Tube-and-Worm Fishing from a Kayak
The tube and worm is a lure/bait combination used primarily on the eastern seaboard, where kayak anglers find it’s extraordinarily effective for striped bass.
The tube is actually surgical tubing cut in lengths ranging from 12 to 36 inches. Most anglers use tubes in the 12 to 24-inch range. The actual tube is rigged with a swivel on top, connected to wire that runs through the tube, which is connected to a hook that juts out on the backside of the tube.
Anglers will then “tip” the hook with a piece or whole sandworm. It is then trolled at very slow speeds.
There are many theories explaining why this is so effective. Some anglers think it is the rolling motion of the tube, which looks exactly like an eel slithering through the water. Others believe the bass is seeing the “queen mother” of all sandworms. In the end, nobody really knows. In my opinion, it is a combination of the life-like action and the scent of the worm that entices a hungry bass to strike.
Here are some tips to take with you next time you hit the suds or local estuaries.
Even if you’ve never “tubed” before, you may have heard some of the more experienced anglers provide the typical advice of “go slow” and “troll over structure.” But for the novice, this advice only takes you so far. As a beginner, as I was several years ago, I spent over two full seasons trolling that ridiculous piece of rubber tubing with very little success. Not until I started to read and understand topographic maps did the time and effort begin to pay off.
As a novice, one must be aware of his/her fishing grounds. To best understand the lay of the land, it is imperative that you spend time studying navigation charts, chatting with the locals, and demonstrate the willingness to try new locations where you have never fished. With that being said, I will try to help you, in the easiest way possible, understand what to look for when planning your next tube and worm kayak excursion.
Stripers love structure, and there is no better place to start than a nice stretch of boulders along the shoreline. In most cases, these boulder fields are close enough to shore and in shallow enough water that you can simply drag your tube without the assistance of any weight. For kayakers, most boulder fields will be located in depths of less than 15 feet. The trick is to either cast your line out or simply drop your tube in the drink, keeping your bail open, and paddle until there are 75 to 150 feet separating you from the tube. Personally, I troll with a minimum of 100 feet behind the yak to ensure that any fish I may have spooked has time to return to its initial location in time for the tube to pass by. This is only a personal theory and a bit of self-induced paranoia, but it provides me with the reassurance that I am doing everything I can to increase the odds of catching more fish.
Pass over the boulders at a maximum speed of 2.5 mph. I rarely exceed 2 mph and will try to keep my speed around 1.5 mph. You can certainly go faster, but you are more likely to attract smaller fish in the upper reaches of the water column with speeds exceeding 2 – 2.5 mph. By keeping your speed down, you ensure the tube is “rolling” over the rocks at deeper depths, which in turn may prompt a hit from a larger fish lurking on the ocean floor.
Don’t be hesitant or scared that you will get hung up. There’s a saying among tube fishermen: “If you’re not catching scup or not getting hung up, then you’re trolling too fast.” The fact of the matter is you will lose gear. My suggestion is get over it and move on. Furthermore, you’d be surprised how nicely the tube will move in, around, and over the boulders without ever getting snagged.
Also, keep in mind not every boulder field will produce for you. It is best to fish the outside of the boulder field along a drop off. Not only do the rocks provide shelter for the linesides, but it also serves as a prime location to ambush bait being pushed over the rocks and down the drop off.
I have yet to read one article regarding the art of fishing in areas heavily strewn with lobster pots. Most kayak fishermen will simply bypass these areas as they see it as a “nuisance” location, with the increased odds of losing gear. As for me, when I spot areas laden with “pots”, I will always make a conscious effort to fish the area, and fish it hard until I know there are no fish to be had.
Lobster fishermen are the wise old men of the sea in terms of ocean topography. Pots will be placed in strategic locations, most often in areas with impressive rocky structure. Striped bass, commonly known as “Rockfish” along the middle Atlantic bight, find these locations as nesting grounds as they wait for unsuspecting prey to enter the area. In my humble opinion, this may be some of the best places to start when hunting bass.
Now for the novice kayaker, I don’t recommend tackling this endeavor until you are completely comfortable with yourself, both from a paddling and fishing standpoint. You don’t want to be caught pulling up a trap to unhook your tube by a salty lobster fisherman. They tend not to appreciate anyone fooling with their livelihood, and rightly so. My suggestion is to practice tube placement and paddle direction around buoys. Get to know where the tube is at all times so you know when to turn to ensure the tube is effectively eluding any potential obstacles. Once you are comfortable and confident of your abilities, fish these areas with gusto. You’d be surprised at what may be tugging at the end of the line. In these situations, it is helpful to have a strong setup in terms of rod and line. You may be required to muscle a fish away from lobster pot lines. See below for more details.
Flats are often the areas that kayakers are least likely to troll the tube and worm. With very little structure, many times you simply have to hit a spot at the right time to land fish. But I find flats to be extremely challenging, and many times, very rewarding. The key is knowing what to look for.
Just like in boulder fields, not every flat will hold fish. I like to look for areas with good water flow. If there is a breachway, entrance to a harbor, or rip line where water flows in and out, there is a good chance bass will also be moving in and out with the tide in search of bait fish. They often cruise the flats before entering/departing the area, especially during low-light conditions.
