Story by Russ Bassdozer
Gary Yamamoto started bass fishing many years ago, but it was not at an early age. "I was already around 35 or older than that, when I moved to Lake Powell to own and operate an RV park and scenic campground there. It was there in 1980 that I started tournament bass fishing. The American Bass Association, a large western tournament trail, had come to Lake Powell to hold their year-end championship. Actually, they had two tournaments scheduled - one was their year-end championship and the other was their final open tournament. The final tournament was open to the public, so I entered it. That was my very first tournament. There were a lot of excellent anglers from across the western region there to fish the championship. However, I had been fishing Powell frequently, so I felt confident that I knew where the fish were," says Yamamoto undauntedly.
"In the open event, I fished the first day and had a limit of fish. My partner who I had been paired with, he also caught a limit of fish. The second day, they didn't have a boat for me to go out in. So I went out in my own boat. It wasn't a bass boat, it was a big old 21 foot family cruiser. We fished and caught our limit of fish, but on the way back, the lower unit went out and I didn't weigh in any fish the second day. The third day of the tournament, I was paired with another individual in his bass boat and I said to myself that, well, the only thing I can strive for is to catch a big bass," recalls Gary with a laugh. "Lo and behold, the last day, I caught the big bass of the entire three-day tournament. For that big bass, I won a $3,000 outboard motor, an 85 hp motor. So I took that motor and I bought a boat, a 15 foot tri-hull and that was my boat that I used for practicing at that time."
So that was the beginning of Yamamoto's career as a tournament fisherman.
"Beyond that, I bought a bass boat and that's when I really started fishing with tournaments in mind. I probably spent almost every afternoon out on Lake Powell fishing and learning things. Within the next year or so, I won a couple of the tournaments that American Bass and other tournament organizations such as Western Bass were running there, and soon I branched out to fishing other lakes in the Southwest region of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, California wherever tournaments were held. So that was the beginning of my tournament career out West," says Gary.
One of the things that made Yamamoto successful in the West was that he relied on soft plastic grubs, and to get what he wanted, Yamamoto custom-ordered the colors he had designed to closely matched the baitfish on Lake Powell.
So that was the beginning of Yamamoto's career as a lure designer.
"I didn't actually make my own grubs at first. I ordered them from a manufacturer who was willing to run different custom colors for me. These were colors that weren't made by any company at that time, so you can say, that was the beginning of my lure design roots. I had to buy quantities of five thousand grubs for each of the colors that I wanted. There's no way I could use that many, so I kept what I needed to fish with, and sold the rest to fellow tournament anglers. That was the beginning of the sales of my product. Also, I started to get hula grub skirts made by another company, and I began to hand-weld the skirts to the grubs, effectively creating my first hula grub products," says Gary.
"Within two years, I went fully into manufacturing everything on my own. The skirts for the hula grub were not going to be available anymore because the company that produced the skirts was going out of business. So I had to buy that company in order to keep getting the skirts, and I went into manufacturing the skirts, the grubs and everything else at that time, which was over twenty-five years ago. That was the start of Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits as a manufacturing company."
So now you seem that Gary Yamamoto's company and his legend as a lure designer started with the humble hula grub. Yamamoto first started using hula grubs out West. From there, and for the past twenty-five years or so, Yamamoto has continued to use hula grubs across the country from North to South to East with equal success.
"The hula grub is so successful because it imitates nothing in particular and everything in general," says Gary. "Depending on the color and action that an angler uses, a hula jig can give fish the impression of a craw, a panfish, a shad, etc. Yet at other times, it is just something non-descript and moving. It's just a moving target, an easy target that bass strike," advises Yamamoto.
Yamamoto offers three sizes of double tail hula grub products:
There are many ways to fish hula grubs, but the classic technique is with a bare jig head, and Yamamoto has designed several jig heads to match with his hula grubs.
The photo above shows a 5-inch hula grub (left) in color #306 on Yamamoto's Arkey style jig. It has a fiberguard to help it get in and out of snaggy fish-holding cover such as flooded brush, laydown trees, stumps and stuff.
Above right, GYB's 4-inch hula grub in color #051 on Yamamoto's football style jig. It has an open hook for fishing relatively snagless open water structure such as underwater points, ledges, gravel bars, river rock beds, sand bars, rock slides and so on.
For the past twenty-five years, hula grubs have mostly been used to dress bare jig heads, such as the 4-inch hula shown above in color #163 . This color is super serious stuff in clear water.
