September 24, 2010
They may not look like much, but soft-plastic grubs are among the most versatile and productive bass baits you can carry. Your imagination is the limit with these little gems.
Photo by Tom Evans
By Bruce Ingram
One of the mysteries of American bass fishing is: Why is a grub called a grub? After all, this soft-plastic bait looks nothing like its namesake in either size or color - a little, grayish-white creature living underground that is the larval form of various species of insects. Perhaps equally mysterious is the effectiveness of grubs as bass baits throughout the year - even during the winter months.
OVERVIEW OF THE GRUB I asked Al Kalin - who operates the Kalin Company, a manufacturer of soft-plastic baits - why grubs catch fish.
"Beats me; I wish I knew," was Kalin's honest reply. "All I know is that they work in cold water, and they work in warm. The reason why they catch bass might be the way a grub wiggles when it is retrieved. And that wiggle is key. If the soft plastic is such that it becomes hard and brittle instead of soft and supple in cold water, then the bait definitely won't attract fish."
According to Kalin, lure popularity typically comes and goes, and the grub is not a popular artificial right now - which, ironically, makes it a deadlier bass lure, since the fish don't see it as often, especially during the winter. He believes that Mann's Stingray Grub, a flat-tailed bait, may have been one of the first popular lures in this category, along with the curlytail version that Mister Twister sold. In any event, the grub was apparently an offshoot of the craze for worm fishing that swept through American bass fishing in the 1950s and 1960s. And a grub, he says, is really nothing more than a small worm with a tail.
Kalin says that grubs reached their peak popularity in the 1980s, when companies experienced solid sales. Ever since then, grub sales have declined as newer, sexier baits - such as the soft-plastic jerkbaits in the early 1990s and big tubes, and fall baits currently - have dominated the preferences of bass fishermen.
"If 95 percent of the bass fishermen use a particular style of bait," Kalin noted, "95 percent of the fish will be caught on that bait. That doesn't mean that grubs still won't catch fish. No matter where you fish in this country, no matter the season, grubs still work."
THE 3-INCH GRUB ON A JIGHEAD By far my favorite way to fish a grub is to attach a 3-inch version to either a 1/4- or a 1/8-ounce jighead. An anecdote from my initial fishing trip of the New Year this past winter shows why. Bluebird skies, a cold front, and close-mouthed bass were the story, and I spent a long, frustrating morning, landing only two keeper size fish landed, and those barely meeting the minimum-size limit.
Not knowing what the pattern was, and with only 90 minutes of fishing time left, I decided to attach a 3-inch grub to a 1/4-ounce jighead and fan-cast the area I was fishing. During that time, I tangled with a pair of 2-pound-bass. Though these two fish were certainly not huge, they were quality fish, given the conditions and the season, and they saved my outing.
Those wintertime bass were holding in a deep, rocky pool adjacent to the main channel. A good tactic for this situation is to allow the grub/ jighead to sink to the bottom and then to retrieve the bait slowly - just fast enough to keep it above the rocks. This same rig will also work when bass are more active and move into the current of the main channel - and all lakes fed by tributaries have current, imperceptible though it may be.
THE 5-INCH GRUB RIGGED TEXAS-STYLE Bass fishermen rig just about every soft-plastic concoction Texas-style, but we infrequently make a grub weedless. Nevertheless, a 5-inch grub rigged weedless and with a sliding bullet sinker is a superlative wintertime lure.
For example, during the coldwater period, bass often move into very heavy cover to await better foraging conditions. Examples of this type of habitat include brushpiles, logjams and beaver huts; a 3-inch grub on a jighead is simply not going to pass through this type of cover. But a Texas-rigged 5-inch grub can nestle down into the thick stuff and be inched through it. The latter can also be left motionless for long periods of time, moved forward a short distance, and then left once again to slumber. Sooner or later, a lethargic bass may well decide that a 5-inch grub offers size and bulk enough to make it worthwhile for the predator to move from its winter lair. Of all the baits mentioned in this story, I would rate the 5-inch grub as the one most likely to attract larger winter bass.
