In years past if I couldn’t catch smallmouth with a tube, I declared that they just weren’t biting. I’ve since become a much more versatile angler. But this technique still serves me well when river smallmouth won’t respond to reaction-style lures such as spinnerbaits or crankbaits during the pre-spawn period.
Hiding in plain sight
River smallmouth anglers have long debated what a tube might represent to a smallmouth. Crawfish tops the list. A crawfish’s job in life is to forage in a manner that it is not noticed by predators.
Most anglers present a tube with a series of hops and pops that call out to the fish, “I’m over here! Eat me now!” Smaller, inexperienced bass pounce all over this presentation. The true brutes know better. Instead, let it sit. A tube resting on the bottom with no action imparted by the angler trembles like a crawfish hiding in plain sight.
Stop, wait and concentrate
Stop the kayak, let the lure sit still, and maintain a tight line. Most of the four-pound-plus river smallmouth that I’ve caught in early spring hit after a pause greater than 90 seconds. Hit is actually too strong a word unless we’re talking about small fish.
The big ones gently suck it in, taste it, and usually huff it back out without the angler having a clue. Hook-sets are free, but paying attention to your taught line is golden.
Your speed is the tube’s speed
Controlling the speed of the kayak backsliding in current translates to how slowly the tube covers river-bottom real estate. Keeping the lure pegged on the bottom of a foam eddy requires that you line up your kayak with the current.
Periodic one-hand paddling helps you keep the nose of the kayak into the current. Grasp the paddle shaft in the middle with your non-rod holding hand, and make use of your elbows for each stroke without putting the rod down. When you do decide to tumble the tube over a few rocks, allow the kayak to backslide in current slightly.
Rigging options vary as widely as the brands of tubes. Years ago, all of my tubes were rigged on a jighead. Now I stuff an egg sinker and a glass rattle into a HawgHead Baits tube and rig it onto a 5/0 EWG hook. This weedless setup provides solid hook-sets.
Z-MAN TRD Tubez 2.75in Craw
Jeff Little is the author of In Pursuit of Trophy Smallmouth Bass: My Life in a Kayak (blueridgekayakfishing.com).