When fishing the flats of New England, you must train your eyes for tell-tale signs. As a rule of thumb, be on the lookout for swirls associated with feeding stripers and scurrying baitfish. But there are other keys to identifying the presence of striped bass.
Flats often possess sandy white bottoms, so keep your eyes peeled for shadows in the water. These shadows oftentimes will be very faint, but it is important for you to spot a moving shadow or shadows. Polarized sunglasses are very helpful for this type of fishing. Knowing there is a presence of fish in the area will give you the confidence to ensure that you are in the right place at the right time. I prefer to fish these areas in 2 to 6 feet of water. Strikes from striped bass in water this shallow is an adrenaline producer. Because the bass has nowhere to go, this may be the only occasion when you actually have a bass violently surface immediately following a hit. At first, you may think it is a bluefish, as their typical modus operandi is to surface and thrash in attempt to escape from the embedded hook.
If you own a fishfinder, this is a perfect time to use it. In many cases, flats will possess bowls or troughs that will serve as protection for the opportunistic striper. On one occasion, my partner (Mike Dempsey) and I were trolling some flats along the Stonington, Connecticut, shoreline in approximately 3 to 5 feet of water. We had experienced a dry spell as the warm morning sun continued to rise. Mike, who was trolling parallel to me, mentioned he just cruised over a small, but very pronounced hole that quickly dove to 8 feet and then back up again to 3 feet. Moments later, as his tube lazily rolled over the hole, Mike nailed a nice, fat keeper bass.
Everyone has his or her own preference, but there are a couple of rules I live by that may serve useful when deciding an appropriate outfit. First, I use 50-65 lb Power Pro line with 50 lb Seaguar fluorocarbon leader on a 7-8 ft heavy spinning rod (3/4 -4 oz lure weight). When choosing a rod, make sure the rod is long enough to allow you to maneuver your fishing line from one side of the boat to the other without getting wrapped up on a kayak handle or anchor system at the bow of the boat.
Also, I only use top-of-the-line swivels to attach my line to leader and leader to tube. To some, this may appear to be overkill, as I know many anglers who use 20-30 lb test line, varying test leaders, and the first swivel sitting at the bottom of the tackle box. But over the last few years, I have lost a few cows due to snapped swivels and line that couldn’t withstand the initial strike of a large striper. This is certainly not your cheapest setup in terms of terminal tackle, but I’d rather fish confidently knowing the gear I’m using won’t let me down when that fish of the lifetime decides to take my offering. Also, having stronger terminal tackle allows you to muscle a fish if you fear it is diving into rocks or traps to shake the lure from its pierced lips.
Conventional setups are just as effective as spinning outfits, and many sharpies prefer to use conventional gear for its ease of use. It is all a matter of preference.
The Tube and The Worm
The tube and worm rig, along with livelining eels or shad, ranks right up at the top of the list as prime striper attractants. Although you are more prone to catch smaller fish tubing as compared to the use of live bait, the quantity of fish you catch will oftentimes astound you.
There are several brands of tube available on the market. Personally, I’m privy to Pat Renna’s (T-Man) tube, as the plastic material is slightly more rigid than most tubes I’ve used, which allows the tube to maintain its curled shaped consistently, hence providing that patented consistent rolling action that triggers violent strikes. If you plan to fish some deeper holes, you can use a quick-change keel with an egg weight, or you can use the Santini tube, which has an egg weight built into the rig along with a flashy spinner to attract the attention of game fish. Other anglers, like a couple of my buddies, like to make their own tubes, which can be done at home as long as you are comfortable with the dying process.
Just like a reel or rod, it’s all a matter of preference. The key is having the confidence in your tube and sticking with it.
With regards to the worm, try to find the biggest, fattest worms you can find. It doesn’t take much to garner a strike from a hungry bass. Many anglers will only “tip” the hook with a small piece of worm, while others like to throw the whole enchilada on the hook. Recently, a charter captain gave me some advice regarding the amount of worm to be used on the tube.
“Don’t use large pieces or the whole worms when smaller bass are mixed in with the larger ones. You’re more likely to have a smaller fish hit the tube with that big piece of worm flailing in the water.”
To test out his theory, I was fishing with my buddy Dave Collins on Block Island. I loaded up the tube with a whole, large sandworm. Time after time, I kept landing schoolie-sized bass in the mid-20-inch range. The moment I switched to a one-inch piece of worm, I landed a beautiful 30-pound bass that took me for a 50-yard sleigh-ride. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’ve kept worm size in mind from that day forward.
Fishing the tube and worm from the kayak is not only an enjoyable, fool-proof way to catch fish; it also doesn’t require much physical prowess. Due to the fact you are trolling at such a low rate of speed, one can fish using this technique for hours without ever working up a sweat.
Simply put, if you’re a kayak fisherman and you’re not using the tube and worm at some point, your arsenal is incomplete.
Tight lines to you all.
Roland St. Denis fishes for striped bass along the Connecticut coastline, its major riverways, and all of Rhode Island. He serves as a administrator and moderator for www.ultimatekayakfishing.com.