Smallmouth bass can often be tough to find in the springtime. They school up in huge numbers, but many spots will be as devoid of life as the far side of the moon! The key is put the time in to locate the schools and the action can be like Fourth of July fireworks! Smallmouth can go off like rockets when hooked. That’s why we all love them!
Early in the season, it’s hard to beat a deep, clear, upper Midwest lake with a forage base of crayfish or rusty crawfish. Add some rocks or artificial fish cribs, a little green vegetation or fallen trees, sandy bottom, and you’ve got the makings of a day full of memories! Fifty fish days are common on the right spots! Smallmouth bass aren’t bashful like their largemouth cousins can be — they are typically aggressive. Put the right bait in the right place and hold on!
Do Your Homework
Research on the Internet can pay big dividends. Find out the latest information that your state conservation biologists have to offer. Ask them which lakes have big smallies and which have smaller, average fish but more of them. It’s usually an either/or proposition. A lake that has lots of average-sized smallmouth rarely produces the monster fish, but the lakes with bigger fish usually hold enough smallmouth to keep an outing more than interesting.
A nice feature of early-season smallmouth is this: you can hit the snooze button if you want. Water typically has to warm up a bit before the fish really turn on. The afternoon bite is usually best. And then, the key is to find the warmest water on the lake on a given day. Look for the warmest bays which often feature sand, gravel, rocks or dark bottoms and weeds. Big smallmouth will often group up in big packs there. Focus on shallow water 5- to 8 feet deep except on crystal clear water where 10- to 12 feet deep can be best.
Make long casts to avoid spooking fish. Jerkbaits make great search tools, and stick with natural shades such as gold/black, white/silver or silver/blue. Wear good polarized sunglasses. As you are reeling in that first fish, keep watching the water around it. Several more bass may follow the one that’s caught up to the boat. Flip a tube back to them and get set. The fun starts now!
Plastics are likely to produce the most fish. Keep your colors neutral, such as watermelon, brown and pumpkin seed. A weighted 1/8-ounce EZ Tube internal tube weight should handle most situations. Use a black 1/4-ounce jig to drag YUM Muy Grubs on the bottom or swim them just off the bottom. You can also pop tubes off the rocks, then drag them to mimic crawfish. If smallmouth take plastics that are swimming, take that as a sign the fish are hot and try a few crankbaits or spinnerbaits. You can often catch more fish with a faster approach.
The spawn typically starts when water temperatures reaches about 58 degrees, which is usually at the end of May. But with the crazy, warm weather we’re having this spring of 2012, who knows? It could certainly come around sooner. The spawn will be quick on shallow, stained lakes that warm faster. Spawning can last into mid-June on larger clear lakes that warm more slowly.
Tactics For The Spawn
Spawning beds are normally located on sandy/rocky shorelines, rock reefs and sand/rocks by logs in 3- to 5 feet of water. The tactics used during the spawn change only slightly from pre-spawn. For casting, try tossing a white or chartreuse spinnerbait or crankbait. Throw-back plastics include a Muy Grub or bigger tube baits.
Smallmouth bass go deeper during post spawn and can become a little harder to catch so this is the time to try a Carolina rig. If the wind blows into the shoreline, smallies will attack shallow structure — a time to be there with jerkbaits. Use a Drift Control drift sock to slow the boat. Now’s also the time to get up at the crack of dawn in order to get some exciting top-water action early in the day. Or stay out later to enjoy some hot, shallow action again just before sundown.
Smallmouth action is not all about lakes. Check out the streams that empty into larger water. Some are big enough to offer ramps for boats and others are worth a day wading or using a canoe. Like most river predators, smallmouth want to be near food and oxygen that moving water carries, but they don’t want to waste energy. Therefore, they’ll be in the slack-water areas behind current breaks. Use a center-slip NO-SNAGG weight 3/8-ounce and big minnows, or a 3-inch tube on a jig.
Don’t forget to check your state fishing regulations. Several states have taken action to improve smallmouth bass fishing by imposing strict limits. Catch and release is always best!
Good luck out there!
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Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson write a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Ted has many fishing achievements, including a victory at the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later. (Ted’s sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Pinnacle Rods and Reels, Bottom Line Electronics, Minn Kota, Stren, Normark, Flambeau, Master Lock, Gamakatsu, Aqua Vu and Nautamatic TR 1.)