Bass Kibble

Bass anglers trapped in a "big baits for big bass" mindset tend to forget about the many bass that fell to small grubs on light jigs during their formative years.

Not Mike Iaconelli.

"I caught the biggest bass at the Bassmaster Classic in 2010, and it came on a dart head and a grub," recalls Iaconelli, who estimates that 80 percent of the bass he caught on his way to his sixth-place Classic finish came on a 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad.

He's not alone in his grub love.

"Fishing grubs is a really effective way of getting bit. A big striper will hit them as well as a bass. Crappie and bluegill … everything eats a grub!" says Aaron Martens, three-time Bassmaster Classic runner-up.

OLD SCHOOL

Iaconelli has kept small grubs in his "panic box," the "go-to" tray of lures he turns to during lock-jaw emergencies, throughout his tournament career. But grubs factor into his angling strategies long before panic strikes. Two scenarios turn Iaconelli's attention to tiny baits.

"First, I'm always trying to match the forage size, and you see tiny forage in a lot of places," he says. "It may be postspawn conditions when you see a lot of fry in the water. That's a natural time of year to throw small baits. But sometimes the forage fish themselves are grub-sized. I looked at the shad when I was practicing in Pittsburgh for the 2005 Bassmaster Classic, and they weren't the 3- to 5-inch shad we see in a lot of waters. The bass were eating 1- and 2-inch shad."

But, baitfish aside, sometimes "small" is just plain better, Iaconelli claims. Winter's cold, murky water conditions and lethargic fish at last year's Classic serve as an example.

"When things are tough and nothing else is working, you can absolutely generate more strikes on little baits," he says. "Even if little forage is not what they are eating, I fish them. If things are tough and I can't get bit on my full-size spinnerbait, I go to an in-line spinner. If I can't get bit on a Hollow Belly Swimbait, I go to a 3-inch (Berkley PowerBait) Power Grub."

Iaconelli chooses from three grub types for his jigheads, depending on the water temperature or activity level of the fish. Under cold conditions or when faced with bass in a decidedly negative mood, he opts for a straight or spade-tail grub. "In the water, these grubs have neutral action," he notes.

In water ranging from the middle to low 50s, his grub of choice is a "tab tail" (aka "thumper" or "shad-tail"), the Berkley Ripple Shad. "You're going from neutral motion to a little motion," he says.

After the spawn, when water temperatures and fish activity levels have risen, he will generally opt for the "traditional curly-tail grub," first made popular by Mister Twister. His choice is the Power Grub from the Berkley PowerBait line.

His favorite jig by far is the dart head. "I like it just for the way it presents the bait," Iaconelli says. "I'll fish it from 1/32 ounce to 1/4 or even a 3/8 ounce for deeper water conditions, but the 1/8 and 3/16 are the No. 1 and 2 choices when I'm fishing grubs."

Old school colors seldom disappoint. Iaconelli went with a standard silver and white grub — one of the staples of grub cuisine — at the Classic in Pittsburgh.

"If I'm seeing little crawfish scooting along the bottom, I will fish pumpkinseed or green pumpkin," he continues. "If I'm seeing yellow perch, I'll use an amber with orange or a motor oil with gold flake — something that emulates a perch." He also carries Spike-It dyes to modify his soft plastics on the fly. "If I want to add a bluegill color, I'll add some chartreuse. For perch or crawfish, I'll add orange."

NOUVEAU GRUB

If you're looking for "nouveau" grub trends, take Horace Greeley's advice and "Go West!"

Martens cashed big checks by working the 3 1/2-inch Roboworm Zipper Grub in flipping situations. "I won four big tournaments and took a couple of seconds in Elite Series tournaments with it," the former Californian says of the forked-tail ribbed grub. Grubs are also his favorite trailers on everything from jigs to spinnerbaits.

But small grubs are filling an ever-expanding range of niches.

Finesse grubbin' is a fine art in southern California and neighboring Arizona where the waters are clear, the fish are pressured and threadfin shad and other small baitfish prevail. Western anglers guard hard-earned tips on grubs and techniques with cloak-and-dagger secrecy.

Martens adds small grubs — curled-tail to Zoom Fluke Jr.-type baits — to small-size lipped jigheads like the Scrounger, a lure that he helped perfect and popularize. He fishes them as he would a crankbait or swimbait.

Tiny grubs also are deadly on "fry guarder" fish, male bass that protect but also feed on fry during the postspawn period. Often Martens goes to 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jigheads and 1-inch grubs to match the fry.

