Having trouble getting smallmouth to smack offerings? Sometimes the only way to get fussy fish to bite is by downsizing. Here are some tips on this simple, but often ignored technique.
A lot of smallmouth baits range between 4- to 6 inches long, but downsizing means using 1- to 3-inch-long offerings. Downsizing also relates to bait thickness. Many traditional smallmouth hard baits (i.e., jerkbaits and minnowbaits) as well as productive soft baits (i.e., tubes or swimbaits) seem to hover around 0.5- to 0.75-inches in diameter. A 4-inch bait could still be considered downsizing if it has a 0.25-inch or less diameter, such as finesse worms and stickbaits.
Downsizing For Choosy Bass
There are many reasons to downsize lures for smallmouth success. Fish mood is a big one. When smallmouth are neutral or inactive, pint-sized baits often seal the deal better than larger lures. Cold fronts, weekend boat traffic, fishing pressure, or when you’ve spooked a smallmouth with your boat, are all reasons bass might be turned off. Using hors d’oeuvres-sized soft baits can often get you bites in tough conditions. Excellent options are Senkos, creature baits, tubes on light jig heads, and finesse worm shaky head rigs. Over the past two years, Berkley Gulp! Alive 3-inch Minnows and Leeches have saved me on numerous outings when smallies had lockjaw.
Try Undersized As Throw-Back Baits
Smaller lures can frequently produce bites when used as throw-back offerings to a following fish or one you’ve spotted in clear water. You need to factor in conditions, casting accuracy and fish mood. In some instances, using hard baits will outperform plastics when you need to make long casts or the wind makes tossing light baits difficult. Good bets are a 3-inch Rapala X-Rap jerkbait or a Strike King Rocket Shad. However, if you need a slow fall along with scent to coax hits, plastics such as Senkos, tubes, and soft-jerkbaits are often better than hard baits.
Small Forage = Small Baits
Downsizing success is sometimes a matter of matching the predominant food source. At times, smallmouth will focus on dragonfly or mayfly larvae and various other aquatic invertebrates. On many lakes I fish, tiny 1-inch crayfish top the smallmouth menu the first few weeks of the season.
Why do big bass eat small creatures? The answer comes down to effort and availability. A mayfly larvae put up less of a fight (if any) for smallmouth than a school of shad. It’s easy for bass to graze on these petite snacks to fill up their bellies with minimal effort. With such a bountiful buffet in front of them, why would they consider chasing fast-moving baitfish, or a spinnerbait for that matter?
At times, using smaller lures is the only way your bait will get noticed. Many baits are available to imitate tiny crayfish, terrestrial and aquatic insects, and other micro morsels. Remember to focus on profile, color and action. A light hair or feather jig with the right color pattern can imitate a lot of the small snacks mentioned above.
Downsizing isn’t just about bait size. Part of the package is using light gear. You often need to drop hook size when rigging smaller baits to maintain the finesse facade. Opt for sturdy, sticky-sharp hooks from reliable manufacturers such as Owner, Gamakastu, Eagle Claw, or Mustad.
Monofilament or fluorocarbon lines between 4- and 6-pound-test is also needed. This facilitates longer casts, which is often necessary when fishing finicky or skittish smallmouth in shallow water. Light line also helps baits appear more natural in the water. Heavy line impedes the natural action of smaller-sized baits. Of course, don’t be reckless. If you’re fishing craggy rocks, upgrade your line strength as necessary to prevent break offs. Use a medium-light to light-action 7-foot to 7-foot, 6-inch rod with a soft-tip to easily be able to fling light baits a good distance.
The next time you’re faced with tough smallmouth fishing be sure to try downsizing. It’s amazing how effective small profiled lures are when average-sized baits aren’t working.
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