Where’s ya bean?
  |  First Published: December 2003

Kim introduces the methodology of using small `jellybean-sized’ lures. These size and colour choices are used as a starting point by many anglers in fresh- and saltwater.

THE JELLYBEAN Theory relates to the use of smaller than normal lures to tempt a strike. It also embraces the approach that often a brightly coloured lure will attract a fish into striking.

The adage that `you can catch a big fish on a small hook’ has a lot of relativity to the theory of using small lures. Small lures, used in fresh- and saltwater fishing scenarios, can increase your catch rate. Simply, a well set-up small lure is able to catch big and small fish. Let's take a look at a few.


Schooling pelagics: Saltwater fish feeding on schooled baitfish can be fairly finicky and often shy away from large lures. Predicably, they will eat only lures that replicate the size of that baitfish in the school on which they are feeding. In these situations, downsizing the lure should increase catches.

With the smaller lure comes the handicap of shorter casting distances and schooling fish are notoriously hard to approach for boat anglers.

The answer is to move to a longer rod and smaller diameter fishing lines for increased casting distance. Combine such an outfit with a threadline reel to facilitate high-speed retrieves and you’ll soon find that casting small metals comes up trumps.

Trout: One teasing rainbow that had taken up residence very near to our streamside camp taught me a lesson I shall never forget. Three mornings in a row I tried to tempt it with a size 10 Royal Coachman. Twice it looked at the fly before shying away. On the third morning, it ignored my offering so I tied on a size 12 version of the same fly. The take was instantaneous and a short tussle later I released the 750g fish and thanked it for the tutorial.

We could debate the issue forever and I’ll never know what went through the trout’s mind. But next time I’m in the same situation I’ll be downsizing!


The general guideline for lure fishing is that in clear water you should opt for smaller-profiled lures, particularly those in natural colours (rainbow trout, brown trout, shad or fish-scale patterns) and lighter colours (whites and pearls). Fish are spooky in clear water, so a less intrusive approach, like the smaller lures and natural colour patterns, is a suggestion.

Silver or chrome lures are also a favoured colour in clear water on sunny days because flash is given off when the sunlight strikes the reflective chrome finish of the body. As for gold, the textbook says that it goes hand-in-hand with fishing in either stained or murky water.

Conversely, in dirty water many prefer a slightly larger lure. The larger profile assists the fish in being able to find the lure in the murky conditions.

Colours for dirty water are those that make the lure's presence obvious. We sometimes refer to these colours as ‘obnoxious’. Fluoro pinks, black and chartreuse are all popular dirty-water colours.

All this doesn't mean that you can't catch fish on black lures in clear water – what I've given is the colour generalisation used the world over.

Either way, when the opportunity arises, I always run one alternate to the generalisation. For example, if I’m trolling a lure spread through clear water, I’ll often incorporate one brightly coloured lure in amongst the natural hues. For dirty water, I’ll include one natural-coloured lure.


The other attribute that is sometimes related to water clarity is sound; lure noises such as rattles or clicks. The most followed guideline is that rattles are desirable in dirty water, low light or even dark situations.

The second part of the theory on sound is that rattles will help active fish find and track a lure when there is other noise around, such as a feeding school of fish or wind ruffle on the surface.

Rattles are less desirable in still situations or when the fish are inactive. Fact or fiction? At least it’s a good platform from which to start your own experiments.


This is the heart of the jellybean theory. Imagine you've just eaten a huge three-course meal and feeling bloated and in need of rest! A bright-coloured jellybean sitting in a jar on the table catches your attention; you reach out and take one (come on – you know you would!). After all, you always have room for just one little sweet.

So that's the jellybean theory: Hopefully, even a well-fed fish that's eaten a few big mullet will always have room for just one more little offering.


It is also believed that fish in locations that receive high fishing pressure (and are subjected to a lot of standard-sized lures) are more likely to be tempted into taking a smaller lure despite being timid of larger-profiled lures. The theory applies across all lures, including minnows, spinnerbaits, soft plastics and jigs.

Downsize for finicky or heavily pressured fisheries and see the result – that’s a fact!


One area where downsizing is gaining momentum is in the juggernaut of breamin’ with soft plastics. A couple of companies (such as the 1” Bream Candy curl tail, Slider with their 1” T-tail grub and Berkley with their 2” minnow) are offering jellybean versions of their most popular models.

These lures are having success, especially in hard-hit locations where the bream are getting shy. Rivers such as the Nerang in Queensland and the Manning in NSW come to mind.


On a similar note, a good friend has been having great success using 3” bass plastics on barra. Significantly, he is having a lot of success when the water temperature is low. By far the standout performer for him has been the Slider 3” Grub, particularly in pearl. Additionally, the boys around Townsville have found the junebug version to be a genuine big-fish producer.

All I can say is that I’ve yet to be convinced that putting ‘barra’ in the name of a bigger-than-average soft plastic will achieve anything more than catching anglers.


