September 30, 2010
If there's a better overall lure than the spider grub for catching Show Me State bass, countless anglers would be extremely surprised to hear it. Give a spider grub a try at these lakes.
Professional angler Mike Boyles with a pair of Missouri bigmouths.
Photo by Bryan Hendricks
Fishermen are by nature prone to hyperbole. As when they talk about the secret lure that bass can't resist. Or when they tell their buddies about a can't-miss technique or application. But when it comes to bass fishing in the Show Me State -- especially as it regards bass fishing this month -- one lure and its applications stick out: the spider grub.
While spider grubs come in various forms, colors and sizes, their basic design is essentially the same. They have a thin, cylindrical, tapered body with one or two flippers on one end, and a fountain of thin, spaghetti-like tendrils at the head. It's actually supposed to mimic a crawdad, but its name comes from those spider-like tendrils. Some say the tendrils look like a hula skirt. Hence, many people also call them "hula grubs."
These tendrils are also the key component that gives the spider-grub its amazing versatility. When the lure is moved horizontally or jigged vertically, the tendrils flare out in a most tantalizing fashion. If a bass is around, this will certainly get its attention.
The flippers are also essential to the lure's versatility. When stationary, they're supposed to mimic crawdad pincers. When the lure is moving quickly, the flippers undulate like a flag flapping in the breeze. This creates pulse turbulence that attracts fish, but it also provides a powerful visual trigger. Thus, the spider grub is an excellent lure that can be used effectively in as many ways as your imagination can conceive.
Because it's so visually stimulating, the spider grub shines in the clear lakes and rivers of Missouri. Crawdads are a staple for bass throughout the state, so a bass instantly recognizes a spider grub as food. Spider grubs are usually the top baits for catching smallmouth bass in streams, but if used with the right equipment, they are very productive in lakes, as well.
I discovered the spider grub about 10 years ago, when my love for fishing for smallmouths in streams was in full bloom. At that time I used a No. 5 Rapala minnow, silver/black back, almost exclusively. Occasionally I used gold/black back. I was very successful with those lures, but I was also very limited in where and how I could fish. If smallmouths were in a mood to chase a moving lure or pop one sitting on the surface, I was fine. If they were feeding on the bottom in deep water, as the big ones prefer to do, I couldn't get them.
I mentioned my dilemma to a friend who owned a tackle store, so he led me to the aisle containing the soft-plastic lures. He produced two small bags of Gary Yamamoto spider grubs. One was watermelon/green metal flake, the other pumpkinseed/red metal flake. Then, he handed me two small bags of black, standup jigheads. One contained 1/8-ounce jigs, the other 1/4-ounce jigs, for deeper, swifter water.
My life was never the same. Those two bags of spider grubs provided me the flexibility that allowed me to catch smallmouths in any conditions, and catch them in greater numbers than I'd ever dreamed possible. Immediately I began catching more and larger smallmouths, and success grew as I refined my techniques. Some I learned by experimenting; some I learned by luck. Others I learned from other anglers. (Other popular brands of spider grubs are those from Yum, Table Rock Bait & Tackle and Bass Pro Shops.)
TABLE ROCK SPIDERS
One angler who uses spider grubs with great effect on smallmouths is Bill Chester of Reeds Spring. Bill and I got together recently on a glorious morning at Table Rock Lake. After determining that smallmouths weren't rising to take big stickbaits, we mined the bottom with Carolina rigs and spider grubs on standup jigheads. We got some good bites with Carolina-rigged worms, but the tempo increased when we started putting spider grubs on the Carolina rig. Unfortunately, we couldn't get any of those fish in the boat.
Late in the day, we switched to spider grubs on standup jigs. By then, we were using a color I'd never fished before -- smoke with black metalflake. We were fishing a gently sloping point when I got a solid bite. After a spirited battle, I hoisted aboard a fat 3-pound smallmouth.
