June 17, 2013
By Matt Straw
The "tick." That's what we're all after. That subtle yet electric jolt transmitted up the line, along the graphite, and into your fingers.
It's the sensation being telegraphed by a biting smallmouth that just clamped its powerful jaws down on your bait. Nothing like using plastics and single hooks to harvest ticks. Whether using a jig, an offset hook, a wacky rig, or whatever, feeling bass snarf plastics is special.
These are the smallmouth bass plastics I depend on every day. Not that I don't use other versions of these styles or other shapes. I do. I have to. It's part of the job. And most plastics produce. Some better than others. Some have regional appeal and some are what I call "universally effective." The following list falls into that latter category for me--baits I can count on when I really need ticks anywhere from Maine to Lake Jocassee, or from Pickwick to the Canadian Shield.
Berkley PowerBait Tube
Shape and thickness are important factors when selecting tubes for various techniques. Many versions are relative equals, as far as I'm concerned. I've always preferred thin, translucent tubes in clear, skinny water€¹where I spend most of my time fishing smallmouths. Berkley tubes fill those bills with a bonus: Built-in scent that works. Adding scent is something I do religiously, just in case. PowerBait saves that step. All that work in the laboratory paid off: Fish do hold on. berkley-fishing.com
Berkley PowerBait Finesse Worm
When I want to deadstick a worm, or work a light finesse worm on a wacky rig, this is the first bait I look for. I always use scent. PowerBait eliminates the need to add any extra. Neutral and negative smallmouths can't swim past PowerBait even when it's just laying there on bottom. This thin worm is a traditional bass-fishing mainstay because it has the right amount of action€¹which is very little. Under a float (my infamous bobber wacky rig), the Finesse Worm creates the right dangle€¹maintaining enough of a horizontal profile to entice bass when it's just allowed to hover out there. A slightly stiffer worm than some, the PowerBait Finesse Worm appeals to neutral and negative fish much better than a floppy wet noodle. Finesse is about reduced size and subdued colors, yeah€¹but reduced action is equally important, especially when deadsticking or wacky rigging on calm days, bluebird, post-frontal days. Slightly more active fish tend to prefer a cigar worm, like the YUM Dinger or Gulp Sinking Minnow. cabelas.com
Many companies make auger-tail grubs and they all catch fish, but Kalin's makes the softest. It has one of the thinnest tails in the business, turning easiest at the slowest speeds, creating a lifelike swimming action smallies can't resist. Kalin's grubs are available in an amazing array of 50 colors, offering several shades and versions of all the most critical hues. And Kalin's offers the clearest plastic baits around. When light passes through a grub, it creates muted gradations of color and mutating colors, making the bait more natural and less stark in appearance. Kalin's comes in a 5-inch size, which is the most productive for me on the waters I fish from ice-out to ice-up. cabelas.com
Mojo Reefer Tail
This might be the most versatile and effective plastic bait ever invented. Texas rig it, Carolina rig it, wacky rig it, put it on a jig, nose hook it, drift it through space, 3-way rig it, use it as a trailer on a spinnerbait€¹the Mojo Reefer Tail does it all. I probably reach for it most often when drop-shot rigging, where the flat, sensitive tail undulates at rest and quivers with the least bit of applied energy, But Reefer Tails are always handy on my ship, where I can apply one to any technique that's working in case this is the shape, profile, and action that really trips their trigger. Often as not, it is.
So why is this extremely hot bait tenth on my list? Because so many fantastic plastics exist today. You should see number eleven. (Number twelve is no slouch, either.) mojolures.com
Roboworm Curly Tail
Like Kalin's Grubs, Roboworms are very soft, allowing the tail to work at very slow speeds. I generally thread either version (Roboworm Curly Tails are hand poured in 4.5- and 5.5-inch sizes) onto 1/16- to 1/8-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Heads, TC Tackle Jigs, or Lunker City Football Heads and swim them slowly past rock piles and reefs or drag and deadstick them on transitions and weedlines. If I want a finesse Carolina worm, I generally reach for a 5.5-inch Robo. The gumdrop softness causes bass to hang on a little longer, and the 20 or so colors they offer are all highly unique combinations that appeal to smallmouths particularly well. cabelas.com
Yamamoto Hula Grub
When I'm using football heads, the Yamamoto Hula Grub is the first trailer I look for in my bag of tricks. These baits are very soft and squishy, so the tail never fails to operate even at slow speeds. The skirted head is the right length (no need to trim) for optimum action. Even when the jig is at rest the tentacles are working. The size selection and range of colors is perfect for smallmouths everywhere I go. Salt impregnation has become an art form for Yamamoto, and bass certainly seem to like their recipe. I've yet to find a bottom-hugging school of smallies that won't gang up and maul a Hula Grub. cabelas.com
YUM F2 Craw Papi
I don't know what I like most about this craw€¹the wide, flappy claws, the realistic shape, the great color selection, or the odd (but perfect) sizes. The 3.75-incher is a perfect trailer for a Terminator Finesse Jig, a Boohyah Baby Boo Jig, or a hair jig like one of Bert Deener's Fox Hair specialties.The 4.5-incher is right for Texas rigging through cabbage stalks, where those infamous rusty craws hang out. The Craw Papi is soft. It has a great built-in scent (F-2). Bass clamp down on it and hang on. cabelas.com
If some of the salt-impregnated versions were more durable, they might at least rate a tie in the cigar-worm category. The Dinger is durable and the sacrifice in action is negligible. The action of a cigar worm is something you can't see unless you look really close, like through a glass wall at an aquarium or big fish tank. The tips should quiver on the fall. That's the trigger. The Dinger has it, along with a host of fish-catching colors and all the right sizes (from 3-inches to 5-inches) for smallies. I wacky rig them most of the time on a jig, or under a float, on a jig, or on a plain hook. Sometimes I nose hook them and fish them ³in space,² when things get really tough. lurenet.com
Castaic Jerky J/Lunker City SwimFish
Swimbaits create another deadlock in my already gridlocked mind. The Castaic Jerky J is so soft the whole body swims. I tend to prefer it when the water is warm. The Lunker City SwimFish is a little stiffer, but has more natural, translucent colors€¹better in clear water. The tail action is hot, but the plastic is tougher, so it doesn't wobble all over the place. I can catch more bass on a SwimFish before having to replace it, so I like it during really hot bites and in colder water. I catch lots of smallmouths on both, generally on 1/8- to 1/4-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Heads or Lunker City Fin-S swimbait heads. Castaic Jerky J
Density Tackle Panic Minnow/Jackal Crosstail Shad
A virtual tie: The Density segmented plastic minnow and the Jackal Crosstail have become my go-to drop-shot baits on a 50-50 basis. On rivers, using the swimming drop-shot technique, or when smallmouths are spitting up shiners and perch, I tend to do better with the Density Panic Minnow. When the water's colder, or smallmouths are on chubs, redtails, leeches, or something indiscriminate, the Crosstail comes through. So many to choose from, though. The Mojo Reefer Tail (number 10 on the list), is another great dropshot bait. density-tackle.com
, Jackal Crosstail Shad