Letting out drift socks and dragging a 4-inch plastic tube along the bottom used to be the most effective way to catch smallmouth bass on vast bodies of water. But with increased fishing pressure and improvements in today’s electronics and trolling motors, savvy anglers are relying on more precise presentations to catch brown bass from the big lakes and rivers.
Bass pro Joe Balog, Harrison Township, Michigan, still depends on the trusty plastic tube to catch smallmouth bass, but he’s developed a system for adapting his tube bait to the various structures he encounters across the country. His motto? Four heads are better than one. Balog uses four distinct styles of jig heads to fish his plastic tube in a variety of ways depending on the condition.
“The biggest considerations are always depth control, rough water (on big lakes), and which size weight you have to use due to those two factors,” Balog says. “You have to be careful because when you start using bigger weight tube heads you start losing more fish. You want to use the lightest head you can to effectively fish the depth you target with the rough water conditions.”
Here’s a look at the four jig heads Balog uses to catch smallmouth in various conditions, from deep water to strong current to vast weedlines.
The cylinder head is Balog’s most versatile presentation. He scales down to1/8-ounce versions on reservoirs down South, and bumps up to a 1/2-ounce cylinder when fishing deep structure. The cylinder jig head moves well in the water at either end of the size spectrum, though Balog especially likes the cylinder jig head when probing his tube deeper than 25 feet or when the water is extremely rough.
Shaped like an aspirin tablet, the aspirin jig head excels in two applications: Deep water and heavy current. In deep water, an aspirin jig head lets anglers use a lighter weight than normal. “Aspirin jig heads stay on the bottom well because the majority of the lead in that head is in front of and below the eye of the hook,” says Balog. “The more that the lead is forward and low, the better the bait will stay on the bottom because it naturally wants to fall that way.”
In heavy current, an aspirin jig head tumbles through rocks and cuts the current easily, which reduces snags on the bottom, says Balog. The pill head is the most specific-purpose of the four jig heads Balog uses. “The purpose of the pill head is to get it down to the bottom and keep it there in rough water (and current), but you are getting away with using a lighter bait,” says Balog, who opts for a 3/8-ounce model of the pill-shaped head, which he believes stays on the bottom in rough water just as well as a tube rigged with a 1/2-ounce cylinder head.
Aspirin jig heads also work well when targeting deep isolated structure, especially on the rough waters of the Great Lakes. “The key is trying to get the bait to where most of the fish are,” Balog advises. “It’s not always easy to put your bait on a rock pile 30 feet down, especially where there are 6-foot waves.”
Big Dude Head
Fat-bodied jig heads such as Mark Zona’s Big Dude Goby get the nod when Balog casts tubes around expansive flats with weeds in depths of 6 to 8 feet. “When the fish eat it in that situation, with that lighter gauge hook I can almost just reel them in and they never ever come off the hook,” Balog says.
Big Dude heads in 1/2- and 3/4-ounce sizes are also ideal for snapping off the bottom to imitate a distressed goby that was chased from its rocky sanctuary. When the jig jumps off the bottom, the heavy head causes the tube to turn quickly and spiral in different directions, an erratic descent that’s irresistible to bronzebacks. “Smallmouth like to chase things and they get fired up by extremely erratic, fast and crazy retrieves,” explains Balog.
“I use that head because it has a thinner sprout-style hook rather than a heavy gauge hook,” says Balog, who wants the lighter wire hook for better hooksets in deep water.
“It is more of a bottom dragger and for casting around on big flats and expansive areas. It’s not like the other heavy jigs with heavy gauge hooks that I use for throwing to a target and reeling down and setting the hook hard on a bite. It’s more for a pressure-type bite where I am actually letting line out and dragging around on flats.”
The teardrop jig head produces best for Balog in the spring when he keys on shallow smallmouth. Balog opts for a 1/4-ounce model when targeting isolated structure less than 15 deep.
The lighter weight works well in the shallow water as Balog sight fishes for cruising or bedding fish in the spring. Drop the jig in front of the smallmouth and dance it around to trigger a territorial, reactionary bite.