Adding Softbait Trailers to Bass Lures
March 29, 2018
When a lure produces the right vibration pattern, it hits a nerve, actually a series of them that run from the fish's lateral line directly to its small brain. The message: "Get out and eat!"
In addition to their good hearing, fair vision, and barely adequate sense of smell, black bass possess a sensitive organ to detect vibration passing through the water column. While bass incorporate input from all their senses while feeding, the vibration sense works best at close range when the decision to bite is imminent.
This remarkable ability is so foreign to humans that scientists did not understand its function until famed neurophysiologist Sven Dijkgraff identified its role in detecting water motion in the 1960s. Lab studies, using what's called inductive neural telemetry, have found that neurons in the brain begin to fire and increase their firing rate as fish approach prey, suggesting that the lateral line is studying the item more intently as the time to strike approaches. Active predators like bass may be able to differentiate prey species based on their vibration fingerprints, and they may use this information when deciding whether or not to bite.
Soft trailers on the back of jigs, spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, and buzzbaits contribute to a lure's vibration package in important ways. The vast variety available allow us to fine-tune presentations to match the situation and mood of the bass.
When we select a classic bass jig, factors that enter the decision matrix include style, weight, color, hook size, guard type, and finally trailer. Notable exceptions to the use of trailers are marabou jigs and those crafted of various types of hair that perform like a trailer. Other jigs like ball heads, dart heads, or special ones like the Scrounger or wiggling jigs (with a hook loosely attached to the head) serve to bring a softbait trailer to the proper depth and allow it to move at optimal speed.
Weedless jigs generally are intended to mimic crayfish, and worked on the bottom, so craw-style trailers have dominated. The "chunk" originally was of pork rind and fat but now includes trailers of soft plastic shaped like an Uncle Josh pork trailer (no longer in production, sad to say), with a fat end and two flat legs. These trailers give a jig a slight gliding action on the fall, while the thin legs flutter in subtle fashion.
At the other end of the vibration spectrum, flapping-style craws like the Berkley Chigger Craw, NetBait Paca Chunk, and Strike Rage Craw create vibration as they fall, since the claws are built to catch water. This also slows the fall rate and gives the presentation a parachuting action that can be deadly when bass suspend in the upper parts of brush or standing timber. As the lure flutters past a limb, they dart out to eat it. In that situation, anglers must watch the line closely to see if the jig stops falling before it "should," based on depth of the spot. Setups that produce maximum vibration also excel in thick vegetation, where bass vision is restricted to a couple of inches.
Bassmaster Elite pro Jacob Powroznik of Virginia is a renowned flipper and also one of the most patient and skillful bed fishermen on the tour. He recently helped design a lure for V & M, named the J-Bug. "For me, having a lure fall straight down is important, whether I'm flipping to logs or trying to drop a lure on the sweet spot on a bed," he says. "I designed the J-Bug to fall straight down when Texas-rigged or on the back of a jig." The 4-inch lure has four curly appendages and a ribbed body.
Swim jigs beg for an action trailer, and for years I relied on a 5-inch grub to add a subtle wiggle and a color accent. Lately though, 3½- or 4-inch swimbaits have proved deadly as well. I've found that in darker water, the swimbait often is best, as it increases the lure's vibration output. In clear water, the grub shines.
Unlike swim jigs, football jigs imitate bottom critters—crayfish, sculpins, gobies, or small bullheads. I use a double-tail grub on skirted football jigs, and a skirted one like the Yamamoto DT Grub on plain jigheads. The grub tails offer a steady pulsing action as the jig's pulled along bottom. For greater bulk, go with a flapping craw, like Berkley's Chigger Craw or Strike King Rage Craw. These options increase vibration, an advantage either in deep or murky water.
Spinnerbaits and bladed jigs like the Chatterbait can be enhanced with a trailer. They can increase vibration, add a color accent, or bulk the presentation, either to appeal to big bass or to allow the lure to be worked more slowly while maintaining action. Anglers initially relied on standard double-tail trailers that wiggle as the lure moves, particularly with bladed jigs. Several years ago, FLW Tour pro and Lake Fork guide Tom Redington showed me how well a Lake Fork Tackle Live Magic Shad worked on a Chatterbait and Phoenix Lures Vibrator. We impaled the 5-inch jointed softbait on the back and worked them around stumpy flats for Fork's famous lunker bass. The response was amazing: Bass often had the entire lure in their gullet, particularly impressive given the throngs of anglers who ply Lake Fork with lures of all sorts. These are educated bass, but their enthusiasm was contagious.
Given this success, Gary Yamamoto has added the Zako, Japanese for "little fish," a lure than can be worked on a weighted wide-gap hook or used to bulk bladed jigs, while adding an enticing wiggle. Like the Live Magic Shad, its segmented body allows it to move from side to side with wild abandon, deadly for big bass in thick cover. These lures have a flat tail, which allows the lure to flap more easily than a boot-tail trailer. Other top options include Z-Man's 4.5-inch Razor ShadZ and Strike King's Blade Minnow.
Other anglers, such as Californian Jared Lintner, use a swimbait as a trailer. He matches a Chatterbait Freedom with Jackall's new Rhythm Wave, made with a special plastisol formula to maximize tail wag and rolling action, yet remain durable. Meanwhile, Peoria, Illinois, bass expert Chef Todd Kent, often films In-Fisherman TV with Editor In Chief Doug Stange. Stange reports that Kent favors matching blade jigs with the Berkley Havoc Boss Dog, a lizard-like trailer with a curly tail and four vibrating legs. The wild action is irresistible to bass, as recent In-Fisherman show segment with bass surpassing six pounds attest.