Finally, we ended up in a deep cove near the dam. With that same color spider grub, I caught two 9-inch goggle-eyes that ended up in the skillet. Then, lightning struck. Unfortunately, it struck twice. As the wind blew the boat parallel to the bank, I dragged the grub along the bottom. Nearing the end of the point, I set the hook on a magnificent smallmouth. This fish made several long runs and a few really strong surges. When I finally got it to the boat, I swallowed hard. There, at the end of the line, was a smallmouth that appeared to be close to state-record size. Just as Bill was about to guide the net over its head, it surged wildly and bent the hook on that jig back like a straw.
That fish exemplifies the potential that a spider grub can have for you. One of its best attributes is that you can use it all summer long and get the same results.
"The spider grub is always a good bait on Table Rock, but in the summertime especially," Chester said. "This time of year, the fish are definitely on the crawdad hunt, and they're doing a lot of bottom feeding. The spider grub is awesome in that situation, and I've caught some nice fish with it."
While smoke/black metalflake worked for us the day Bill Chester and I fished together, that was an anomaly. Any variation of either green or brown will be a staple at Table Rock, because they most closely resemble the crawdads that live there.
"When I fish spider grubs, I fish the 'bass houses' where the fish live," Chester said. "I try fishing it around structure areas where pea gravel falls into rocky structure, places where I know there's some crawdad activity."
For it to mimic a crawdad, you have to get the grub down to where the fish are feeding. If they're not feeding, you have to get it to them anyway, and find a way to trigger strikes. Sometimes that means fishing much deeper than many anglers can do confidently. When fishing deeper than about 10 feet, many anglers abandon jigs and switch to Carolina rigs. In Chester's view, that can be a mistake. "Anytime someone can catch a fish on a Carolina rig, you can catch them on spider grubs -- and sometimes better -- because it's a compact bait and you can move it a little slower," he said.
Getting a spider grub deep enough is not a problem; however, keeping the bait on the bottom can be
difficult when you're using relatively light jigs in the stiff breezes you often encounter on big lakes like Table Rock. Add to that the light line you have to use with standup type jigs, and fishing deep structure with spider grubs can be intimidating. But proficiency simply takes practice, Chester said.
"What you need to do, especially on Table Rock, if try to determine where an area of rock structure is going into lake," he offered. "It doesn't stop there at the shoreline. You can bet it moves further out. I'll start working that structure area until I get to water 20, 25 or 30 feet deep, or until I find out what level the fish are holding."
When you find that level, you still have to keep the lure in front of the fish. That requires a great degree of patience and self-control.
"Bottom contact is important," Chester said. "If it's any way possible, I'll throw a spider grub on 8-pound line, maybe 10-pound, with a 3/8-ounce jighead. No matter what color you use, bottom contact is key."
One mistake that anglers often make with spider grubs is moving them too quickly across the bottom. Crawdads move slowly. If you move a grub too quickly, it might appear unnatural to a bass. The best way to move a spider grub is to twitch the rod tip slightly and then let the grub sit motionless for protracted periods. It's during this period of stillness that you often get strikes.
LOZ SPIDER BITE
Although it is very similar in topography and profile to Table Rock, Lake of the Ozarks is primarily largemouth bass water. It also contains a lot of spotted bass, but it has few, if any, smallmouths. The water isn't as clear, either. Nevertheless, spider grubs are excellent lures for catching a limit of LOZ largemouths.
One trap many anglers fall victim to at LOZ is concentrating exclusively on the great selection of boat docks around the lake. There are hundreds of docks, and they do shelter bass. Most bass anglers are very comfortable spending the day flipping and pitching jigs under docks, and you will certainly catch fish that way. However, LOZ contains the same rocky points, bluffs, rocks and pea gravel transition areas that Table Rock has, and they're always great places to catch fish. For big bass, they may even be better than the docks, because they aren't fished as heavily or as often.
Of course, fishing deep, rocky structure and transition areas requires more work and greater skills at reading topography than does fishing docks. Those with advanced skills do very well at LOZ, and the spider grub is one of their staple baits.
