Everybody loves smallmouth bass. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to pursue them on a regular basis. Smallmouth don’t do well in hot climates, preferring deep, rocky lakes, with cool, clear water. However, there are good populations in a few midsouth impoundments that feature a continuous current.
Despite the smallie’s popularity, it’s a love/hate relationship for many anglers, for one simple reason. They’re tough to catch.
I disagree. You just have to remember that they’re not largemouth. The fact is, smallmouth are aggressive fish, especially in the spring. While fishing Lake Champlain in New York last year, we found huge schools of smallies staging on rocky points, and wore them out until our arms got tired. And when it comes to bedding fish, they aren’t nearly as smart or as cautious as largemouth bass. They’ll bite even if the boat is parked on top of them.
They also can be aggressive during summer, but the trick is finding them and presenting a bait they want. Most Tennessee anglers who fish Center Hill and Dale Hollow will tell you that the smallie fishing is awesome at night. That’s when fishermen throw spinnerbaits, jigs and topwaters to rocky banks and points.
A slow-rolled spinnerbait along a rocky ledge may be the best way to catch a giant smallmouth. My favorite after-dark color is black and red blades with a black skirt. Daytime fishing can be easier on Northern waters such as Champlain and Thousand Islands in New York, and Lake St. Clair near Detroit. And, while you can catch a lot of fish on finesse baits, you can call up the big ones with a topwater lure.
I proved that one hot June day on Thousand Islands. I pulled onto a deep ledge and caught a few fish on jigs in 20 feet of water, but the big ones came on a topwater lure. It may sound crazy to fish a topwater in the middle of the day in more than 20 feet of water, but when fishing for smallmouth in clear water, it works. Smallmouth are sight feeders, and if they see a disturbance on the surface, they think nothing of racing up to blast it.
The thing to remember is that it may take more than one cast to draw them to the top. Make 15 or 20 casts with the surface bait before giving up. Poppers and chuggers tend to be best because their slower retrieve better ensures a solid hook-up than some quick-moving walking baits. Don’t overlook the big baits if the lake you are fishing is known for big smallmouth.
Carolina rigs catch them, too. Last summer while fishing Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, the locals insisted that the only way to catch smallmouth was on jigging spoons in 20 to 35 feet of water. I switched to a Carolina-rigged finesse worm with a 5-foot leader and caught the fire out of ‘em.
But, when you get right down to it, there’s no better time for fishing for summer smallmouth than after the sun sets. Be forewarned, though, because a big smallmouth crashing a topwater or spinnerbait on a pitch-black night will put a lot of stress on your heart. But it can also put a big smile on your face.