Summertime. Smallmouth bass.
That’s a hard combination to beat.
“They wolf-pack when the water warms,” said George Liddle Jr., Ranger Boats sales manager and a competitor on the EverStart tournament trail.
“The warmer the water, the more aggressive they get. They school up, stay shallow and feed. They really go nuts. It’s an ugly deal,” he said, laughing.
Ted Takasaki with a smallmouth.
In northern states such as Minnesota, waters usually don’t get hot enough to force smallmouth bass deep during July and August. Surface temperatures typically peak in the 70s, which is the smallmouth’s preferred range. They can stay in depths of 5 feet or less as they gorge on minnows.
“Find the food, and you’ll find the smallies,” Liddle said. “Once you find them, you can catch 10 to 50 from the same bunch.”
The summer pursuit of smallies is visual. The key is to use good, polarized sunglasses to scan shallow spots for visible forage fish or use your sonar to spot slightly deeper schools on the edges of structure. In lakes, start the search on classic smallmouth structure, such as flats and points with sharp drops to deep water. Add sand, rock and weeds and you’ve got a good chance to connect. But, when they are schooled, they really don’t care what kind of cover they are on because it’s the meal they’re after. Baitfish keep moving, and so should you.
Always try shallow water first. You rarely have to search deeper than 10 feet at this time of year. Use spinning gear for grubs and tubes. Tie on an 1/8-ounce jig with 8-pound Stren on opening day and it can stay on until the end of the season. Try using longer 7-foot rods to make long casts so you can stay farther back in order to avoid spooking shallow fish. Neutral colored tubes or swirl tail grubs in brown or gray hues work great. In addition, a Fuzz-E-Grub jig by itself or tipped with a leech can often turn the trick in tough conditions.
Liddle uses baitcasting rods for spinnerbaits and crankbaits. He spools up with the heaviest line he can get away with usually between 10-pound to 17-pound test. The primary factor in line choice is water clarity.
Use crankbaits and spinnerbaits to cover water fast in order to locate active fish. Go slower with plastics, if necessary. George likes to throw 1/2-ounce Rat-L-Traps in blue and chrome or reds and browns. He’ll turn to jerkbaits and Pop-Rs, as well. For summertime spinnerbaits, use 1/4-ouncers with two tandem #3 willowleaf blades, usually metallic.
How long do you stay on a spot without a fish? Remember, smallmouth are not home bodies. Try several likely places on the structure. If nothing bites, move to another spot. “Thirty minutes is a long time for me,” Liddle said.
Rivers will offer a different challenge. In early summer, river smallmouth act more like largemouth. They like dead spots, no-current areas like sloughs and backwaters with current nearby. But by July, smallmouth move to the main river and will hold on current breaks, such as the upstream or downstream side of wingdams, eddies behind shoreline points and blowdowns such as stumps or logs.
Ask Liddle to name his very favorite smallmouth destination in Minnesota and Lake Mille Lacs is at the top of the list. Fish over 6-1/2 pounds are very possible there. He has 30 fish over 5-1/2 pounds to his credit there. “Mille Lacs is a phenomenal fishery,” he said. “Everyone thinks of it as a walleye fishery. But, I have never seen the numbers of fish (smallmouth) as there are on Mille Lacs.”
Other hot spots are the Mississippi River, Lake Vermilion and the Rum River. Another location gaining in reputation for smallmouth bass is Lake Superior at Duluth.
Summertime, and the smallmouth fishing is awesome.
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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.)