By Pete Rogers
Smallmouth bass was once considered only a northern relative of the black bass family. Kind of the second cousin twice removed from the long heralded largemouth bass. But as time has moved on, more and more anglers have become enamored with this feisty distant cousin. Smallmouth bass fishing is different from that of largemouth and twice as much fun.
Pound for pound the smallmouth will out fight the largemouth considerably. This makes it a much more enjoyable fish to catch for many anglers. As mentioned above, the smallmouth was once a fish found only in the cold waters of the north. But more and more southern states are finding these fish inhabiting their waters.
Fast flowing rivers and deep man-made reservoirs hold plenty of bronze backs ripe for the catching. To begin, let’s look at some of the characteristics of the smallmouth bass. First the name says a lot about it, its mouth is much smaller than that of the cousin. That however does not mean you have to downsize your bait to catch him. On the contrary, large smallmouth bass will regularly be caught on baits of six inches and larger.
Secondly, the smallmouth prefers colder water. Preferably seldom over sixty five degrees. These fish tend to also like water that has some current in it. Many anglers who target smallmouth exclusively will focus their fishing on rivers or in the mouth of lakes where water is moving almost all of the time. This moving water is usually a few degrees colder and that attracts smallies.
To catch these fish, arguably the number one lure for smallmouth bass is the tube bait. This bait is ideally suited for smallmouth. Rigged with a lead head in the ¼ to 3/8 ounce size, the tube bait is cast into likely waters and brought along the bottom imitating the smallmouth bass favorite food, crawfish. Colors like pumpkinseed, and crawfish are perfect. Other baits to try include large jigs with a crawfish trailer. Blue, electric blue and motoroil colors work well with big jigs. For some reason, when fishing jigs, use large jigs up to ½ ounce with either a blue body or a brown body. Always tip your jigs with some sort of craw trailer.
Another great bait are inline spinners. Mepps, Blue fox, and even Roadrunner baits work great for big bronzebacks. Inline spinners in the ¼ ounce size is great. Personal preference is one with dressed treble hooks for added flair.
A favorite tactic for many who target smallies is top water at dawn. Smallmouth can be very aggressive feeders. Casting large Zara spook or a propeller bait like a Devil’s horse or even a torpedo are excellent choices for early morning top water bites. Any cigar bait or even jerk bait works wonders as a top water bait. Frog colors, bone, or even minnow colored baits work excellent. Brian Cope of South Carolina loves fishing for smallmouth bass. One of his favorite methods is to float rivers and casting into the edge of eddies with both top water and inline spinning baits. “I really like the big Mepps spinners and heavy jigs for smallmouth” Cope says. Find a way to anchor near some fast water and cast all around the boat. In the swift current and near the eddy.” Cope explains that in this method he will have two fishing rods with different lures. Casting the spinners into the current and bringing it upstream very slowly often produces bites. But the bigger fish tend to be in the eddy. “I like to cast a heavy jig into the eddy and work it back slowly. Most of the bites will happen right at the line of current.” Cope explains.
Depending on where you are in the country, the spawn happens at different times. In the northern climate, the spawn will occur anywhere between April to June in 10-20 feet of water. By Late June and through the summer the fish move deeper and deeper looking for the cooler water. As for structure, smallmouth really like rocky bottoms. Rip-rap, rocky points, expansive rocky flats. Find rocks and you are more likely to find smallmouth.
These bronze back fish love to feed on crawfish and gobies, so keep your bait near the bottom. They almost exclusively feed on the bottom. So baits that work the bottom or near it will outperform baits that work higher in the food column. Late summer is a perfect time for the big jigs and a Carolina rig worm. Using a six inch worm in a brown, or pumpkinseed color or even one with a chartreuse additive will help. Use a ½ ounce weight with a two foot leader to a 3/0 offset hook in your worm or craw. A personal favorite is to use a crawfish on the Carolina rig. If possible a live crawfish will work wonders.
Dedicated bronzeback anglers believe there are really only two types of smallmouth bass. Big smallmouth and everything else. By big, they mean fish over five pounds. But that is really a relative term based one where you live. In the southern regions of the smallmouth range, a three and a half pound fish is an excellent fish. Four pounds are trophies and five pound fish are very rare. But in areas where they are available, you have to present to big fish to catch big fish.
Moving water, big baits and bad weather will produce a lot of big fish. Just like many other species, to catch big fish you need big baits. I upsize everything for trophy fish. Giant jigs, in the one ounce size with five inch craw trailers. Worms in the seven to nine inch size. And seven inch swim baits are common as well.
For some reason big fish like to congregate in bad weather. Windy days push baitfish against the shore and the big fish follow. Find the windward side of the islands and fish them heavily. Anchor up a good cast away and work it heavily. If the water is from four feet to fifteen feet all the better. Crankbaits, copper bladed spinnerbaits and even swimming jigs will all produce fish.
Smallmouth bass are some of the most aggressive fish out there, they fight hard, are strong and very tasty on the table. If you have not tried them, now is a great time to get out there and try your hand at some smallies.