Tubular Thinking

Tubular Thinking

In the Big Bass Zone, there is nothing better than a timely question, especially for anglers facing a summer of puzzles. The following comes from John Wick of San Diego, Calif., who writes, “Hey Bill and Mike. I’ve always admired you for your contributions to the sport, I read your book and have a couple of questions. I have begun to fish a particular lake often and, after reading your book, I was thinking the tubes would be great for all the shad-chasers. What colors and sizes would you suggest?

In the Big Bass Zone, there is nothing better than a timely question, especially for anglers facing a summer of puzzles. The following comes from John Wick of San Diego, Calif., who writes, “Hey Bill and Mike. I’ve always admired you for your contributions to the sport, I read your book and have a couple of questions. I have begun to fish a particular lake often and, after reading your book, I was thinking the tubes would be great for all the shad-chasers. What colors and sizes would you suggest? I was thinking of throwing these in the bait balls or vertically jigging them around bait. I like the white pepper and smoke. I was thinking of using 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon on a lighter swimbait setup (Curado 7:1 and a 7’ 9” heavy action, extra-fast Rogue Swimbait rod rated for 12-25 pound test). Thanks in advance.

P.S. The new swimbait looks awesome."

The entire discussion of how to select baits hinges on the BBZ “illusion of realism” concept. While some lures depend on realism to create the illusion, others rely heavily on illusion to produce a realistic presentation.

For instance, most swimbaits offer a very realistic fish silhouette. It is one where the realism is enhanced by a presentation that sells the illusion of a vulnerable baitfish. On the other hand, tubes are all about illusion. The form, the color, the flash and the action – if properly presented – all add up to a realistic offering and one intended to duplicate a densely packed ball of bait.

Photo: Bill Siemantel The darting action of tubes, combined with their color and flash, makes them an ideal bait for imitating shad balls.

Photo: Bill Siemantel

The darting action of tubes, combined with their color and flash, makes them an ideal bait for imitating shad balls.

Although big tubes can – and most certainly do – look like other things to bass, the strength of their darting action combined with color and flash places the shad-ball illusion at the top of the list.

The key to being consistent with tubes is not to be led astray by the most obvious shad chasers, i.e. bass crashing the surface in pursuit of baitfish. Visual confirmation is always a gift and should never be ignored. The problem, however, is getting locked into a morning surface or subsurface bite that eventually evaporates as the sun rises.

Throughout the day, bass are still smoking bait balls. The difference is that they will be doing it at various levels in the water column and probably won’t be forcing shad pods all the way to the surface. This is the time for your top-middle-bottom analysis to find the commitment zone throughout the day.

With one eye on your sonar, you’ll be using the basic BBZ approach. First, find your key areas (points, ridges, humps, flats or creeks channels), then look for plus factors such as mud lines, grass lines, submerged brush, wind or current. Obviously, the ultimate plus factors are baitfish and bass nearby.

Remember, commitment zones may exist at different levels of the water column, so don’t fall in love with a specific part of the top-middle-bottom. On the very best days, there is some consistency to the key depth range where bass are actively feeding, but not always.

Being able to visualize bass corralling and then attacking bait balls is an important ingredient to your success. Fortunately, today’s sonar units paint a very accurate picture of this process and can help greatly in evaluating those bait schools that are under the gun.

For example, a loosely packed bait school with bass nearby would indicate that the hunt is not underway. To maximize their feeding forays, bass will move along the edges of the school, tightening the ball into a swirling mass. This is precisely why big tubes are so effective. The illusion is of a tightly packed ball, one that is at its most vulnerable to predators.

If you see a shad ball with ragged edges – and bass are close by or even mixed in with the bait – you can be relatively sure that the bite is on. This tightening and re-tightening of bait schools repeats itself as bass position their quarry for the highest percentage feeding opportunity. When they crash the school, the target is a shimmering wall of meat to be gobbled immediately or wounded for later.

In choosing between 6- or 8-inch tubes, it generally comes down to fall rate. The smaller 6-inch version sinks faster than an 8-inch and requires less forceful rod movements to create directional changes. A 6-inch tube will sink even faster if you swap out heads from an 8-inch model and use the heavier jig.

Whichever size you select, it’s all about identifying the depth and then placing the lure at that depth. The best method is allowing the tube to swing down into the zone like a pendulum. Count the lure down and once you feel you’re nearing the commitment zone, create directional changes with sharp pops of the rod tip.

If you find yourself in a vertical situation – directly over a bait ball – don’t get cute. Drop the tube straight down and use your sonar like a real-time video game.

As you progress with tubes, you’ll soon recognize that the most remarkable action comes in areas where you have created a “funnel attack”. In these circumstances, you’ve identified an area with a structure or cover element that bass are using to funnel bait to a compromising location. (It may be something as subtle as a mud line off a point.) This is where the bass plan on plastering those shad. Bring your tube into their funnel and you are making the bass think they are accomplishing their goals.

As far as tackle choices, let’s start with lure color. Pearl/white pepper and smoke are a perfect combination for any tube fishermen. With these two choices you can pretty much cover the water clarity spectrum. The difference in the BBZ is that we don’t have any guidelines for choosing one over the other. If you think the combination of water clarity, light penetration, etc. gives one color the edge over the other in creating the proper illusion, then let the fish decide.

If you find yourself in a vertical situation – directly over a bait ball – don’t get cute. Drop the tube straight down and use your sonar like a real-time video game. 

When it comes to choosing a rod, it’s difficult to give any case-by-case advice since we’re not familiar with the Rogue swimbait rod. For some general guidelines, go to the BBZ archives here on BassFan.com and check out “Swing Time: Parabolic Action Key for Big Bait Sticks” (June 7, 2006).

As for reels, this is a different story. Again, check out the archives for “Reel Force: The Right Stuff” (Jan. 25, 2005). However, in this instance, we can give some specific counsel on whether a Curado will do the job.

The problem with this reel - or any small-spool reel – comes with limited line capacity. With tubes and swimbaits, 20-pound test is at the lower end of the spectrum, so after a long cast from Jim’s Curado (even longer with the wind at his back) he’s looking at a reel somewhere at half spool. Factor in a few re-ties during the day and the spool will look even emptier.

At this point, the line take-up ability of the Curado has been reduced from approximately 27 inches per crank to 15 or 16 inches. Why is this so critical?

With tubes, speed and cadence is crucial. If your line take-up is slow at the start of a retrieve and screaming near the boat, the presentation will suffer. These drastic changes in speed and cadence are significant.

If that isn’t enough to get you thinking about a big spool reel such as the Shimano Calcutta, consider this: A small spool reel on a big rod with big lures is not a balanced system and impacts its hooksetting power. Sooner than later, you will see a discomforting pattern in your strike-to-hookup ratios.

When it comes to line, this is all about confidence. Assuming you’ve done some due diligence in understanding the brand of line you’ve chosen, stick with it. Fluorocarbon has its advantages, especially in clear water, and will do a workmanlike job at greater depths.

The problem with combining fluorocarbon and tubes is with foul hooking. Fluorocarbon sinks and when a tube flares, it will move past the line. If you’re at all off rhythm during your retrieves, you may find yourself dealing with an inordinate number of ruined presentations.

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