A relatively new and recent use for the hula grub, one that has become popular in just the past few years is to use a hula grub as a trailer on a rubber skirted jig.
The next few photos show 5-inch GYB hula grubs being used as jig trailers, hula skirts and all, stuffed underneath the jig skirts. Who says you can't teach old hula grubs new tricks?
Smoke pepper (#150) hula grub is a neutral color that goes great as a non-descript trailer beneath brown, watermelon green or brown purple jig skirts.
Watermelon (#042) hula grubs are highly recommended trailers for brown orange jigs.
Color #214 hula grubs match great as trailers for with black blue jig skirts.
Yamamoto's medium heavy baitcasting rod model # SM2601MHF is the preferred pole for hula jigs in the 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 oz range, using Yamamoto's grey Sugoi fluorocarbon line in 10, 12, 14 or 16 lb test. Photo above shows 5-inch hula grub color #190 used as a jig trailer.
Yamamoto's heavy baitcasting rod model # SM3601HF possesses the power to manhandle hula jigs in the 1/2, 3/4 and 1 oz range, using Yamamoto's Sugoi fluorocarbon line in 16 (grey or clear) or 20 lb test (clear only). Photo above shows the larger 6-inch hula grub color #208 used as a big flipping jig trailer.
Yamamoto's model #SM3701M is the perfect spinning rod for fishing the Yamamoto hula grub. It's got plenty of beef to handle hula jigs in the 1/4 to 12 oz size range, and that's why Gary calls his rods "tournament rods" because they are designed to move bass up and into the livewell fast. With 10 lb test mono or fluoro or 6/20 braid, for hula grubs on football jigs (or any jig types), this make a great rod - but only up to a point. Using more than a 1/2 oz jig may cause excess wear and tear on a spinning reel - and avoid heavy gauge flipping hooks. You can't set them properly using spinning gear.
Medium action #SM3701M Yamamoto rod makes a great deepwater rod for GYB hula jigs from 1/4 to 1/2 oz that can be fished right under the trolling motor in order to precisely target fish and pick apart bottom features as they show up on the screen in the trolling motor transducer cone.
5-inch hula grub in color #031 above - a color that works great wherever shad balls are found. Bounce and even deadstick it on bottom under the shad balls. Many anglers hop, bounce and crawl hula jigs around way too much at first - until they realize most of the hits come when the hula grub is paused - not when it's moving. The initial fall when first cast, and letting it lay still when it first hits bottom are also high percentage strike moments. Overall, more hits come when you are not reeling in a hula grub, but while letting it fall toward or when it sits motionless on bottom.
Well, okay now, if a whole hula grub works so great stuffed under a jig skirt, then would it make sense to use one under a spinnerbait or buzzbait skirt too? The answer is yes it does. Shown above, 5-inch hula grub in color #031 on big one ounce spinnerbait makes quite a mouthful.
Then what about just a hula grub solo on a skirtless spinnerbait? Yes. Of course. Especially in highly-pressured situations, such as urban lakes and small bodies of water, a hula grub can often prove better than a traditional rubber skirt on a compact spinnerbait or buzzbait.
IOn the other hand, speaking of big baits, here's GYB's biggest 6-inch hula grub Texas-rigged on top of a heavy 3/4 oz mop jig. I say it's on top because there's a wire corkscrew clipped onto the jig hook eye, and the hula grub is screwed onto that, then Texas-rigged onto the hook point so it is suspended above the skirt and head. It's big bass magic.
You can see more clearly how the big 6-inch hula grub is suspended above the hook and head when it's clipped on (via a wire corkscrew) to this heavy duty 3/4 oz shakey jig, making the presentation fairly snagless. This kind of rigging keeps the hula grub body out of the dirt. It's a little different look than can be achieved with a standard jig head.
Here's a shank-weighted 4/0 hook with a clip-on corkscrew to rig the hula grub perfectly weedless. Hooks like these first evolved to meet the needs of those throwing toads over thick grass, and you can use the same hooks and tactic for hula grubs too. This gives you more of a swimming presentation with a hula grub.
The smallest 4-inch hula Texas-rigged on a shakey head with clip-on corkscrew at left. On traditional Arkey style jig at right. You can see how the hula grub body would be slightly elevated on the shakey head, but would be down inthe dirt on the Arkey head.
The biggest 6-inch hula on Yamamoto's weedless football jig head is ideal for big bass and heavy tackle.
