By: Jeff Gustafson
Now that the 2019 fishing season is pretty well finished up I have been looking through some photos from the past year and thinking about some of the great days I had on the water. My first year fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series was all I hoped it would be…I had a lot of fun, met some new friends and despite a few tough tournaments, I had enough good days to qualify for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville, Alabama. For anyone who fishes in bass tournaments, the Classic is the premier event in our sport and I think everybody has the dream of competing in it someday so I can’t wait until March to take it all in.
Looking back at some of the good days I had this year, a few of my best days of smallmouth fishing stuck out to me and I was reminded of how many fish I caught on a soft plastic tube bait, both the 2.75” model and the larger 3.5” model. These tubes have been around for a few years now but I’m not sure that bass anglers know how good they really are. They are scented tubes, yet they are loaded with salt, a must for any tube I would consider using. The colors are good, including a really nice shade of green pumpkin, which is the most popular color for me and a lot of other anglers. Smallmouths simply love it everywhere.
When it comes to choosing which tube to use, I’m a big fan of the smaller model for most applications. For shallow water or pressured fish, the 2.75” Fatty Tube is a bite-sized morsel that emulates a crayfish or a goby. Smallmouths love small baits, even the biggest fish in the Great Lakes. Using the smaller tube isn’t going to result in catching smaller bass. I’ve also had a lot of success fishing shallow on my home waters (Lake of the Woods/Rainy Lake) over the years with the smaller tubes. In fact, I begged Northland to make this tube for years and when they finally did, it turned out perfect.
I like the larger 3.5” model when I’m fishing deeper water, particularly on the Great Lakes or when I’m fishing for “minnow-eating” fish. It’s a larger profile and holds a heavy 3/8 – ¾ ounce jig head better. So, if I’m fishing shallower water, particularly if I’m casting to sand spots at Sturgeon Bay on Lake Michigan or pitching to shallow boulders on Lake of the Woods, I like the smaller tube. If I’m dragging a tube in 25 feet of water at the St. Lawrence River or fishing in big wind, the larger tube is my choice.
When I think back to some of my most memorable days of smallmouth fishing this year, a couple of good ones happened on the Great Lakes. The first was at Sturgeon Bay, on the second day of the Sturgeon Bay Open tournament that I fished with my pal Seth Feider. We were supposed to fish an Elite Series event in Oklahoma the same week as the Open but it was canceled at the last minute due to flooded conditions at Fort Gibson Lake so Seth and I decided we’d team up for the Sturgeon Bay Open. We had a great time fishing together for a few days but the first day of the tournament was kinda round on us. We caught around 20 pounds and landed somewhere in the ’50s or ’60s after day one. On day two we fished some new water and had a much better day, bringing a 27-pound limit which was one of the bigger catches of the tournament. Seth caught some of the bigger fish on a small swimbait while I stuck with the 2.75” Fatty Tube. We were culling five-pound smallmouths, it was pretty awesome.
Another time where the 3.5” Fatty Tube got the job done was at the Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship at Lake St. Clair in September. I used a green pumpkin/purple flake tube most of the week and caught a pile of fish on it. Over the first couple days of practice, it was really windy and the lake was rough so I started using a ¾ ounce jig in my tube to get my bait on the bottom and keep it there. As the week went on and I was catching more fish on that tube than some of the others I had rigged with lighter jigs I realized there was something to it. I was snap-jigging the tube and bouncing it along aggressively and these smallmouths were smashing it. Something you may want to try on your home water. The thing with a tube, especially if you’re trying to get it to imitate a crayfish, goby, or sculpin, is you want it on the bottom so using the heavy jig gets it there quickly and then makes it move a lot faster, which in some situations will generate more reaction strikes.
The smaller tubes I like to fish on 3/16-1/4 ounce jig most of the time. Simply cast them out and bounce them back to the boat. You’ll know when one bites! I like to fish both tubes on a G. Loomis 7’3” NRX spinning rod, Shimano Stradic CI4 reel, spooled with 10 lb braided line, and a six-foot leader of 10 lb. fluoro. If you want to catch some smallmouths, give these Impulse Fatty Tubes a try.