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Tubebaits - Going Totally Tubular!

By Russ Bassdozer

Background.  Tubebaits were originally marketed on a national scale during the 1970s by Bobby Garland. Garland's Gitzit tube quickly achieved fame as a light tackle 6 to 8 lb. test lure fished on a small jig head. The lightweight category was further reinforced by Guido Hibdon's legendary tournament successes in "finesse fishing" and "sight fishing" with tubebaits during the 1980s. Recently, due to Denny Brauer, tubebaits have also received national recognition as baits to be flipped in heavy cover on heavy gear.

Basic Anatomy. The Gitzit and many other brands of tube baits are made of rubbery plastic which is often firmer and more like rubber than other soft plastic baits (worms, grubs, etc). Usually, a tube bait is dipped and formed around a metal mandrel or rod. Then the tentacle-like tails are machine-split (sometimes not so neatly) as a later step in the process after the rubber cures or hardens. A very few brands of tubes are injection-molded from the same soft plastic as most other soft baits and the tentacle tails are injected during the process, rather than split as a later step in the process. The injected tentacles are much neater, although still not always perfect - and they can have more fluid action in the water than the machine-split rubbery tails. A good example of the injection-molded tube bait comes from Luck "E" Strike and it is called the "G4". You can order G4s from Barlow's Bait and Tackle.

What Size is Right?  A 4 inch tube bait is about right for typical bassing. This size tube is a great lure for catching large numbers of average-sized largemouths and tons of good smallmouths. Although there are 3" and smaller tubebaits, anything less than 4 inches is going to be accosted  by short bass far too often. Even at 4 inches, it will pick up lots of smaller bass. It is not likely that a 4" tubebait would ever be anyone's top choice for a big bass lure.

Color Guide. Tubes come in many colors For example, Garry Garland's original Gitzzit comes in over 90 colors, and the Luck "E" Strike G4 comes in 52 colors. I have tried most of them! You can use any color you usually use for any kind of soft plastic baits, and you will find that most colors work pretty good. I am currently quite fond of and recommend you consider trying the following four colors:

1 Dark smoke back, light smoke belly/copper flake
2 Rainbow trout (green pepper back with pearl belly)
3 Fire tiger (green back/red flake with orange belly)
4 White pearl

How to Rig Tubes. Some people love to use special HP hooks and insert weights - but I do not. Some people say to use an open jig hook in open water – but I do not. I mostly rig mine with a streamlined 1/16th ounce weedless wire guard tube jig head. It sports a medium wire 3/0 hook. I first started to use these heads over twelve years ago when they were available in catalogs. Today I phone in special orders for these from Stanley Jigs, Inc. Ask to speak with the guys in the back who are still using the old Jigzitz heads for smallmouth. They can get you some. They have a thin wireguard, a streamlined nose, and a cool lead collar that the tube just snaps right into. Even so, consider using a drop of glue to keep it from slipping down. Most anglers are of the mind that tubes can only be used on light tackle like 6 and 8 lb. test. This is a big misconception. A 4" tube and 1/16 oz wireguard jig casts extremely well on ultra-thin 12 pound test spinning. As a matter of fact, it casts so well that you will have trouble setting the hook at the end of the cast because of the long length of line out. I often pitch, flip and skip a 4" tube on 14 and 17 pound test in moderate cover, sometimes moving up to the 1/8th ounce wireguard tube jig head to compensate for the heavier line. There is also a 1/4 ounce size of the wireguard tube jig head that I use to catch deep fish (20-30 feet) or in areas of current flow. 

What Triggers 'em. The triggering effect that tube baits have is the unpredictable darting action this tube/jig combo makes when it initially drops, when you flick the rod tip smartly, and on subsequent drops. With the 12 lb. test and 1/16th ounce jigs, most tubes will dart unpredictably when rigged straight. With the heavier lines and the 1/8th ounce jigs, the natural action may be dampened out, so you may want to try one of two things to induce the erratic darting that is so enticing to bass: 1) bring the hook point out of the tube a little too far up the bend of the hook to create a slight curvature, or 2) rig the tube body on the jig as you would straight, but then hold the tube near the head , “twist” it to the side and lock the twist in place with a drop of glue. As with any jig, your best chance comes on the initial entry and drop of the bait.

