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Tube-A-Licious!

Tube-A-Licious! Tubes have all the qualifications of a top-notch bass lure. They have the feel, appearance and action that make them appealing to a bass.

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Tubes have all the qualifications of a top-notch bass lure. They have the feel, appearance and action that make this lure tube-a-licous to bass.

Tubes have all the qualifications of a top-notch bass lure. They have the feel, appearance and action that make this lure tube-a-licous to bass.

More bass have probably been caught on a tube than another lure. Why? “It imitates every type of forage that a bass eats. Perch, crayfish, gobies, shad, you name it,” said guide and bass pro Art Ferguson III. “Plus, it’s one of the most versatile baits you could ever use.”       

   The original Gitzit was the genesis of the tube jig. Bass lure innovator Bobby Garland should be given credit for designing the first tube jig. Garland was continually scheming and inventing via his Bass ‘N Man Lure Company back in the 70’s and 80’s. First news of the Gitzit came after Garland won a Western Bass tournament on Lake Havasu back in the fall of 1980. Word spread like a California wild fire about this new lure referred to as a Fat Gitzit. Garland designed the lure to fall in a spiraling action to imitate a dying shad. Rigged on a 1/16-ounce jig head, the Gitzit also proved to be an awesome crayfish imitation.  

The tube colors of choice to imitate baitfish include pearl, smoke and white glitter. Those colors still work well when bass are keying on baitfish.

The tube colors of choice to imitate baitfish include pearl, smoke and white glitter. Those colors still work well when bass are keying on baitfish.

   It was three or four years before the lure caught on back east. Bass historians believe that Garland gave Guido Hibdon a supply of Gitzits to use at the 1984 Table Rock tournament, an event he won. Soon, anglers like Denny Brauer and Tommy Biffle were using fat tubes to win B.A.S.S. events and tube hysteria became contagious.   

   Today, nearly every plastic manufacturer makes a version of the Gitzit. Garry Garland, Bobby’s brother, makes a refined version of the Gitzit that uses a process whereby the tentacles on the tubes are cut with a machine instead of molded. The process makes tentacles on the tubes finer, more consistent and one of the best on the market. You can see Garland’s baits at http://www.canyon-plastics.com. Other prominent tube manufactures include Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Luck "E" Strike and Strike King.    

   Four-time Bassmaster Classic and four-time FLW Championship qualifier Art Ferguson III has been guiding bass anglers for over 25 years and has come to rely on tube baits as his go-to bait. Ferguson primarily guides on Lake St. Clair in Michigan and Florida waters during the winter, but also fishes bass tournaments all over the country and finds that wherever he goes, tubes rock.

   “The beauty of a tube is the variety of ways you can fish it,” Ferguson said. “You can drag it, flip it, swim it, fish it with a Carolina rig, Texas–rig it or drop shot with it, even fish it on top and you’re going to catch fish.” That’s why a tube is a good choice when guiding. Clients can’t really fish a tube wrong and whatever they’re doing with it they’re likely to catch fish.

Art Ferguson III caught this smallie on a tube in Lake St. Clair.

Art Ferguson III caught this smallie on a tube in Lake St. Clair.

   “I’ve been doing more and more drop shotting with tubes,” Ferguson said. “I never used to use tubes when drop shotting, but it’s a deadly technique.” Ferguson also said that he’s been catching more bass these days by swimming tubes.

   Although tubes imitate a variety of forage, it’s important to “match the hatch” when you can. Ferguson told me that he was pre-fishing for a tournament and went into a bay off the lake to explore. With his polarized glasses, he could see that the bottom in the bay was a strange color. He dropped his jig down and pulled up a crayfish attached to it. It was then that he realized that the bottom was crawling with newly hatched crayfish. Thousands of them! Ferguson said he dropped the live crayfish on the deck and pulled out his tube assortment. He found one that matched the length and coloration of the live crayfish to a tee. 99% of the bass he caught during the tournament were caught on that identical tube, enough to place second in the tournament.

   Crawfish are like candy to a bass. Crawdads are found in every body of water that has bass in them so they’re accustomed to seeing them. Tubes do an outstanding job of imitating crayfish if you think about it. When a crayfish is alarmed and scoots backwards, it looks just like a tube. A crayfish’s tail is tucked under its body then giving it a rounded appearance and it claws are drawn in behind it’s body producing a slim profile. The tentacles on a tube simulate the claws on a panicked, fleeing crustacean. 