Fishing a jellybean is not much use if the lure is not in strike zone. It is quite common with deep-divers that the lure size in most ranges gets bigger as they go deeper.

In some ranges you'll find sinking and suspending lures in the same size as the standard lure. These days more companies are offering the same lure with a choice of shallow-running, medium-diving and deep-diving bibs.

The challenge is to find lures that get down as deep as they say they do.

Fine diameter main lines, particularly thin superlines, help a lure get down an extra 20cm to 50cm. My quest has always been getting the smallest lure down deep. The Tilsan Bass is one such lure that we can do that with.

As far as colours go with deep divers, fire tiger greens, fluoro pinks, purples and blacks have long been accepted as the norm.


In offshore conditions, small versions of skirted trolling lures can be very effective at hooking fish; there isn't much head or skirt to get in the way of the hook and their small size can be fairly easy for a big fish to snaffle. Many crews run at least one tiny lure in their trolling spread. That way, if a big fish like a billfish is playing with a lure you can move the target lure over towards the fish and present a lure that is all hook.

How many times have you seen a trophy class fish engulf a little skirted jellybean (rigged on light line and meant for bait) as it bounces from wave to wave?

This theory is a sure-fire winner if you’re quick enough and someone on deck is watching the lures all the time.

Small lures with larger hooks can also give a better hook-up, something to consider if you are heading into a long fight or if you are using heavy-handed tactics such as heavy leaders or putting the wood (or brakes) on a fish that is heading for cover.


There are a few little tweaks that need to be done to jellybean-sized lures to prepare them for aquatic combat. Here are a few examples.

• Hooks and terminal rigging for small fish: When targeting small fish (or those with smaller mouths) you often have no choice but to use small lures. If the fish are well-known tail-biters, such as bream, choose lures with narrow tails so that their mouths aren't deflected.

In this case you will often downsize from the standard trebles that come on a hard-bodied lure. Smaller, finer-wire trebles can turn many bumps into hook-ups for bream anglers. The red VMC 8540RD trebles in size 12 or 10 are great for bream.

• Hooks and terminal rigging (with larger gape): When a small lure is used to catch bigger fish, you will often need to upgrade to larger trebles without upsetting the balance of the lure. Larger trebles and heavier split rings can turn a floating lure into a suspending lure, sometimes even a sinker. Being aware of these factors can assist you in customising a lure to your needs.

Lightweight, larger-gaped hooks can be advantageous for holding in the mouths of large-mouthed species such as flathead, where much of the ‘hooking zone’ is made up of soft membrane that can be easily torn.

Alternatively, heavier 5X-gauge trebles can be used when small lures are used for powerful fish. Barra lures like the Flatz Rat are a great example of this.

Sometimes the larger hooks have the undesirable characteristic of overlapping or interlinking. One strategy is to use different-sized trebles on the lure, placing the larger treble at the tail and a standard-sized model as a belly hook (or vice-versa).

Alternatively, use fewer hooks. Opt for two hooks on a three-hook lure, and sometimes just a tail hook on a two-hook lure. The single-hook approach can also prove a little more snagless.


When using smaller lures you will often have to adjust your tackle to suit. For example, a barramundi angler familiar with casting 15g lures with baitcasters might need to select a threadline outfit to propel 5g minnows a long distance.

The smaller minnows with downsized trebles often need a slower-action rod to reduce the incidence of pulling hooks out of soft-mouthed fish, especially those with known violent head-shaking as part of their fighting routine. This is even more essential when braided lines are used.

As a generalisation, select your line to match the rod and vice-versa. So-called ‘fibreglass’ or ‘crankbait’ action rods are a good option with braid and small lures. In contrast, shorter, stiffer rods are often used with mono lines because the stretch in mono lines acts as a shock absorber.


When you get the fish close to the boat, try to reduce any changes in angle. Change the angle of line with respect to the fish too often and you increase the risk of those little hooks tearing out. Remember – smaller lighter lures are often touted as less likely to be thrown by active fish; large heavy lures can lever themselves out of a fish's mouth.


There can never be exact rules when it comes to fishing and lure choice. It takes a lot of catches to build benchmarks and this article introduces a few of the generalisations followed by anglers from around the world. Give them a try and see how they suit you.


1) The use of small soft plastics on Aussie pelagics is becoming very popular.

2) This thumper bream took a small Japanese Sugoi topwater popper. Bream are fond of small offerings, and keen anglers regularly change the trebles to suit the small, hard mouths and the bream’s tendency to be hooked through the lip. You don’t have to change the trebles on the genuine Japanese lures as they stay razor-sharp, fish after fish. That quality goes a small way to accounting for their extra cost.

3) Small metal lures are often used to match the hatch when tuna, kingfish, salmon and trevally are feeding on tiny baitfish. The mass of the metal lure gives the casting distance required to get a small lure into the feeding frenzy without needing to get too close.

4) The author was having a hard time of it with larger lures until she downsized to a Rebel Teeny Wee Craw and scored this 4.5kg rainbow trout.

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