By Margie Anderson
In my part of the southwest, summer days are just about unbearable out on the water. The sun beats down mercilessly, with temperatures going well above 110 on most days. Add to that hordes of tipsy water skiers and jet skiers and you have a recipe for a lousy day on the lake. That’s why most tournaments out here during the summer are night tournaments. It’s still hot, but at least the sun isn’t pounding you and crisping your skin. Even better, the night bite can be awesome - especially when the moon is out - and nothing gets bigger bites at night in my neck of the woods than a chubby little Hula Grub on a football head jig.
There are several different ways to fish a Hula on a jig. One of the most productive is simply dragging it over the rocks, and this could mean fishing 25 feet down or even deeper. You probably aren’t going to feel the bite – often they simply inhale the bait and head right for you, so all you’ll feel is slack line. It almost feels like somebody took a pair of scissors and cut your line. With a heavy jig, you can feel it scraping or dragging on the rocks, and then suddenly you won’t feel it any more. If it has fallen off an edge you’ll still feel the weight of the jig, but if a fish has taken it and run for the boat, your line will actually go slack.
At this point if you try to set the hook you’ll lose the fish. Instead, point the rod at the fish and reel until you actually feel the fish. At that moment, hit it hard. Having the right equipment is really going to help with hooksets on deep jigs is. Use a 6-foot medium heavy rod and a fast reel to take up slack in a hurry. Mono has a bit too much stretch, although if you use something heavy like 15-pound-test Big Game that works well. Most guys prefer fluorocarbon or braid because it means almost instant hooksets even in deep water.
Yamamoto jig heads are ideal for the Hula Grub because the collars on the shaft of the jig hold the bait in place without ripping it up, and it gives you space for two items in case you’ve got separate skirts. Those Owner and Gamakatsu hooks are killer, too, but if you’re dragging them around on rocks be sure to check often to see if you need to touch up the points. Setting the hook with 40 feet of line out means that everything needs to be in your favor.
One of the things I like best about the Yamamoto Grubs is that you can get the Hula Grubs with the skirt already attached, or you can get the grub by itself and get the skirts separately. The separate skirt is a bit fuller because it is double, plus you can mix and match colors. The actual Hula Grub, however, is really handy because it’s twice as fast to rig. Also, you can choose single or double tail. Western anglers almost invariably choose double tails at night when fishing on the bottom because they resemble the craws that big bass gorge on around the rocks.
If you are fishing a double tail Hula Grub very slowly, the tails can sometimes get stuck together. Scent of almost any kind will really help with this because it will lube the plastic a bit. The salty taste of the Hula Grub is usually sufficient to keep the bass locked on long enough for you to take up the slack and set the hook, but scent never hurts.
The 3/8-ounce jig is ideal for dragging around on rocks, but if you’re fighting a wind a heavier jig will help you feel the bottom more easily. One caveat about heavy jigs: they really give a bass a lot of leverage when it comes to throwing the bait. Once you set that hook, keep pressure on him no matter what. Don’t start showboating and giving him slack or he’ll throw it in a heartbeat.
On a full moon night the bass often come up shallow and you can swim single tail Hulas over flats. Rig them on pea heads or light football heads. Cast out toward shore and crank just fast enough to keep them ticking the rocks as they swim out. If you come to a drop-off, dip your rod and let the lure follow the drop a ways. When you’re swimming a grub like this, the bite won’t be at all subtle. The fish will just attack it and keep going, so hang on to the rod while you’re fishing and be ready to hit back. You can also use this technique over riprap banks if the fish are biting well.
Another technique I enjoy is using a much lighter jighead, even a swimming head, to swim a Hula Grub just under the surface. A fish cruising a big flat at night will be able to see that Grub silhouetted against the sky and it will look like easy pickings. We’ve even thrown a Grub weightless and fished it as a topwater with awesome results, though I haven’t tried that at night. Yet.
If the fish are biting more slowly, switching to a bigger jig and making some noise can really help. A one-tonner (1 oz jig) with a Hula Grub is perfect for crashing around on rocks. It also gets down to the bottom quickly, which allows you to make more casts. At night, we like to drop these down onto submerged rock piles and drag and bounce them around for big bass. If you’re constantly getting snagged, which can happen if the rocks are smaller or there is a lot of submerged timber, try Texas rigging a Hula Grub and using a bullet sinker. I only do this if I absolutely have to, because that open hook on the jig is so much easier to set the hook with. But it doesn’t do you much good if you have to re-tie every ten minutes.
On summer nights and early mornings, cliffs and steep banks are excellent places to fish. Most cliffs have a bunch of rock piles at the base. Try not to think about that too much because then you’ll realize that all those big boulders are down there because they fell off the cliff. The cliff you are fishing under. At any rate, even if you can’t see them, there are almost always rock piles and rip rap at the base of cliffs and bluffs. Cast a Texas-rigged Hula Grub to the cliff, and just let it drop until the line goes slack. Then give it just a little bounce. Sometimes it will fall a long way before it touches bottom again, and other times it will hit another rock almost immediately. Keep making those little bounces and watch for the line to go slack, signaling that it’s on the bottom again. Once that happens, reel up until the line is taut again, then give it another bounce. If it feels heavy when you try to bounce it, set the hook! Sometimes I just use the reel to move it once the line goes slack. In that case, if a fish has picked it up, it will usually pull back when I try to pull. That’s the clue to set the hook. You won’t get a bunch of tugs – most of the time you get just once chance. If you snooze, you lose. Usually I go ahead and fish the Hula Grub all the way back to the boat, even if I’m sitting in 30 feet of water. You just never know where those bass are going to be, or how far they’ll chase a bait.
Night fishing calls for a little bit of extra equipment. One thing that really comes in handy is a small light that will strap to your head or fasten to your cap. That keeps it handy, plus keeps your hands free. This is perfect when you need to re-tie, take a fish off the hook, grab a soda, or whatever. Also, a black light that attaches to the gunwales is really nice. It lights up the bank and the water so you can sort of see what you are doing, which is very helpful. If you use fluorescent line it glows like a rope of light under the UV, which allows you to see every little twitch and shows you immediately when you’ve hit bottom. You will also need a very good, powerful light for moving from place to place at night. You can get some really incredible flashlights now that take up hardly any room. I have a powerful Fenix TK32 flashlight that has several different output powers and also allows me to use either a red or a green light inside the boat so I can see what I am doing without ruining my night vision. It will throw light for well over 450 yards.
In my home state of Arizona, the law says you have to leave your running lights on all the time at night, even if you are simply fishing next to shore with the trolling motor. If you’re the poor sap in the back, that light pole is going to be in your way constantly, not to mention drawing bugs right at face level all night long. Check with your local laws to see if you can switch to those lights that fit in your rub rail, or get one that attaches to the top of the motor.
Night fishing can be a bit intimidating the first time. Venturing out in the dark takes a bit of courage. Try going out in the late afternoon, then stay just a couple of hours after sunset. Usually, there is an area of the lake that is lit up by marina lights at night, so stick close to that until you start feeling comfortable, or go out a couple of hours before sunrise and stay for the morning bite. That’s my favorite thing to do. Put the big ones in your livewell so you can take pictures in the sunlight before you release them.
Whatever you do, stock up on Hula Grubs before you go. You’re going to need several bags.