Smallmouth Tactics For Streams

Many gamefish put up quite a tussle when they feel the bite of a steel hook in their mouth. Pound for pound I think the smallmouth bass is the hardest, longest-fighting freshwater fish in America.

I have chased these bronze monsters from the clear mountain streams of the Ozarks to the frigid waters of Canada’s Winnipeg River. I have yet to find a finer adversary to test lightweight spinning equipment and a fisherman’s talent.

One of the many things I discovered on my own was that live bait made me much more consistent against this critter. Live crawdads and big plump nightcrawlers were the ticket for regular success. Many artificial lures are excellent too, and I will mention them a bit later. But for my taste, and theirs, give me crawdads every time.

I recall one foggy, cool June morning in the late ’70s. The crawdads virtually jumped into my can. I had my mornings bait in about five minutes. The first hole I always hit is a bluff hole. This spot is about 10-feet deep with lilypads along the bluff side. The bottom is littered with huge granite boulders, which is perfect smallmouth habitat.

Working The Edges Of The ‘Pads
There was not much light as I waded out from the gravel bar at the head of the hole. The creek was in great shape. There had been no rain for a week and you could see every pebble in six feet of water. I hooked on a lively “dad” and cast to the edge of the lilypads. How many times had I started a days fishing in this exact same spot?

I always use a big split-shot weight about a foot above my crawdad. When I cast close to the lilypads, or a root wad or other structure, the crawdad tries to swim to the cover. It cannot pull the weight, but swims frantically trying to. This drives most gamefish wild, especially the smallmouth.

I always try to do two things when I set the hook on a fish in the stream. Besides getting a solid set, I also try to turn the fishes head away from whatever cover it is going for. Moving water bass not only know how to use the structure to their advantage, but the current as well.

As soon as I “laid steel” to this one I knew I had a fight on my hands. With the ultra-light spinning outfit I was using I was not really sure who had who for the first couple of minutes.

“This isn’t a bass,” I said aloud, as if someone were there to hear. I realized I was talking to myself, but what the heck.”It must be a carp,” I said to a bluejay perched on a willow limb. I was sure the obviously large fish was not a bass. It just did not act like a bass. I have had smallmouth come from several feet deep and jump into the air like a Polaris missile leaving a sub. I also did not think it was a catfish; carp is all it could be. I was a little disappointed at that thought, but I decided to have fun with the fight anyway. I pressed the spool with my thumb to help the drag a little. The fish stayed in deep water.

The Fight Of A Lifetime
As she swam and I cranked as fast as I could, she passed me and broke for the surface. The fog had cleared, the sun had risen and I was shocked to see a long, bronze smallmouth jump and twist in front of me.

We fought for several minutes. She wanted the lilypads, I wanted her in open water. After several long runs she began to tire. She went to the bottom and stayed there. I had neither the line nor rod required to pull her up. Every time I applied pressure she would make a short run. There was very little that I could do with such light tackle.

Finally she lay exhausted at my feet. Frustration took over. I had to have this bass. She lay there at my feet, huge. I kept telling myself that the water was magnifying her, that she was not really that big. Who was I kidding? This was the biggest smallmouth I had ever seen in any of these streams. I had to have her.

The thoughts and the actions happened at the same time. They had to have. Otherwise I would have talked myself out of it. I took off my glasses and put the earpieces between my teeth. I took off my cap and tossed it to the bank. I took a deep breath and reached for her with my empty hand, going completely under the water.

I had a hand full of bass, a mouth full of water and a heart full of pride as I made it to the gravel bar carrying a 21-inch, Missouri stream-bred smallmouth bass. She weighed 4-pounds 10- ounces and caused me to make the first of dozens of subsequent trips to the taxidermist.

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