   Tubes also do a great job imitating a crawdad in defense mode. Crayfish often just stand their ground when they are threatened. The crawdad’s claws come up in a defensive posture and it tries to back up into cover. A tube can appear strikingly similar to a defensive crayfish. Because of its semi-buoyant hollow body, air can get trapped in a tube and cause it to take a tentacles-up attitude like a retreating crawdad. Add the element of scent and a rattle and you have one of the most convincing crayfish imitations ever made.

Joe Balog is a big fan of tubes, especially for smallmouth bass in clear water.

Joe Balog is a big fan of tubes, especially for smallmouth bass in clear water.

   Color is really important. Bass often regurgitate what they’re eaten when you get them in the boat. If it’s a crawdad, make note of the size and color of the bait and match the color of your tube to the real thing. Generally, dark colors like pumpkin, watermelon, motor oil, mixed with other highlights do a good job of imitating crayfish. These same colors do a great job of imitating gobies, darters and sculpins for anglers that fish the Great Lakes for bass.

   When I first fished with Ferguson 2O years ago, we didn’t use dark colored tubes. That was before the days of zebra mussels and gobies and before Lake St. Clair became super clear and weeds began growing in deeper water. Crayfish numbers exploded due to more vegetation being available for food and cover. The tube of choice back then was pearl, smoke and white glitter to imitate the bait de jour –  shad and shiners. Those colors still work well when bass are keying on baitfish. Ferguson shared that when fishing inland lakes for largemouth he’ll use tubes in combinations of black, blue and red highlights. Watermelon and pumpkin with chartreuse and purple flake are good, too.

   An admitted tubeaholic, Ferguson decided to start marketing his own brand of tubes, jigs, drop-shot weights, swim baits and A-rigs on his website Provider Tackle (providertackle.com, 586-531-2821.) Provider Tackle offers some of the best tubes and terminal tackle on the market.

   One of Ferguson’s own inventions, his Performance Series Tube Heads, are a relatively unknown secret to catching big numbers of bass on tubes. “It’s really important that your tube swims straight or falls straight down when you cast it out,” Ferguson said. “If the jig is spiraling as it falls or twirls and spins as you’re retrieving it, you’re going to get line twist. With the Performance Head, you’re not going to get the twist. Plus, the tube doesn’t look natural when it’s doing that.”

   The secret to the Performance Series Head is that it’s designed off center so it’s heavier on the bottom to act like a keel on the jig. That makes it swim and fall straight. “I’ve been swimming tubes more than ever,” said Ferguson. “When I first came out with the Performance Head I won two tournaments in a row swimming tubes.”

Scott Dobson used a tube on a light jig head to snake this bass off a bed.

Scott Dobson used a tube on a light jig head to snake this bass off a bed.

   Ferguson makes the heads in size from 1/8 to ¾ ounce. The jigs are made with 2/0 Owner hooks on the 1/8-, 3/16- and ¼-ounce models and 3/0 Owner hooks on the 3/8- to ¾-ounce jigs. Ferguson claims the 1/8- through ¼- ounce jigs are perfect for fishing grass, swimming, shallow water and sight-fishing beds. The 3/8-pounce head is ideal for dragging and maintaining contact with the bottom. ½-, 5/8- and 3/4-ounce jigs are just right when fishing rocks, gravel, in current, when long casts are required or when fishing vertical in deep water.

   Ferguson recommends using small hooks. “The smaller hook provides a smaller profile,” said Ferguson. “The smaller hook is more conducive to catch and release, the hook is closer to the head then, which is where a bass usually strikes, and the smaller hook pulls through weeds and over rocks better.” Most anglers use 3/0 to 5/0 hooks when using tubes.

   Ferguson’s tubes are super soft, subtle, uniformly round, although he admits no two tubes are the same. Each tube has 18 finely cut tentacles that pulsate with the slightest movement. Ferguson said a good tube should feature a ratio of 60% body versus 40% tentacles.

   “The rounder the better when it comer to tubes,” he said. He invests in a little more expensive packaging to keep the hollow bodies of the tubes cylindrical. He packages the tubes in a salted mix of garlic/fish oil/crayfish attractant. “The stuff really stinks,” he joked, “but I think it makes difference. The salt makes the tube float and keeps it soft.”

   Ferguson said that the fat 3.5-inch tube is the most popular and productive tube. “If you think about it, everything a bass eats is 3 to 4 inches be it a perch, crayfish, goby or shad.” Provider Tackle tubes are available in a wide variety of colors in 3.5-inch slim and fat versions and a 4-inch fat tube. Of all the tube colors, Ferguson admitted that the fiesta melon has been the best-selling color in the past year.

   Tubes have all the qualifications of a top-notch bass lure. They have the feel, appearance and action that make them tube-a-licious to a bass. 

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