Another place to use this lure is on dropoffs out from weedbeds. Of course, the weedbeds themselves aren't likely to be green or growing, but if the shelves on which the vegetation flourishes during the warmwater period are either adjacent to or relatively near deeper water, the bass may be holding on the first major drop out from them.
CURLYTAIL GRUBS ON A CAROLINA RIG Two of the most important bass wintering grounds are roadbeds and main-channel dropoffs. Both these locales offer deep water with relatively stable conditions - something benumbed bass crave. And, certainly, one of the best ways to prospect for bass in these two situations is with 3-inch, 4-inch, or 5-inch curlytail grubs on Carolina rigs.
During the warmwater period, many bass fishermen like to troll down roadbeds and main-channel dropoffs at a fairly fast clip. In the winter months, though, I would suggest going at the slowest pace your trolling motor will allow. I would also recommend that, whatever length grub you decide to use, you not rig it weedless. Deep-water wintertime bites are extremely light, and accomplishing a good hookup under the prevailing conditions is very difficult.
I also believe that it's imperative that the sinker part of the Carolina rig always maintain contact with the bottom. During the warmwater period, we can get away with the sinker occasionally rising off the bottom - but wintertime bass are not as forgiving, and are far less likely to chase a bait that is much over their heads.
FLAT-TAILED GRUBS AS FINESSE BAITS The closer the water temperature is to freezing, the greater is the likelihood of the bass' being inactive or, at best, in a neutral feeding mode. This is especially true if the water temperature has been dropping instead of rising. For this condition, a 3-inch flat-tailed grub is an excellent option.
Sometimes called a "straight-tailed" grub, this lure is nothing more than a short worm with a p
addletail. Often, flattails are attached to a jighead designed to be dragged along the bottom. I like to rig flat-tailed grubs weedless because of the great danger of snags, but, in any event, expect to lose plenty of baits. This is another wintertime lure that cannot be retrieved too slowly.
Also, expect this grub rig to be one of the few workable options for very lethargic wintertime bass. Anticipate that the fish will be in heavy cover - for example, under docks that have been sweetened with wood, artificial and natural brushpiles, and deep-water woody debris of all kinds.
DROP-SHOTTING GRUBS Drop-shotting has become one of the hottest ways to rig soft-plastic baits, and it's not surprising that this getup has a coldwater application. I prefer a 3-inch curlytail grub for this rig, although larger baits will certainly perform well.
As is true with the Carolina rig, you may have to use larger sinkers in the wintertime on your home body of water in order to maintain consistent contact with the bottom. Also, instead of slowly retrieving a grub that's drop-shotted, consider leaving the bait in place and slowly raising and lowering it a few inches. Promising places for trying this gambit are bars, points and ledges - all, of course, in deep water.
COLOR AND ROD-AND-REEL OPTIONS Last year, before I was to give a bass fishing seminar, a good friend begged me not to tell the assemblage what he knew that I believed - that is, that color rarely has any relevance concerning whether fish hit or don't hit a bait. Such a statement, he said, is upsetting to many fishermen. Perhaps. But regardless, I believe that color is especially irrelevant in wintertime grub fishing, so use whatever hue you have confidence in.
The choice of rod and reel is important, though. When you're fan-casting a 3-inch grub on a jighead, a medium or medium-heavy spinning rod is a logical choice, given this bait's light weight. For 5-inch grubs rigged Texas-style, a medium-heavy baitcaster gets the nod. For all other rigs, medium-heavy spinning or baitcasting rods work equally well.
In a decade, maybe two, the grub will come back into fashion, and once again receive national acclaim. Right now, for wintertime fishing, the grub is certainly one of the best options that we bass anglers can turn to with confidence.
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