Big Baits, Big Bronzebacks

If it’s lunker smallmouth that you’re after, be ready to offer them a meal rather than a snack. Sometimes bigger really is better.

Imagine a leaping, surging smallmouth outlined by the early morning sun. The lunker is outlined in gold and the monofilament is a golden string connecting two combatants. That spinning shiny thing flying off to the left is the Zara Spook that the fish just spit out.

In a way it was poetic justice. My visiting buddy from Texas, a newspaper outdoor columnist, had looked at the lure and growled, “I’m not after stripers, moron. It’s smallmouth; you know, the finicky fish that want itty-bitty baits and line so small that you can’t see it.”

Being a charitable sort I did not laugh at the loss of a fish that I guessed at weighing over seven pounds, a true monster smallie for most bass chasers. Maybe I did not hide my smirk very well, but I did not laugh. Nor did I chuckle some 15 minutes later when there was a repeat performance with another smallmouth that was just a bit less impressive than the first. Two whoppers in a quarter of an hour is rare even on the best waters, something to be remembered despite the fact that the fish involved managed to escape. I can promise that my friend never forgot the “striper bait.”

Do They Prefer Small Lures?
The concept that smallmouth prefer small lures that necessitate the use of light line and appropriate rods and reels no doubt stems from the fact that a lot of their places of residence dictate such. Extremely clear water requires such.

My home waters, Pickwick and Kentucky lakes, are different since they almost never reach the ultra-clear visibility level. Where a bass in Dale Hollow Lake can spy a creek shiner hiding in a crack several yards away, my fishing holes are considered clear when something six feet away is visible.

The forage base may have a bearing here as well. Shad kills in winter indicate that the average size of these baitfish differs from one body of water to another. Pickwick shad grow faster than Dale Hollow shad, so the predators are accustomed to eating bigger bites.

Let me state now that if I were fishing only for smallmouth on my home waters, I would spend most of my time tossing a 1/4-ounce leadhead. However, these fishing holes have ample numbers of largemouth and spotted bass as well. This means that a lure that is attractive to any hungry member of the clan will generate more action and less time at casting practice.

A good example of what can happen took place when my son and I were fishing an offshore hump one afternoon. Both of us were throwing Carolina rigs with plastic lizards, identical in every respect. He was coming off one side of the knoll while my bait slid down the other. His catch consisted entirely of largemouth and I caught nothing but smallmouth. Since both species were willing to gobble the same type of lure we were not required to find some target-specific lure to get the job done.

Incredible Surface Action
Another notable mixed bag affair took place one summer afternoon when a client and I bumped into some incredible surface action. Using Crazy Shad, Pop Rs and Zoom Super Flukes, we accounted for over 100 bass. The ratio for largemouth, smallmouth and spots was about 3:2:1. All were competing for the same shad, so the bait that looked good to one obviously looked good to the others. Competition for food has a definite bearing on things. It is sort of a “If I don’t eat it, the other guy will” situation.

Two of my favorite warm weather fishing spots are offshore flats, one near a creek channel and the other beside the main river. Schools of shad travel the edges and move into the shallower water to feed and the bass are usually there waiting. For years now a partner and I have used a two-pronged attack with one using a Carolina rig while the other pulls a crankbait. Since I enjoy the latter more, that is what is commonly on the end of my line.

How many smallmouth have nabbed a Deep Baby N, Fat Free Shad or Poe’s crankbait over the years defies counting. It is enough to say that any time that my lure clicks off a rock or stump, or hits open water at the channel edge I instantly tense in anticipation.

Now when someone asks me to pick the best lures for smallmouth and those preferable for largemouth I have to shrug and shake my head: I can no longer tell the difference.

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