Another productive approach with a hula grub is on a spinner jig. Many times I do not fish the spinner jig any differently than the jig without the spinner. I fish them both the same, but you really do need to keep them as close to the bottom as possible. And that is one of the biggest keys of all with hula jigs - to fish them on or very close to the bottom with plenty of bottom contact. With that being said, a spinner jig can also be swam steadily in mid-water order to entice suspended fish or pull shallow fish out of thick cover, and you can work it like it's a compact finesse spinnerbait. At times, the strands will stop the blade from spinning, but it will always have an attractive faltering flutter, flicker and flash no matter what. There are days and situations (especially swimming it for suspended or shallow fish) when the spinner jig will draw more strikes than a standard, spinner-less hula jig.
Keep in mind, whenever you have a GYB hula grub, you can make two other GYB lures out of it. It's pretty common to get the legs torn off your hula grub. When that happens, you can make a Yamamoto Ika out of it, as shown at top in the above photo on Yamamoto's round head jig. Shown on bottom, the strands have been plucked off a hula grub which is what Gary Yamamoto recommends in order to make a more streamlined swimming presentation with Gary's Swim Jig Head.
Here's a skirted jig where the hula skirt has been clipped off from the grub's top, leaving just the 6-inch 99-series double tails as a trailer. Sweet!
When jigging a very rugged, irregular bottom with a hula jig turns into an exercise in futility due to heavy snaggage, another tactic is to use a heavy dropshot rig. Trust me, this works! Shown above is the 5-inch GYB hula rigged dropshot style on a 4/0 Yamamoto Sugoi hook with a 3/8 oz cylindrical dropshot sinker clipped on the 14 lb test grey Sugoi fluorocarbon line, powered by Gary's medium heavy model ## SM2601MHF baitcasting rod. In heavy snags, you don't want to drag this rig around. Instead you want to use a series of lifts and drops so you are dropping it into, and then pulling it back up and out (not across) the snags. Keep letting it fall back to the bottom time and again, then pause to wait, which is when you'll get bit.
The dropshot rig keeps the hula grub hovering above bottom and out of trouble with snags. The smooth and featureless cylindrical sinker is about the most snag-free shape possible. It still will get snagged at times on rough bottom - but far less than a jig head will snag. Rigged this way, the hula grub itself hovers above the bottom debris, avoiding a lot of contact with snags, and it also stays more visible to fish by not falling down into the junk and out of sight. Itís kept raised slightly which helps more fish see it better from further distances, and you have the power in the rod and line to muscle fish out.
I haven't tallied them all recently, but I feel safe to say GYB offers over 250 different colors across its entire soft bait product line. I also feel it's fair to say such a multitude of colors are due to different regional preferences or different tastes of individuals. So we're not trying to satisfy the fish as much as we are trying to accommodate the many different anglers' preferences when it comes to colors. I feel confident that I or any angler could get by with 10 (to 20 at most) soft bait colors, in most places in the world, most of the time.
First, there are some very fundamental building blocks, and even some of these border on being redundant. These aren't flashy, but I know a number of excellent anglers, including top national and regional pros who rarely dabble beyond this fundamental core color set:
So if you can't afford to or don't have the space or interest to carry dozens of different colors around, then stick to some of the ones above. You won't be disappointed.
On the other hand, if you enjoy adding a little more color to your colors (as I do), then these are some of my favorites over the past twenty-five years for all GYB soft baits, not just hula grubs, these colors excel:
Not all the above colors come in all GYB models, but athey do come in at least one size of hula grub.
Color #163 is the biggest 'sleeper' among them. It is only available in a few GYB models such as hula grubs. Yet #163 is one of the best smoke colors produced by GYB. Do try in clear water.
Another sleeper is #190. It's a chameleon-like color that changes its tone to blend in nicely when used as a trailer behind different colors of rubber jig skirts.
Many anglers go gaga over #305 (similar to #323) and #306 hula grubs. Truly the list of color options could go on and on - 213, 215 and so on. You can make the list as long or short as you like, but always keep in mind that color favoritism may have more to do with regional differences and individuals' preferences than with anything else.
Another good color to get in a hula grub is - whatever color you don't have that your fishing buddy is shellacking you with in the back of the boat!
So now you know, the Yamamoto hula grub is one of the first baits that Gary came out with over 25 years ago, and it is still one of the best of all bass baits today. I hope that in this story you've found a new trick or way to use this salty old shaggy lure the next time you venture out on the water!