As at Table Rock, every part of LOZ contains deep, rocky structure. Whether you fish the Grand Glaize arm, the Gravois arm, the Niangua arm or the main stem of the Osage River, these features are abundant everywhere.
Because the upper ends of the arms are heavily silted, crawdad habitat is limited, and so crawdad numbers are also limited. Even when the silt runs out, the upper sections of the main arms are narrow and riverine. For that reason, I prefer to fish the middle stretches of the arms down to the mouths. That's where you find the long, rocky points and deep water that provide excellent cover and feeding areas for bass.
These middle sections of the main arms are excellent places to catch spotted bass. "Spots" are generally a lot smaller than largemouths, but occasionally you'll hook a big one, such as the 3.7-pounder I caught a few years ago. I caught that one on a Shad Rap fished as deep as I could get it. Spotted bass inhabit the same niche that smallmouths occupy in other lakes, and they behave similarly, especially in that they depend heavily on crawdads for food. That's why the spider grub is such an excellent lure in these waters.
For largemouth bass, one of my favorite areas is the main lake, within sight of Bagnell Dam. The water there is clear and cool, and there's usually a noticeable current. These characteristics make this one of the most productive areas on the lake for mid-summer bass fishing. Again, this is an excellent area for using spider grubs. As Bill Chester does at Table Rock, you simply need to follow rocky features as deep as they go, and then key on the transition areas that are nearby. The slopes there are quite steep, so you don't necessarily have to fish far from the bank to get into deep water. You just have to work different depths until you find fish.
TRUMAN LAKE SPIDER BITES
To the casual observer, Truman Lake doesn't appear to be a great place for using spider grubs. The water is fairly turbid, and submerged timber comprises the most dominant structure. Therefore, it's considered an excellent place to use crankbaits and big, Texas-rigged worms.
A closer look reveals that Truman has a lot of low, rocky bluffs and ledges -- areas that hold a lot of bass. They're not fished as heavily as the finger points and the timber groves, but I've always caught more bass there than anyplace else. My favorite lures are electric blue worms on a Texas rig and, of course, spider grubs.
I fish spider grubs a little differently at Truman than I do at Table Rock and LOZ. Instead of fishing deep structure, I throw the grub right against the shore and hop it down to deeper water by twitching the rod tip. That's because these bluffs descend in stair-step fashion down to the channel. Bass move up and down on these parallel benches, and when you catch one fish, it's pretty easy to determine exactly the depth at which the others are holding. Again, you usually need only basic colors. If a brown or green variation doesn't work, you can always experiment. If a different color works well, make note of every condition so you can go to it again if necessary.
CURRENT RIVER SPIDER BITES
In my opinion, spider grubs were designed specifically for fishing in Ozark streams. There's simply nothing else that catches smallmouth bass as dependably.
One of my most memorable smallmouth floats occurred on the Current River, between Pulltite Access and the Jerry Presley Education Center, with my friend Tom Cwynar of Jefferson City. It was late summer, hot and sunny, and we were having a tough day. For the first mile or so, all we had to show for our efforts was a big goggle-eye and a yellow sucker that managed to drive a rusty hook into Tom's finger.
In fact, we had more or less given up on fishing as we floated through a long, deep pool. Our canoe floated sideways, and I sat sideways in the rear seat with my feet in the water. Tom and I chatted as I dragged a pumpkinseed/red metalflake spider grub along the bottom of the pool. That was the deepest part of the pool, and I felt the grub go across the top of a small stone ridge. I got a savage strike. After a heroic fight, I boated a 4-pound smallmouth.
As we approached the next set of rapids, we paddled back to the head of the pool and floated back down sideways, just as we did before. I caught another smallmouth, identical to the last one, in the same place. Tom also got a nice one.
We made two more passes, but we exhausted that pool. We fished the same way in every pool thereafter, and by the end of the day, we'd cau
ght four 4-pounders, along with many others up to 16 inches. That was a happy accident, but I now use that tactic anytime the fishing is tough on a stream.
No matter where or when you fish for bass in Missouri, you can always catch bass with a spider grub. What a mighty web it weaves!