What’s more fun than fishing for smallmouth bass? Catching more, bigger smallmouths.
By Dan Johnson
Pound for pound, smallmouth bass rival the fighting abilities of any fish in fresh water. While some bass fans struggle to put these hard-fighting beauties in the boat this time of year, the following insight on behavior, scouting strategies and overlooked fishing patterns can help you use the heat of summer to your advantage and hook more bronzebacks on every trip.
Be forewarned, making this your best summer ever for the legendary brown bass could entail casting outside your comfort zone. But rest assured, the rewards are well worth the effort for savvy anglers willing to look beyond textbook patterns to put more fish on the line.
Summer Smallmouth Bass Behavior
Like largemouth bass and other members of the sunfish family, smallmouth bass spawn in late spring and early summer. By the time July rolls around, smallies have slipped into summer behavior patterns.
Rocky shoreline structure areas, such as points and shallow reefs in 3 to 8 feet of water, are focal points of much of the activity. As summer progresses, many larger smallmouths slide into a bit deeper water and often roam offshore reefs far from the bank.
Smallmouths certainly feed on and around rocky structure early and late in the day, sometimes all day in overcast or windy conditions. But when the bass aren’t biting, many anglers look to the deep edges of rock structure.
“This can produce fish, but nearby weeds often hold overlooked bass that are aggressive bass and more willing than rock fish to bite throughout the day,” said fishing ace Chip Leer, who travels the walleye world each season in search of the best bites. Vegetation often holds the key to summer smallmouth success, he said.
Infographic by Ryan Kirby
GLIDE TECHNIQUE FOR SMALLMOUTH BASS
Tie on a VMC Gliding Jig or other jig and slide on a 3-inch trailer. Cast as far as you can, and let the jig glide to the bottom. Snap it up off the bottom, and let it glide back down again. Mix that action up with some swimming close to the bottom. It’s extremely effective.
Two types of aquatic weeds get Leer’s attention. “Sizable beds of large-leafed plants like various species of cabbage are always worth checking,” said Leer. “Don’t expect smallies to patrol the edges, however. I find the most bass tucked deeper inside the bed, so you have to go in after them.”
Smaller clumps — sometimes even one or two plants — can also attract bass. These spots are easy to fish and can provide the best daytime smallmouth action you’ll find anywhere in the summer.
To find bass fast, look for weeds sprouting near classic rock structure or a hard-bottom flat. Bass often feed there early and late in the day, then move into the weeds when the sun is high.
Digital or old-school paper lake maps can help you pinpoint reefs, humps, points and other potential structure. Thanks to the advanced features on a number of GPS chartplotters, you can highlight structure lying in the depths you want to target, helping you focus on shallow structure throughout the system you’re fishing.
Sonar, too, can help identify hard bottoms, and side- or 360-degree sonar scanning are great for eyeballing structure without running your boat over the bass.
One great setup is a patch of weeds sandwiched between a pair of rock formations. A small weedbed or even a few stalks of cabbage growing in a trough with rocks on both sides of it can be a gold mine. Prime depths vary from lake to lake. It all depends on light and how deep the weeds can grow. In general, look for scenarios where the weeds taper off at 13 to 15 feet.
Once you locate areas that hold bass, save waypoints for return trips.
A variety of presentations catch weed-loving smallmouths. Tailor your techniques to the conditions at hand. Topwaters are great for searching big weedbeds. Leer uses baits like LiveTarget’s Glass Minnow Popper. He also catches a lot of bass on spinnerbaits and lipless rattlebaits. Spinnerbaits like a 1/2-ounce Northland’s Reed Runner, with a white body and reflective chrome blades, excel for attracting attention and triggering strikes in the weeds.
Where you have a little open water over the top of the vegetation, lures like the LiveTarget Golden Shiner Rattle Bait or Yearling Rattle Bait let you cover water quickly. Once you find the fish, you can always slow things down with a weedless plastic setup.
In isolated weeds, a 2 1/2-inch tube, rigged Texas-style with or without a light weight attached, and Senko-style options are top choices.
“The key is a slow-falling bait that triggers strikes from bass that are holding midway up in the water column, as well as fish positioned closer to bottom,” said Leer.