The Most Underrated Fishing Lure of All Time: The Twister Tail Grub
Fishing expert Alex Johnson goes over gear considerations, rigging tips, and fishing techniques so you can utilize this amazing lure and have some fun on the water!
The twister tail grub, also known by many other names, such as the swimmin’ grub, mister twister, twisty tail jig, or curly tail to name a few, has to be my favorite fishing lure of all time. I first started using them when I was a teenager to break the habit of only using live bait, and it revolutionized my tackle box. I was catching a lot more fish because of them, and it increased my confidence on the water until I eventually branched out to other lures and techniques. Make no mistake though, to this day I never leave to go fishing without a few various colors like yellow and white pearl in my tackle box, and I probably use them more than anything else for smallmouth bass and crappie. I almost dare to say it’s a crutch, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
When I was about 15 or 16, I was fishing at a popular spot on a river close to home hoping to catch a smallmouth. I tried several different random lures with no luck, and the spinning rod I had at the time was more suited for catfish, so it was lousy at casting small lures, but I didn’t realize that at the time. Any onlooker would have gathered I had no idea what I was doing, and pretty soon, after struggling to make any progress, I noticed an older gentleman was consistently catching smallmouth after smallmouth standing in the same spot. “What is he doing that I’m not?” I thought. He must have noticed me staring at him in amazement, or he simply felt sorry for me, because he came over to talk to me and showed me what he was using. “Just cast them into the riffle and reel it in real slow along the bottom. The hardest part is telling what's a rock and what’s a fish, but you’ll catch ‘em” he said. Then he gave me a handful of white 2” twister tail plastic grubs already rigged with 1/16th ounce jig heads. You would have thought he gave me a million dollars because I remember saying thank you several times with the biggest smile on my face. After that, I started using twister tail grubs almost exclusively for a while and caught just about everything from smallmouth, largemouth, sauger, crappie, and even a couple of catfish.
These days, unfortunately, for many avid and amateur anglers alike, the twister tail grub conjures up images of old-timers and little kids in lawn chairs using them to catch dinker bass and crappie. With so many soft plastic lure options today, the twister tail grub has taken a back seat to the new favorites of professional fishermen, but when it came out it was revolutionary.
It was originally invented in the 1970s by lure manufacturer Mr. Twister, and at the time, there weren't many soft plastic fishing lures around, so the twister tail was quite the innovation in artificial lures with tail action at the time, and it's still deadly today. You could say it’s the original swimbait that many lure manufacturers have built upon and tweaked throughout the years. If you look at today's soft plastics, you’ll notice many different lures from a variety of companies use various forms of the twister tail. With its natural action, various size and color options from watermelon to june bug, and the ability to be used for many techniques, I truly think the twister tail/curly tail is among the most versatile and effective fishing lures that let you catch just about any predatory game fish on the planet. Although it is still a very popular choice among many anglers, I think it deserves more respect as a serious multi-species soft plastic lure.
This is my case for the twister/curly tail grub, or jig, or twin tail grub, or whatever you want to call it. I’ll go through some gear considerations, rigging tips, and fishing techniques so you can utilize this under-appreciated lure and have some pure unadulterated fun on the water!
What You Can Catch
The short answer is you can catch anything with soft plastic grubs. If it’s a predatory game fish that relies primarily on prey for food, it will go after it. The swimming action and vibrations of the twister tail are irresistible to fish for some reason, and because of its wide variety of sizes and colors, it can imitate just about any pattern, whether that be baitfish, crustaceans, leeches, worms, or larval insects. The twister tail grub’s crowning achievement is that it doesn’t really look like anything, but the single tail grubs vaguely resemble just about anything that swims, so whether you’re casting tiny twister tails as a spinnerbait with a versatile soft plastic trailer for crappie in a cypress swamp in Mississippi, or jigging massive twister tails in the salt for lingcod off the coast of California, the twister tail will get it done for you.
Since I’m mostly an inland freshwater angler, and because a large majority of recreational anglers in the U.S. fall under that category as well, the twister tails I’ll be referencing will mostly focus on that. I’ve caught just about everything I can catch in my local spots in southern Ohio with twister tail grubs. Sunfish, crappie, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, white bass, sauger, drum, gar, and even a couple of catfish to my surprise. You can also expect to catch perch, trout, walleye, and with bigger twister tails, northern pike and muskie. A few of my personal best river smallmouth bass have all been caught with a white twister tail grub, and it is just about the only thing I use to catch a stringer full of crappie unless I decide to use live bait, so I’m a bit partial to them, to say the least!
How to Fish It
Another great thing about twister tail grubs is there are several different techniques (a.k.a ways to “fish it”) that are effective. You can just about cover every area of the water column. Bottom, suspended, subsurface, and even topwater. The easiest and most effective way to fish a twister tail is to cast near cover, a dropoff, an eddie, or anywhere you know fish will hold and make steady retrieve. For your retrieve speed, reel not too slow and not too fast, and keep making casts until you catch something or decide to try a different area. With any lure, you may encounter snags, but if it’s a fish you’ll know. The good thing about a steady retrieve is when the fish strikes, the hook will set itself in most cases, so all you have to do is keep tension on the line and reel the fish in.
