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Crazy for smallies


Twister Tail Bassin'


June 01, 2016
I begin my bass fishing every year on the Detroit River using jigs tipped with soft plastic erratic grubs. I'm talkin' early May bass fishing at its finest and white bass and smallies go bonkers for plastic twisting tail grubs that wiggle and swim past ambush locations. Huge schools of smallies pack into the deep water of the Detroit and vertical jigging with 5/8 oz. jigs will get you bouncing bottom in the strike zone. Some days I'll tuna fish a couple dozen smallies at lightning speed, some weigh up to four pounds, other days you have to cover a lot of water to find the mother lode. Over the years one of my best bass presentations has been a plastic grub on a jig head. It seems the erratic twister tail action of the grub drives bass crazy. Here's why.

The thrill of fighting Michigan smallies is why Cort Skoog, Ionia, loves to use crawfish imitation grub presentations to key savage strikes. Smallies hit grubs with their customary fury and when you set the hook you are in for an exciting battle. photo by Author.
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I don't want you to think the only curly tail grub on the market is made by Mister Twister. Today the availability of fish-catching plastics is huge. In fact some of my favorites include Northland Tackle Slurpies Swim'n Grub, Lunker City Hydotail Grub, Lunker City Monkey Grub, Berkley Power Bait Power Grub, Kalin's Lunker Grub, Zoom Fat Albert Grub, ISG Intimidator Hyper Tail Grub and many more. Truth is, todays grubs are fast action lures that pulse and vibrate in the water. Most are a soft plastic that bass grab and hang on to and of course many are scent enhanced to excite fish into striking them. Sure, pheromones cause fish to bite and special scents can key strikes. But it is my opinion that fish can't resist the twister action of grubs with modern fast action wiggling tails.

Don't think grubs only catch bass. They mesmerize plenty of fish and I've caught everything on them including pike, carp, muskie, drum, brown trout, salmon, crappies, walleyes by the ton and many more. I just want to say when it comes to boating smallies a jig and grub is the hottest presentation going. Nothing catches Michigan smallies like them and when it comes to fooling largemouth grubs are absolutely deadly.

With fond memories I recall a film outing on Saginaw Bay in search of trophy smallies. We ran from AuGres to the Charity Islands on a hot summer day when the water was flat as a pancake. Soon after slowing our speed and using the electric bow mounted powerful motor to cruise the shallows we spotted some bass near a huge rock. One cast with a ľ oz. jig tipped with a chartreuse grub and I was into a five pounder. We soon learned that by using polarized sunglasses we could spot and cast to trophy smallies that sulked in the shade of huge boulders. Our bait of choice was a grub.

Since that outing I've spent countless hours on Michigan waterways in search of bass. Of course, I'm kind of smallmouth crazy and seek the solid strike and hard fight of those brown fish. I've also discovered a variety of hot new colors that almost guarantee strikes like brownish goby-looking grubs or pumpkinseed, black, motor oil, green pumpkin and many more. Some lures are seasonally productive but a grub will catch smallies year round.

Jig head designs have come a long way in recent years but my favorite is still a round head in sizes from 1/16 oz. for shallow water fish up to ĺ oz. for getting deep into those holes on the Mighty Detroit River. For most situations I like to use the smallest weight possible and make long distance casts to wary fish.

Smallies can be difficult to fool, often if they see you or know you are on their turf they are difficult to hook. My solution is to use long distance casts using 6 lb. mono line and a 7 foot medium action rod spinning rod. The idea is to silently drop the offering in the strike zone far from shore or the sound and shadow of the boat. This trick is absolutely deadly on clear water lakes like Crystal, Charlevoix, and shallow water of Lake Michigan.

I guess we all know about the booming smallie populations on the Great Lakes caused by goby populations that have grown out of control. Gobies are everywhere and smallmouth numbers are on the rise because of the untouched forage fish. More importantly smallies are fat as pigs and growing to trophy size with absolutely little fishing pressure. Our Great Lakes smallie fishery is completely overlooked by most fishermen. I've caught zillions wading the surf in East and West Grand Traverse Bays and the number of big hogs hiding in the rocks is amazing. Don't overlook the massive schools of smallies found along Great Lakes piers where they frequently congregate to ambush forage fish and packs of gobies. Goby imitation plastics are the key to fishing success when casting off piers, wading in the surf or casting to rocks along the shore.