Texas Rig Tubes in Heavy Cover. Another specially-designed tube jig head come from Bobby Garland's Better Fishing Ways. This jig design is called a "T.R. Lead Head". It uses a custom-bent 4/0 offset Texas rig hook. It has a squat bullet nose molded in 1/16, 1/8 and 1/4 ounce sizes. Just Texas rig your tubes onto these jigs and sling them into the thickest weed and wood cover you can find.

What about the New Big Fat Tubes? There is a recent trend to flipping Texas-rigged big fat 5 to 6 inch tubes into heavy cover. Several lure manufacturers, including Gambler, Luck E Strike, and MST Manufacturing have jumped onto this big tube trend. You will catch better-sized fish by throwing big fatso tubes into places normally fished with jig n' pigs, such as thick weeds or wood cover. You will catch more and smaller bass by casting standard 4" tubes into and around sparse cover and open water structure.

What's that Brauer boy been doing?I guess we can say Denny Brauer has started a flipping tube craze that is sweeping the nation. In early August 1998, Denny won the Bass Masters Classic at High Rock Lake in North Carolina. Brauer bagged his bass in 1-2 feet of water while flipping a long stretch of laydowns. Denny was said to be using a Texas-rigged 3.5 inch generic brand of black tubebait with red flakes with a 5/16 ounce weight and a 2/0 Mustad MegaBite hook on 25 lb. test clear Original Stren line and a 7 1/2 foot Daiwa flipping/pitching rod. Denny was quoted as saying he mostly fishes regular bass jigs on heavy tackle, and he's been wanting to find another lure to throw to the same spots, in the same way, with the same set-up as he uses for jigs. He said that an oversized tube jig is a compact lure like a jig. However, a jig falls straight to the bottom whereas a tube falls more erratically. And when you pop it off the bottom, the tube will also dart unpredictably from side to side as it settles back to the bottom.

After winning the Classic, he helped design the Strike King Flippin' Tube, which is a bit bigger and heavier than typical tubes, and therefore works best with a 3/0 or 4/0 hook. Many other tube manufacturers have jumped on the new tube-making band wagon too, and we have not seen all the designs come out of the smoke-filled back rooms yet. So far, at least Berkley, Riverside and Strike King have new, thick-headed tubes designed especially for flipping. The problem with thinner-headed tubes is that there is not enough solid plastic for the eye and neck of the flipping hook to sit firmly in or sit behind. Therefore, the hook will become dislodged from thinner-headed plastic tubes as you haul them through cover, and your bait will ball up on the hook or get snagged.

With the thick-headed tubes, you have a choice of four ways to rig it, as presented below. The best way depends on how heavy the cover is that you are flipping into at any given moment. But you always start out the same for any of the different ways to rig. That is, put the tube onto the offset eye portion of the hook as you would normally for T-rigging. Then take the point end of the hook, and do one of the following:

  1. TEXPOSED: For thin cover, put the point into the bottom of the tube and all the ways out the top of the tube. The barb of the Mustad Mega-Bite curves downward a bit, so it will lie flat outside of and on top of the tube, and this is called "Tex-posed", which means it is an exposed point Texas rig. Texposed really works a bit better on big fat-bodied ribbed grubs or on wide-bodied lizards. Tubes are a bit too thin-bodied for lots of Texposed rigging, but it does have its applications for tubes, especially where the water is mostly open, but with a few snags or weed patches.
  2. TEXSKIN (TOP) For moderate cover, follow the directions for texposing the hook. Then, insert the hook point and barb just under the skin of the tube plastic. You kind of have to pull the plastic forward in front of where the hook comes out the top of the tube, and stretch it forward a bit. While it is still stretched, insert the point just under the skin, and then push the stretched plastic back to cover the barb area. The only way to describe it is that the hook point should appear just under the tube skin exactly as if you got a splinter in your thunb or your big toe, just under your skin.
  3. TEXSKIN (SIDE): For moderate to heavy cover. In this variation, you do not insert the hook through the bottom of the tube. Rather, let the hook dangle down, with the hook bend underneath the tube body, and the hook point alongside the tube. Now scrunch the tube forward a bit with your fingers, insert the hook point into the side of the bait, and then slide the bait back down so that the point and barb are under the skin of the tube. You can bury this under the skin just a little deeper than the Texskin top rigging. Sometimes I use the heavy wire 3/0 offset shank Tru-turn hooks for this.
  4. TEXAS RIG (TRADITIONAL) For the heaviest cover, this is your good ol' put the hook in through the bottom of the bait, and have the point sitting just under and ready to come out the top surface of the tube. Sometimes, you can push the point out the top, then pull it back underneath. this kind of opens up a channel for the hook to slide out, but you really don't want to open this channel too much. Never pull the entire barb out, then try to cover it back up with the plastic. it just won't work. If you pull the entire barb out, you will have made the open channel too wide,and the hook point will poke out too easily and get stuck when you pull the lure over snags.