If you want to fish along the bottom, cast out, wait a few seconds for the lure to get to the bottom, and reel very slowly. It can sometimes feel painfully slow, but you can get some good bites using this technique, especially when the weather is hot and the fish are down deep. Be aware though, dragging along the bottom is when you’re most likely to encounter snags and break-offs, so just make sure you have a few extra twister tails rigged up. Don’t let it get out of hand though—if you keep getting snagged at the exact same spot, move on. There’s no need to leave all that tackle in the water to just sit there and potentially harm the environment.
For suspended fish, jigging is another great technique with twister tails. Jigging is when you vertically suspend a lure, or “jig” in this case, near structure or another area where you think fish will be. You do this by dropping your jig down, reeling up a little, then lifting your rod tip up and down to give the lure some action. Jigging is especially useful on a boat because you can position yourself above offshore structure and target fish you may not be able to access from shore.
Another less well-known technique for twister tail grubs is using them as a topwater lure. Now, this is limited to very small twister tails, less than 1/8th ounce, because it would be hard to do it with anything bigger. I only found out about this by accident, but don’t dismiss the idea just yet. If you lift your rod tip high and reel fast enough, the lure will skim across the water and the twister tail will make a wake, almost like a micro version of the Whopper Plopper. I found this out by accident because every once and a while when I reel in really fast to prepare for my next cast, a fish will come out of nowhere and smash the lure on the surface. It definitely makes for an exciting and unexpected catch, so I’ll try this technique around vegetation, lily pads, and other fishy areas with surprising success.
Rigging, Sizes, and Colors
Rigging a twister tail grub couldn’t be much simpler. You only need two components: 1) The twister tail soft plastic and 2) The appropriate jig head for the size twister tail you’ll be using. For ultimate convenience, you can buy them pre-rigged, but it's fairly easy to do it yourself and is more cost-effective. Simply feed the hook through the soft plastic until it is snug with the jig head and rigged straight. There are plenty of videos out there on how to do this, as it is one of the oldest and most common ways to rig a soft plastic.
As for sizes, you can find jig heads and twister tails in just about any size you could think of. You’ll want to tailor your jig head and twister tail size to what you’ll be fishing for. It’s pretty simple—if you’re going after small fish, use the smaller sizes, and for big fish, namely pike and saltwater species, go for the bigger jig heads and twister tails. My personal all-around choice for multi-species freshwater fishing is a 1/8th or 1/16th ounce jig head, and 2’-3’ inch Berkley Powerbait Grubs.
A multitude of choices is also available for color selection too. When it comes to color, you’ll want to follow some simple, fundamental rules when selecting what color twister tails you’ll need. Natural colors like greens with red flakes and browns are your best bet for clear water, while very bright options like white, milk-treuse, and chartreuse or dark colors such as blue or black with an orange tail are ideal for low-visibility water. Ideally, you’ll want to get a few of several different colors to cover all your bases.
My all-time favorite color is a flat/bone white. In my home waters of southern Ohio, I rarely get clear water, so I usually need a color that will stand out in stained or muddy water. White excels at this, and also resembles a shad, which is very common prey for game fish in my area and across North America.
Another great color for all-around use is chartreuse or white with a chartreuse pearl tail. Its bright color will stand out in both stained and clear water and is still bright way down deep. I also really like the “fire tiger” and “Christmas lights” colors offered by Berkley. It combines chartreuse, green pumpkin (green), and red or orange, so it has elements of both natural and bright colors. What’s also great is that “Christmas lights” and “fire tiger” closely resemble the color of a rainbow darter, which is a very overlooked baitfish imitation for river smallmouth that can be extremely effective.
Rod, Reel, and Line Considerations
Throwing twister tail grubs does not require a super technical rod, reel, and line combo. Your combo will all depend on what size jig head and twister tails you’ll be using, so make sure your combo is suited for your size application. Ensure the weight of the jig head matches up with what your rod is rated for, which is written somewhere between the reel seat and the first guide on most rods.
For ultimate versatility and castability for twister tails up to 1/8th ounce to target most freshwater species, start with a 7’ medium-light, fast-action spinning rod. If you want to throw larger twister tails, you can also go for a medium power rod for up to ¼ ounce, or a medium-heavy rod for jig heads up to 1 ounce. On the other end, if you want to use micro-sized twister tails strictly for panfish and trout, go with a light or ultralight spinning rod.
For reels, you’ll want anywhere from a 2000 to 3000 size spinning reel. Your line can be either monofilament or fluorocarbon, and if you want, you could also use a braided line as long as you have a clear fluorocarbon leader that’s at least 12” long. Anywhere from six (6) to eight (8) pound line is the sweet spot for general-purpose freshwater fishing with twister tail grubs. For muskie and saltwater species, you’ll want to beef up your spinning setup or use a conventional or low-profile baitcasting setup to jig or cast big twister tails.
Whatever you’ll be going after on the water, I’m confident if you have a few twister tail grubs in your tackle box, you’ll have success. With so many lure options available these days, sometimes it's best to keep it simple and get back to basics. In my experience, that’s often the most effective and fun way to spend time on the water. Get out there and try some twister tails, and if you see a kid or a new angler struggling to get a bite, give them a handful of twister tail grubs. I promise you they will catch something and be hooked for life!
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