I've got a spot along Lake Michigan's coast that is absolutely full of big smallies feeding in the shallows, turning rocks and gulping gobies. Sometimes they drive me crazy when they follow presentations in the clear water but won't strike. Nothing gets my heart pounding like a monster five pound smallie close enough where I can see his glaring red eye but it will not bite. The solution is to keep reeling. Let the subtlety, natural appearance and tantalizing twisting tail do its job. These smallies are fat pigs and they go nuts when I work a pumpkinseed colored grub along the substrate. I've put five pounders on the sandy beach and it is my opinion that this overlooked fishery will soon produce world class 8-pound monsters. Believe me, when fishermen start bringing 8-pound goby fed monster smallies to the scales Michigan will turn the bass fishing industry on its ear. We are soon destined to gain a reputation as the finest smallmouth state in the Midwest because smallie populations are booming all along our Great Lakes coast because of unlimited goby forage.

Don't get me wrong smallies will slam worms with twister tails, and craws and tubes will catch plenty of fish too but grubs work like dynamite day in and day out. Last summer I watched two pro fishermen tuna fishin' smallies along a Lake Michigan pier by casting umbrellas. On some casts they would lift two four pound smallies at once and in less than an hour boated at least 30 fish. But that's another story. Let's concentrate on the positively dynamic combo jig and grub.

You see there is something mesmerizing about the grub's tail. The way it ripples, wiggles and vibrates in water gets the attention of bass and causes their strike instinct to kick into high gear. If you have a variety of jigs from 1/16 oz. up to Ĺ oz. you are set to cast shallows, work deep water or even troll the deadly presentation. If you work the grub right the fish will smack it. Usually a steady retrieve or troll .9-1.4 mph is key. Move it too slow and fish ignore the offering, zip it past them and they will look in the other direction. Sometimes you need to bounce bottom, make the jig hop and crash into sand sending our puffs of dirt that mimics feeding baitfish. Other times they want the grub to swim in a relatively straight line with the twisting tail constantly wiggling. Trial and error with a variety of techniques can be the key to success.

How you hook the grub can be the key to success. Some anglers like the tail facing down others swear they have better luck with the tail up. The important point is when you thread it on the hook follow the small crease in the grub, keep the hook straight on the shank and push the barb out exactly on the crease. For some reason if the grub is on the hook crooked it tends to dampen the action.

Casting to shallow structure often is deadly. But sometimes bass move from the shallows and you need to find them in deeper water. Fish exodus shallows if pike move in or a massive school of baitfish draws them from traditional hot spots. Sometimes bright sun, calm seas or cold fronts will scatter schools or send fish to deep water liars. Typically they don't move far and will return to likely hideouts. It is fun fishing when you use your electric bow mounted motor and slip along the shoreline casting to fish you can see. As summer progresses bass move deeper and you need to concentrate on deep gravel bars, sharp drop offs, structure and along the edges of weed beds.

I get excited every time hot weather hits Michigan and traditional lakes suffer from the dog days of summer. This is when you want to pack fishing gear and head to the Grand Traverse Bays or fish the drop offs near Charity Island on Saginaw Bay because the smallies are schooled in deep water. East Grand Traverse Bay is host to the hottest trophy fish smallie spot in northern Michigan. For this style of fishing use your electronics to locate bottom hugging monster smallies and cast or vertical jig with 3/8 to ĺ oz. jigs tipped with grubs. Just about any color jig will get smashed but if you want to tuna fish smallies use a grub that mimics a goby. Brown is the color of choice and some smallie pros use a paddle tail minnow that looks exactly like a goby. The trick is to dance the offering along bottom and get those 4-6 lb. monster smallies snappin'. Sometimes fish are stacked along the bank but a consistent summer bite exists in 30-45 feet of water.

Come to think of it, grubs have caught plenty of largemouths too. I had an outing on Wixom Lake near Edenville last year when grubs danced along the drop off by the dam produced savage strikes. The same trick worked wonders on largemouth in Sanford Lake. I was fishing structure I discovered years ago and the action was exciting. I'd cast to the honey hole, let the jig thump bottom, give it a couple 6-12 inch pumps and begin a steady retrieve. The bass would zero in on the falling grub and the instant it started to swim away they would turn on the afterburners and gulp the tantalizing presentation.

There are a growing number of Michigan anglers who troll jigs for spring crappies using in-line planer boards. They have discovered the tactic is deadly on bass too. Apparently the grub tail action found far from the boat is an invitation to strike. Trollers, anglers flipping, long distance casting, pier fishing all add up to more bass catches for Michigan anglers using grub presentations.

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