Smallmouth bass are pretty high on the list of game fish in Canada and the United States, along with largemouth bass and walleye. Not only they are prized as fish and sought by anglers as being some of the toughest freshwater fighters, they are also indicators of a healthy water stream or lake, being a species less tolerant to pollution.
So, here are a few words in terms of environment, habits, baits, lures and tackle for smallmouth bass.
Smallmouth Bass – Habitat and Habits
First of all, smallmouth bass is native to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence, Hudson Bay – Red River, and the Mississippi basins. So far, it has been introduced in many states for sportfishing. They prefer clearer and colder waters than largemouth bass. They can be found specifically in rivers, streams, and lakes, in places with rocky or sandy bottoms. They like spots with structure, and you’ll often find them around rocks or stumps.
Since they prefer colder waters, early mornings and late evenings you will find them in the shallows, while for the heat of the day, you should look for them in deeper waters.
In large reservoires, they often like to keep close to areas with stair-like formations, or steep drops, where they can take refuge in case they feel threatened. They use deep water as cover, and like to “hide in the dark” to stalk pray as well.
Since smallmouth bass prefer cold water, they are more active in early spring than largemouth bass, thus fishing for them during this period should be more fruitful. Within the pre-spawn period, the best temperature to smallmouth fishing is between 40-50°F, and you will find them in a 20-30 feet depth range.
During spawn, they move to shallow waters, and you will find them at depths between 3-15 feet, but in general, the bigger the bass, the deeper you’ll find it.
In summertime, as water warms up to 70-80°F, they go deeper, down to 45 feet, or even deeper than that, and become rather difficult to catch, compared to other times of the year. However, after dark, early morning or at dusk, they come closer to the shore or riverbanks.
Fall also brings some changes to the smallies’ habits. As the water temperature drops to 55-60°F, they “step out” of the deep once more, moving to somewhat 20 feet depths. However, the will still keep close to deep water.
As for the winter, smallmouths will remain within the 20 ft. depth range. Gravelly or chunky rock spots, with deep water in close vicinity, or with a 45° angle into deep water are good places to look for smallmouth bass during this time of the year.
Smallmouth Bass Fishing Techniques
Evidently, the most rewarding and entertaining fishing for smallmouth bass is action-fishing with a wide array of lures, or wobbling live baits. They can also be caught on flies, trolling at slow speeds, and of course, still fishing or floatfishing. Drop-shotting is also quite a productive technique for catching smallies, even though it may not be the best for landing the biggest ones in a particular place.
Bait and Lures for Smallmouth
Smallmouths can be caught with a variety of baits. Among the best are jerkbaits, dragging tubes and jigging spoons. The thing is, some types of baits and lures seem to work best, depending on the time of the year and the habits of the smallmouth bass. For example, during the pre-spawn period, you’ll have better results fish imitating stick jigs, bucktail jigs, grubs and split worms. During spawn, two of the best choices are in terms of lures for smallies are stick-type minnow baits and also spinners, in general, lures that emit a good deal of buzz. The buzz and color brightness should be proportionally increased depending on the murkiness of the water.
Crankbaits work better during fall, when smallmouths feed close to deep water. However, depending on weather conditions, water clearness, and other factors, other lures will also bring great results during the fall season.
When it comes to live bait for smallmouths, the basic bait is the minnow. However, in rocky structure waters crayfish always seem to beat the minnows. In grassy bottom lakes, frogs are always a great choice. And last but not least, worms and leeches can serve as a great live bait for smallmouth bass. If you’re going with worms though, it’s indicated to simply hook them only once in their head part, instead of stuffing them on the hook as you would for benthic fish. Also, it’s best to give the fish a few feet of line before hooking, if you’re fishing with worms. Dobson flies or hellgramites can also work, especially on shallow waters, on smaller jig heads (1/16 or 1/8).
Tackle for Smallmouth Bass
Rods. In general, a rod for smallmouth bass should be slightly longer than one for largemouth bass, with a super fast tip. That’s because it’s generally more important to make longer cast rather than accurate casts. So, the ideal length should fall between 7′ and 9′-10′. An ultra fast tip is necessary because smallmouths have more violent surges than largemouths, and a tip with a slightly higher degree of swiftness might not handle a strike well, leading to broken lines. A few great choices in terms of rods for smallmouths are: G. Loomis Smallmouth Bronzeback, G. Loomis Deep Flex Crankbait or Fenwick Elite Smallmouth Spinnig. An all-purpose rod (for almost any type of lure that you can use for smallmouths) is St. Croix Avid Spinning AVS70MLF.
Reels. Since you’ll be needing longer casts, spinning reels are a better choice for smallmouths. One of the best choices that you can make is Abu Garcia Revo Premier. Also, a Shimano Stradic FJ or Daiwa Ballistic 2500 should do.
Line. Longer casts or fishing for smallmouths in deeper water, requires sensitivity. Therefore, when it comes to line, low-stretch line is the best choice. Tying a 2-3 feet fluorocarbon leader to the braid is not a bad idea though, especially when fishing in snaggy places. Of course, in clear water, and when not casting such longer distances, fluorocarbon is better, because it’s basically invisible in the water. However, smallmouth aren’t exactly the spookiest fish.
When it comes to line strenght, you shouldn’t go for a heavier line than 5-6lb. test for an ultralight tackle. However, in waters with a lot of weed and rocks, 14lb. or even 16lb. test line is a better choice. Keep in mind though, that test line heavier than 14lb. can take its toll to the movement and action of the lure.
Hooks. You can’t go wrong with straight shank hooks for almost any soft plastic and rubber type of bait. But in case you’re using certain soft plastics that tend to slide off the shank, up onto the line, offset hooks should do the trick. The size range in terms of hooks for smallmouth bass varies between 1 and 4/0, depending on what bait you’re using.
Gang hooks are a great choice if you’re going with worms as bait. They are a pair of small hooks tied in tandem, which allow live bait (especially live worms, but work for small fish as well) to be presented in a completely natural manner.