Smallmouth bass spend a lot of their lives looking down. They’ve got good reason to though because a lot of their food lives on the floor of lakes and rivers. Crayfish, aquatic insects, leeches, gobies, and several other morsels mill around on rock, wood and muck. When smallmouth bass are in a down-view trance the best way to catch them is with bottom-contact baits. Here are three proven producers.
A drop-shot rig has many advantages for smallmouth bass and a lot of this has to do with the fact that the hook’s tied several inches above the sinker. This lets you adjust how far the baited hook holds off bottom. This could be a few inches to a couple of feet. Whatever the distance the rig’s weight holds its ground while the bait suspends off bottom, and bass can rarely resist a hovering, vulnerable bait.
In addition, because the weight and the bait are separated a fish feels very little resistance when it initially takes the offering encouraging them to hold on. This same weight separation also gives you supreme sensitivity for detecting light hits. This presentation is extremely versatile for smallmouth. I’ve caught fish in 3-, 15-, and 30 feet of water both casting and dragging this presentation or using a straight-down approach off the edge of the boat, although the latter’s mainly a deep-water tactic.
Shaky-Head Set Ups
The shaky-head technique is another excellent bottom-contact presentation for smallmouth. The set up utilizes a specialty jig teamed with a Texas-rig with a soft plastic. The uniqueness of the offering is that while the jighead rests on bottom the soft-plastic’s tail quivers seductively a few inches off the floor. Add an ever-so-slight shake of the rod and the jig head pivots up and down making the bait come alive. This presentation replicates something feeding off bottom oblivious to its own vulnerability, or a worm trying to burrow itself out of harms way — in either case, it looks like an unsuspecting and an easy meal to a smallmouth.
Floating, finesse worms are the most popular soft-baits to use, but don’t be afraid to experiment with tube or creature baits. Stick with worms in the 4-inch range for smallmouth. Shaky-head fishing is deadly in clear water systems. It can be used in shallow to deep-water situations. You’ll want a range of jigs between 1/8- to 3/8-ounces, but always use the lightest jig you can get away with.
When I was a kid, I’d say I bought more split shots than any other piece of terminal gear in my Old Pal tackle box. For a few years my shares in split shots dropped, but then I was faced with some really tough smallmouth fishing and a split-shot rig saved the day. The rig’s nothing special, but it’s often overlooked by anglers. A weightless bait is rigged on a hook, and anywhere from 10- to 18 inches above it, a split-shot sinker is pinched on the line.
When it comes to rigging, I like sturdy, thin-wire worm hooks for Texas-rigging small plastics or mosquito-style models when I’m nose-hooking baits. Hook size hovers around 1/0 as I often use 2- to 3-inch offerings for this technique. Some good bait choices for this rig are stickbaits, leeches, tubes, and thin-bodied creature baits. I have also had extremely good success for inactive smallmouth using a 1- to 2-inch Woolly Bugger wet fly on a split-shot rig. Tossing out a wet fly on a spinning rod isn’t a conventional smallmouth presentation, but it’s scary how lethal the hair and hackle are at triggering fussy fish to hit.
Bottom-contact fishing is often the key to a successful day on the water when smallies are nose-down looking for food. Drop-shot, shaky head and split-shot rigs give you three distinct presentations for fishing the floor. Use them often this season and put more bottom-loving smallies in your net.
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