ABOVE ALL, YOU NEED TO LEAVE SOME "SLACK" IN THE BODY OF THE LURE WHEN YOU RIG. You cannot have the bait stretched too tightly onto the hook. Tautness in the lure body is what makes for poor hooksetting. You have to leave the slightest amount of slack in the body between the offset eye and the embedded point. The slackness makes for a good hookset. This is a feel that only comes with doing it right. Leaving slack does not mean that the lure should look like it has a bend or curve caused by the way you rigged it - it should look perfectly straight - but when you press down on it with your index finger right where you want the fish to bite it, there should be some looseness, some slack give in the lure body. You want the fish's mouth to depress the bait's body down easily in the section ahead of where the hook point is waiting. Also important is that the front portion of the hook eye is not jammed immovably against the weight. Once the hook point starts to grab hold in the fish's mouth, you really want the entire tubebait to easily pull down off the front offset portion of the hook, and out of the way where it won't interfere with a good hook set. Again, this is kind of hard to describe in writing, but very recognizable once you get the hang of doing it. And finally, make sure the rod and line you use are both heavy enough for flipping T-rigged tubes. This is not a light or even medium line/rod technique. And eat your Wheaties breakfast of champions!

Flippin' Jigs for Thin-Headed Tubes. I do an awful lot of bassing with heavy gear in weeds, reeds, rocks, wood - whatever is nastiest. Flipping tubes into this stuff has worked for me at least 15 years now if not more. I don't think bass-sized tubes (4" & up) were nationally available much earlier than that. As mentioned above, a few manufacturers have picked up on the immediate national popularity of flipping tubes since Denny won the Classic. A few new ones have been made with thick rubber head sections for Texas rigging. However, the bulk of the tubes on the market are thin-walled tubes. Rather than Texas rig, they work just fine flipped on fiberguard bass jigs. Just remove the skirt off a bass jig and superglue a tubebait on in its place. If the jig collar is too wide to accommodate the tube, then just pinch the slightest bit off the tip of the tube head to make a small canal in the tube's nose that lets it slip right onto the lead collar. Careful, don't pinch off too much here - just the smallest bit will do. Use the correct weight heads and line test for the cover at hand - same as you would use for flipping jigs, but about a 3/0 hook for 4" tubes, and sparse fiber weed guards. Try different head shapes until you find one that let's the tube drift erratically as it falls and when you snap the rod tip.

Tube Tricks are Traps. On a final note, I caution you not to tinker with your tubes. You may hear of all kind of novelty tricks to try. You may hear that Bobby Garland plucks every other tentacle off his tails in a "she love me, she loves me not" manner. Or you may hear that Guido Hibdon shoves Alka Seltzers up his tubes to make them fizz in front of fish. Then there's the one about filling them with scent attractants, shoving worms inside tubes, another tube inside tubes, and who knows what else they're shoving up there? They're making solid-bodied tubes, attaching rattles to tubes, inserting weights inside tubes - and for what? I have tried all these things. They are traps that sap your fishing skills. They don't catch you any more fish. They are distractions, just extra equipment to buy and carry, and extra time to rig when you could be casting. It only makes more chances to have something go wrong that you have to stop and fix instead of fishing.

In actuality, the only thing you will accomplish with any of these novelties, including insert weights, is to confuse and to compromiise your basic set of fishing skills. It is far better to concentrate on and to achieve excellence of execution with tubes on wireguard and fiberguard jigs and Texas rigged. That's it! In this way, the skills you use while jiggin' and riggin' tubes can be carried over to other styles of jigs and rigs. Only use the finest injection-molded tubes that have perfectly formed and separated tentacle tails. Seek out brands of tubes that retain their roundness over time, but you can also use tubes that get flattened during storage. Just rig the flattened side horizontally to provide more action as you drop and snap it. Above all, it is the softness and separateness of the tentacles tails, and the hollow, round body cavity that makes a good tube great! Just leave the body hollow and empty, and leave the tails long and fluid. Don't add any extras, just apply scent to the outside. Master it this way, and I guarantee you will have a productive fish-catching tool you can happily use for the rest of your bassin' days!

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