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Use Tiny Lures for Big Action from Many Fish Species

Bobby Garland’s Itty Bit lures provide highly dependable summer action from several kinds of fish and lend themselves to a variety of presentations.

“This one must be a bass,” my son, Nathaniel, called out as fish he was battling surged against his ultralight gear. I paddled my kayak nearer to get a better look and photos. “Actually, it’s a giant bream!” he said when he got the fish in sight.

A few minutes later he slid his hand beneath a pound-plus shellcracker (officially, a redear sunfish), lifted it into the kayak, and the tried to figure out the best way to get a grip around the fish’s big body. We got some pictures before he returned it to the water and then returned to casting a tiny bait toward shoreline cover to see what else he could catch.

I had been telling Nathaniel about Bobby Garland’s new Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R and showing him photos of bluegills, yellow perch, largemouth bass and more – even including another big shellcracker that I’d caught from a different spot on the same lake a week prior. Finally, he was getting to see for himself and was enjoying the fast action. His big shellcracker was one about 50 fish of a handful of species we caught in a few hours of casting Itty Bits from kayaks that afternoon.

Summer Fun

shellcracker catchshellcracker catch

Casting tiny jigs around shoreline cover is one of my favorite ways to fish through the summer because it’s ultra-simple and produces steady action from a host of species. I use ultralight tackle, so fish don’t have to be large to offer fun fights. I especially like ponds and creeks for this style of fishing, so it’s simple to plan a short morning or afternoon outing, walking a pond bank, paddling a small lake or wading a stream.

In recent years, my absolute go-to lures for this approach have been Bobby Garland’s Itty Bit series soft-plastic lures, which include the Itty Bit Swim’R, Itty Bit Slab Slay’R and now the Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R. I fish all on 1/48-ounce Itty Bit Jigheads or 1/24-ounce Crappie Pro Overbite Sickle Jigheads. Measuring only 1 ¼ inches, these baits all look like easy meals and appeal to virtually everything, and most likely suggest aquatic insects or very small minnows or crawfish.

Each Itty Bit bait is a miniature version of a proven Bobby Garland bait, and each is distinct in virtues and appeals. I use a few different rigs and presentations, according to water depth, the nature of the cover, conditions and, most importantly, what the fish seem to favor any given day. Common denominators are simplicity, shallow cover or structure and an Itty Bit bait at the terminal end.

Itty Bit Baits

Bobby Garland Itty Bit luresBobby Garland Itty Bit lures

I cannot deny the new Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R has become my favorite. Maybe that’s because of newness or because I’ve used it so much in recent weeks. The fact is, though, that I’ve caught on an insane number and variety of fish on this lure in the short time I’ve had some.

Like the original Slab Hunt’R, it is a minnow shaped bait with a double-lobed tail and ribbed belly. It has a fabulous shimmying action, with all the movement beginning at the tail, just like a real minnow. It stays true when you swim it quickly, but you can also move it very slowly and still get great action from the tail.

The Itty Bit Swim’R, like the Baby Shad Swim’R, has that iconic Baby Shad shape but with a joint in the tail and a tiny paddle at the end of the tail to enhance the swimming action. It has the Itty Bittiest profile of all the Itty Bit baits, making it extra good for very clear water or fussy fish.

The Itty Bit Slab Slayer has a cupped spear tail that gives it a totally different profile than the other two Itty Bits and can be made to dart, flutter or glide. I especially like it when I’m doing more lifting and dropping with presentations. It also has a solid body that stays up on a jighead well, and ribs to add vibration.

Straight Up

My favorite way to fish Itty Bits, when the situation allows, is the simplest of all. I rig my bait on a 1/48-ounce Itty Bit Jighead, tie the jig to the end of my line and simply cast and retrieve. Sometimes I reel it straight. Often, I add upward rod twitches to make the bait dart up or pause the presentation to allow it to fall. I control depth with retrieve speed and rod angle, and if the water is shallow, I try to swim the bait just off the bottom. The bait’s fall is slow and its action uninhibited when rigged like this, and I can feel everything that happens as my bait moves through the water.

This approach calls for legitimate ultralight gear and very light line (I prefer 4-pound test), and it is only a good option with fairly calm conditions and when you can work fairly close to the cover for the sake of casting and control of the lure.

For just a bit more casting distance and control or to allow my bait to sink a bit deeper, I’ll sometimes add a split shot a foot or so up the line. This provides the needed extra weight without inhibiting the lure’s action. An alternative is to use a 1/24-ounce Crappie Pro Overbite Sickle Jighead. This jig’s unique hook design allows for straight rigging and free action even for these ultra-tiny baits. That said, all else equal, I like the even smaller hook in the Itty Bit heads for an all-species approach

Double Trouble

tandem jig rigtandem jig rig

Most frequently, when I want extra weight, I use a tandem rig, figuring the added weight might as well be gained with an extra option for the fish and greater visibility, along with the possibility of catching doubles (which happens a lot, some days). For tandem rigging, I tie the front bait on with a loop knot and leave a long tag end and then tie on the other with another loop knot, 12 to 18 inches behind the front jig.

My tandem rigs take on a few forms. Usually, I fish two Itty Bits, sometimes matching them to provide a schooling look and sometimes contrasting body styles or colors to try to discover the fish’s preferences. Occasionally, I complement the Itty Bit with something slightly bigger, like a Stroll’R or Hyper Grub, on a 1/16- or 1/24-ounce jighead. This allows for substantially easier casting and a better feel for the rig in the wind and makes it easier to fish a bit deeper.

I put the Itty Bit in the back to create a strike trigger with every pause of the presentation because the larger, heavier bait falls faster and gets the fish’s attention and then the tiny bait flutters down in front of the fish. Both lures will produce fish, but when I use this rig, I typically catch substantially more on the Itty Bit.

Float Rig

redear sunfish catchredear sunfish catch

When I want to slow presentations and control depths to coax strikes from fussy fish or keep the bait in the strike zone beside cover, I use a single Itty Bit and add float to the line. Even a small float provides plenty of weight for accurate casts, and the bait flutters to a pre-determined depth and suspends irresistibly.

I like a small balsa float, favoring Thill America’s Favorite spring floats for this application. I use the smallest pencil float model for still water and extra calm conditions and the shorty oval model if there’s a bit of wind or current. I opt for spring floats because I’m normally fishing shallow anyway, and I prefer having the option of adding and removing the float as I go without having to re-tie.

Because the float usually comes into play when fish aren’t wanting faster, steady presentations, I normally work the float rig slowly, jiggling the rod tip to make the rig dance in place and then pausing, or moving the rig with short pulls, again broken by pauses. Most fish hit just at the start of a pause, when the bait has risen a bit and is starting to fall.

Catch All

float rig bluegillfloat rig bluegill

Species I commonly catch with this approach include bluegills and their cousins (redear sunfish, longear sunfish, pumpkinseeds, green sunfish…); black and white crappie; assorted black bass, including largemouths, smallmouths, spots, redeyes and shoal bass; white bass; yellow perch; rock bass; and rainbow trout.

I don’t have a target species, more days than not, and I typically don’t even know what kind of fish is likely to provide the best action. Of course, that’s a major part of the fun: When something hits, there’s no telling what might be at the other end of the line!

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Bass on Itty Bit Slab Hunt'RBass on Itty Bit Slab Hunt'R