usually try both sizes and let the fish tell me what they want on any given day.
I take a similar approach with regard to colors, which are virtually unlimited. I have a handful of favorite colors and patterns, and most days, they will all take their share of fish. I will, however, switch back and forth among several colors and again let the fish tell me if they have a preference. The one must-have tube color is green pumpkin. On any given day, green pumpkin can usually be relied upon to take river smallmouths. In the past several years, I've become partial to green pumpkin tubes sparkled up with orange, copper, red or blue flakes. Another staple tube color has always been smoke with purple flakes, especially in clearer water. One great thing about tubes is they are relatively cheap lures, so add another three or four colors in both sizes to these basics, and you will have a great starter assortment of tubes.
Using the right weight of jighead is crucial for the proper presentation of tubes, particularly this time of year. In the spring, an eighth-ounce jighead is usually the best, but so far this year, the higher than average flows we've experienced have meant going to a quarter-ounce jighead to keep the tube on the bottom where it belongs. And for fishing tubes in the summer or during low-water conditions, a one-sixteenth-ounce jighead will work best.
For rigging a 3 1/2-inch tube, you'll need jighead with a 3/0 hook. The smaller teaser tubes, however, require a jighead with a 1/0 hook, which can be hard to find in the 1/4- or 1/8-ounce weights that are necessary for springtime fishing. The best source I've found for all the right sizes and weights of tube jigheads is the Riverfront Campground in Duncannon. Owner John Cunningham his own line of RAB jigheads as well as the Campground Specials tubes. For more information, contact him at 717-834-5252.
When it comes to tackle for tube fishing, I would recommend that you leave the wimpy ultralight rods at home. Such a rod might be fun for flinging around some topwater baits in the summer, but it will be more than problematic for fishing tube jigs in springtime river flows. I would suggest opting for a 6 1/2- to 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod and 8- or 10-pound-test line. That combination will provide the necessary backbone for setting the larger hooks being used.
During the past two weeks, I have caught more than 50 smallmouths on tube jigs. And not one of those fish ate the tube and swam off with it. Most takes were signaled merely by a sharp tick on the line. Sometimes I thought my tube had become stuck on the bottom, only to realize it was indeed a fish as I pulled on the line to free it. All of those clues indicate that the bass aren't inclined to move much to take a bait right now, so the tube must be presented right under their noses. That will change somewhat later in the spring as the water gets lower and warmer, but for now, the best strategy is to fish slowly, deliberately and right on the bottom.
Being successful at this type of fishing requires an educated sense of touch, both to keep in touch with your lure as it hops along the bottom and to detect what can be very subtle strikes.
I typically curl the index finger of my left hand around the line a foot or so above the reel. This tactic provides an incredible amount of sensitivity, which can also help cut down on the amount of snags and lost lures.
Even on a good day, of course, expect to leave quite a few baits on the bottom. I just consider that petty nuisance part of the cost of doing business with those beautiful brown bass.