At the 2016 Bassmaster Classic, Oklahoma pro Jason Christie matched an old favorite with a new one to lead the event for two days before falling to Edwin Evers who rallied with a record-setting bag on a jig. Christie worked a 1-ounce Booyah spinnerbait with a single #6 Colorado blade, backed by a new Yum Pulse swimbait. "Grand Lake was murky from spring runoff," he says, "and I found that the intense thump of that big Colorado blade and the added vibration of the Pulse got the big prespawn females chomping. I wound it slowly and steadily over the top of brush and logs, confident that the fish could find the lure and would eat it." His confidence was not misplaced, though Evers' last-hour heroics dropped him to runner-up status. I've used big single-blade Colorado spinnerbaits in fall as well, working along deep clumps of vegetation. A bulky trailer lets you work the lure even slower, a benefit in murky or cold water.
Many anglers fish buzzbaits straight out of the package, and they do produce an impressive surface racket on their own. But like many lures, a few tweaks can improve catches at times. A swimbait buoys a buzzbait so the blade starts churning quickly and also helps it run straight. Some anglers prefer to remove the skirt, replacing it with a swimbait or fluke-style lure.
Rate of Fall
Especially for jig trailers, the amount of vibration and its frequency are related to a lure's rate of fall. That's because, all else equal, vibration is linked to a slower fall. As a lure vibrates, it moves more from side to side or up and down, which reduces its fall rate. The difference in fall rate, say between a Zoom Super Chunk and a Netbait Paca Craw on the back of a 3/8-ounce jig, is substantial. Lures that produce a lot of vibration also slow the fall, and vice versa.
Vibration and fall speed often work in tandem. For example, in murky water, lures that fall slowly and create a vibration aura work best, since bass vision is limited, and fish may need a few seconds to zero on a falling or dragging lure, even if it's close by.
On the other hand, bass can become leery of a lure that moves slowly in clear open water. They get too good a look at it. In that situation, vibration can be sacrificed for speed, since a snapping or zipping motion often gets a fish to chase, if it's in an active state. There, straight trailers that create minimal vibration work well.
Sometimes adding a little something to a lure enhances its look and feel to fish. While adding a feathered treble is an old trailer tweak, it's still effective. A rear feather on a topwater bait, jerkbait, or crankbait can turn a so-so day into spectacular action, particularly when bass follow lures without striking or seem inactive.
A few years ago, Bassmaster Elite pro Fred Roumbanis showed me his trick for spicing up an Ima Roumba, a pudgy crankbait that runs in the 1- to 2-foot range. "I clip a large Tru-Turn Hitchhiker to the rear hook eye, above the split ring that holds the treble," he says. "Then skewer a 6-inch Straight Tail Roboworm onto the corkscrew Hitchhiker. It gives the lure an amazing wiggle that's deadly when worked across grass flats.
"During the shad spawn in late spring, I add a 1- or 2-inch tail section of a paddletail swimbait to the Hitchhiker instead. It churns the surface almost like a propbait, and it adds bulk to the presentation. This trailer tail works particularly well in breezy conditions, as the extra commotion helps draw strikes."
Last winter, Capt. Terry Lamielle of Florida resorted to a trick I first heard about at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, when Keith Poche added a Colorado spinner to the tail of a NetBait Saltlick, a Senko-style lure to pocket $40,000 for his third-place finish on the Red River Louisiana.
Lamielle and I used a Berkley Gulp! Sinking Minnow with a #0 gold Colorado spinner affixed to the tail via a Hitchhiker on a barrel swivel attached to the blade with a split ring.
Cut the last 3/4 inch off the worm to provide surer attachment. If it sounds a bit complicated, nothing could be simpler.
On a tough cold-front day with a stiff breeze, the heavily fished bass of Ansin-Garcia Lake in Florida seemed willing to bite little else and we managed to boat a couple lunkers on it. Poche recommends this rig especially during the Prespawn Period. "The spinner adds flash and vibration, but it still is a subtle presentation," he says. "And you can cover water faster than with a plain stickworm.
"I make a long cast and let it sink for 4 or 5 seconds, then slowly wind it back, keeping the lure about a foot below the surface. Moreover, it works in windy conditions when stickworms normally are difficult to fish." And I've used it with great success for prespawn and postspawn bass in Minnesota.
Instead of making your own rig, Tackle Warehouse offers Humdinger Keith Poche Power Spinners, ready to screw into your favorite softbait. Three sizes are available in 11 colors, with choice of willowleaf or Colorado.
The one thing tricky is the hook-set. While the retrieve is a bit like working a crankbait or spinnerbait, the hook-set is completely different since the big wide-gap hook is buried in the lure. At the slightest tap, keep reeling slowly as you move the rod back toward the bass, giving it a second or two to eat the lure. Then give a solid set. A baitcasting rod over 7 feet with medium power works well for casting and setting hooks. Match it with braided line and a 3- to 4-foot fluorocarbon leader.
Recently, a similarly equipped swim jig crossed my desk, the Cyclone Swim Jig, designed by Daniel Harden for his Dr. Bass lineup. It has a well-cupped hammered Colorado blade on a swivel attached to the hook with a split ring and plastic keeper.
Adding a softbait trailer that complements the lure by increasing its visual and vibration appeal to bass is the easiest and most effective way to do that.