He "tricks out" most of his curled-tail grubs, often cutting them in half to modify the action. "A lot of grubs are kind of wide," Martens says. "I may thin them out, shave a little off the front or back side of it, maybe cut away a third, to make them more ribbony … or even cut them in half to change the action when I want to work them very slow and still keep that tail moving. If I want to fish it faster but deeper, I may thin the tail, too, to cut the drag. I may cut the fat part in half, too, and drop shot it or fish it on a shaky head.

Sometimes I shorten the tail to give a more natural look to it."

One of the most versatile and creative anglers on the Elite Series tour, Martens carries a wide selection of (swim-tail and curled-tail) grubs from 1 inch to 5 inches in length and an endless range of jig sizes and weights. Among his favorites are the Roboworm Alive Shad and Basstrix Flash Trix. "Teeny finesse" baits may sit in his tackle trays for weeks, but when he goes to places like Pittsburgh, where he took second place in the Bassmaster Classic, he's quick to put them to work.

Grubs rank among his favorite baits in fall and winter, too.

"They are real good in cold water because they can give a lot of movement without thumping hard," he explains. "They kind of slither like a fish moves through water." He may fish a grub three or four ways in the same day, holding his rod tip high and twitching it for shallow bass or bass riding high in the water column, or keeping his rod tip low to work fish 10 or 15 feet down in the water column. "Most of the time a steady reel works well with these baits," he says.

Grub lovers present their baits on a variety of jig designs and hook and jig sizes.

"We have 'underspins' like the TTI-Blakemore Road Runner and the Sworming Hornet and endless jigheads and dart heads," explains Dan Thorburn, product support specialist for Shimano American and southern California finesse guru. He uses a wide variety of grubs — curled-tails and small Lunker City Sluggos and Zoom Super Fluke Jr. plastics, small Bass Assassin and Basstrix lures, and a storehouse of discontinued baits from California garage shops that he hoarded before the manufacturers discontinued production.

"I play with them all to see what gets bit better, or which puts the bigger fish in the boat," Thorburn says. "Sometimes we rig two on one line to give the appearance of a small school of baitfish. Some days they want some flash; on others, they want it falling or with a wide wobble. On some days no action at all is the key. Why? Just think about shad when they swim. They don't move all that much until they are being chased. Shad are dull looking when they are nearly motionless in the water, but they tend to flash when they get excited or make sharp turns when evading a predator."

San Diego-area bass hunters drive bedding bass mad with small grubs such as the Kamakazee Minnr, Castaic Jerky J, Basstrix Bait Fry and Skinny Bear Shad Eye Drop Shot Worm on a 2- to 3-inch drop shot rig.

Variations on a regional finesse technique also bring small grubs into play.

We use a Western style similar to the float-and-fly," says Bruce Porter, Basstrix founder, noting the growing popularity of fishing his company's 2- and 3-inch Flash Trix grubs on small ball-head jigs or on No. 6 and No. 4 Roboworm Rebarb hooks. By using a clear plastic float that can be filled with water and light braided line, West Coast practitioners gain both stealth and extra casting distance.

"You can fish a grub so many ways," sums Martens. "It is very versatile and good to have in an emergency situation because it can catch everything and can do so much."

'TAPAS' TIME: WHY BIG BASS EAT TINY GRUBS

But why would a giant bass — or any mature bass — waste its energy on a mere morsel? After all, shouldn't the "calories earned vs. energy expended" principle prevail? Wouldn't targeting a 6-inch shad make more sense than running down runt fry and pinhead minnows?

Well, have you ever eaten at a tapas restaurant? It's a casual style of presentation in restaurants offering Spanish cuisine. In short, it makes a pretty good meal out of a stream of appetizers. What's the connection? A diner who finds plate after plate of small fare can consume a lot of calories during a long, casual eating occasion.

Similarly, when bass and other species find a dense pod of fry or schooled up baitfish, a headlong dive into the school can net a mouthful of food. Many times I watched bass in my aquarium take four to six minnows in a lightning-quick burst that lasted less than a second before casually lying back until hunger or some other impulse ignited another assault.

"I've seen it so many times, especially after the spawn, where a bass will come up on a pod and swirl and turn back upon it," explains Mike Iaconelli. "It is almost like he corrals that bait. Bass are cannibals and will eat their own, but usually they are feeding on bluegill fry, carp fry, on baby catfish in black clouds … even though the fish (is) small, they are going to eat it."

Small baitfish make more sensible meals in coldwater periods, too, when digestion slows with the bass' overall metabolism.

Bass will also attack baits, small and large, to clear out nesting areas during the prespawn and spawn periods.

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