Smallmouth bass have to be one of my favourite fish to catch. And with the water clearing from the zebra mussels and those invasive gobies working like protein shakes, there seems to be more and bigger ones showing up every year. As much as these two things make the smallmouth fishing great they can also make it a lot tougher. Big fish mean more fishing pressure and clearer water, combine with that fishing pressure can be a fisherman’s nightmare. But I’m here to tell you that if you make the right adjustments to the changing conditions you might end up loading the boat with some of the biggest bass of your lifetime.
The beginning of our smallmouth season can be some of the most exciting fishing of the year. The fish have had the long winter to recoup from baits being whizzed by their heads, are up and around shallow cover and ready to pound on almost any offering you present. This makes it one of my favourite times of year to throw fast moving baits like spinnerbaits and jerkbaits. Because of the clearing water you don’t want the fish to get a good look at your bait and see all those ugly, nasty looking trebles hanging there or be able to count the rubber strands in your spinner bait skirt, so fast is definitely the key when it comes to working these baits. Trust me, if those fish get a good look at it they won’t be coming anywhere near your lures or the inside of your boat, so be sure to move your bait as quickly and erratically as you can across the surface and you’ll have smallmouths doing somersaults to get at it.
One of the things I can’t stress enough when using these baits is to make as long of casts as physically possible. I don’t care if you have to stand on your buddy’s shoulders to get an extra ten feet on your cast; it will make a difference. That’s because the fish that are out and away from the boat aren’t aware that you are around and will always be more willing to bite. Using the right rod and reel for the job makes a huge difference when it comes to getting your bait out there. One of the coolest things to come out over the last couple years that really helps with this are longer rods like Shimano’s 7’11” TC4 Crucial. Tie on a ¾ oz spinnerbait spooled with 17 pound fluorocarbon line on to one of these and you’ll be sailing baits further than you ever imagined. That’s because the extra length gives you tons of power and leverage that you normally wouldn’t have. Those big rods work great for tossing the bigger and heavier baits in your arsenal but when it comes to throwing smaller and lighter jerkbaits the best way to get better casting distance is by spooling up a spinning reel with 15lb test braided line. The small diameter and zero memory characteristics in the braid sails the line smoothly through the guides and gets your bait as far from the boat as possible.
I would love it if you could just go around firing spinnerbaits and jerkbaits to catch every smallmouth in the lake but unfortunately that’s usually not the case. If you start to see fish following your faster moving baits back to the boat and not committing or nothing`s happening at all, that usually means it`s time to slow down. First things first, make sure you are in an area that has the potential of holding fish. Look for places with rock that transition into deeper water, weeds, or both. Find some larger rocks or boulders mixed in and you’re definitely in the right kind of area. The first bait I reach for when it’s time to slow down is a drop shot, a technique that presents the bait at the desired length above your weight. One of the biggest mistake anglers make with this presentation is thinking of it only as a vertical presentation. Don`t be afraid to make long casts with a drop shot, and slowly work and shake it all the way back to the boat. Use as small of a hook you can get away with and try any bait that mimics a crawfish, goby or baitfish.
One of the keys to this technique is to maintain bottom contact throughout the cast. The majority of the time I like to use a ¼ oz. Weight, but if there is a lot of wind or your fishing in deeper water don’t be afraid to up it until you ensure you always have a good feel of bottom. Speaking of feel the drop shot is another technique where I will use braided line. The no stretch properties allow you to feel every nook and cranny of the bottom and even the slightest bites from those giant smallies.
One thing I always do when running braided line in clear water is tie on a length of fluorocarbon leader between the braid and my bait. The easiest and strongest way to do this is with the uni to uni knot (check out our GULP Rigging Zone at www.factsoffishing.com for tying details).) A fluorocarbon leader accomplishes a ton of things when it comes to catching more fish. First, when throwing baits like jerkbaits it ensures that the hooks don`t get tangled in the braid and also acts as a shock absorber when you get those bone crushing hits from a smallmouth. Second, for slower techniques like the dropshot the fluorocarbon is nearly invisible so the fish won`t see your line. Also, this line is very abrasion resistant so you can get it in and around all those rocks where these fish like to hang out and be confident you will get them back to the boat without the line breaking.
Just like you can’t catch every fish on the lake with one or two baits, you can’t stay in the same one or two areas all season and expect to continue to catch fish. Smallmouth are notorious for being in one place one day and gone the next. But as the summer turns to fall these fish start to become a little more predictable. When the water begins to cool, these fish will make their way to deeper humps and shoals to feed up on crawfish and baitfish before the long winter. Something I can’t stress enough is the use of good electronics in this situation and understanding how to read them. Take the time to learn what your graph is telling you because it will definitely make your search way more productive. Once you know what you’re looking at, take the time to idle around the lake and look for sharp breaks and deeper areas (20 feet plus) that contain harder bottom and rock. There are many times in the fall I won’t even put the trolling motor down until I mark fish or the structure I am looking for because the fish tend to be grouped up. Once you find the right areas try techniques like drop-shotting, dragging a tube, or using a jigging spoon.
Bar none we have some of the best smallmouth fishing in the world right on our doorstep. Don’t let the changing conditions deter you, make some minor adjustments to your presentation like making longer casts, tying on fluorocarbon leaders, and learning to read your electronics and I promise you the chances of catching a five pound plus fish are better than they have ever been.