Hooking into hard-fighting, acrobatic smallmouth bass is unrivaled.
But what also makes pursuing bronzebacks enjoyable, yet sometimes frustrating, is how quickly their behavior and location on a body of water can change.
It forces anglers to adapt. This cat-and-mouse game is what drives many onto the water, and the challenge of locating a hot school of feeding smallies is one any angler will gladly accept.
Smallmouths are opportunistic feeders. However, based on the conditions, smallmouths will stack the deck in their favor.
“Smallmouths love it when the sun is out, as they are visual feeders; they use that to set up on baitfish roaming main-lake flats and points, and because of the sunlight, they can see very well,” said Elite Series Pro Seth Feider. “Whenever that sun is out and I’m fishing for smallmouth, I’ll be looking for weedlines or hard bottom transition areas that they’ll be ambushing bait on.”
Some of the best smallmouth lakes or rivers in the north are big bodies of water. On these, wind plays a role in how anglers target smallies. Wind will dictate how smallmouths will set up on the cover they are relating to at the time.
Much like Feider, Brent Ehrler, a Bass Pro Tour pro, said smallies are visual feeders. When it is sunny, smallmouths are roaming and actively feeding. When clouds roll in, probe the bottom.
“When it gets even a little bit overcast, smallmouths will start feeding down along the bottom, and in my opinion, the drop-shot is the most effective bait to target these bass,” said Ehrler. “Now, if it is windy, that will help the reaction bait bite, and some smallmouth will be up feeding, but the majority of the time, if the sun isn’t out, I’ll have my drop-shot along the bottom.”
LEAN ON ELECTRONICS
Before leaving the boat ramp, do some easy recon on electronics. With the right lake map and mapping capabilities for electronics, anglers can maximize water time. With today’s mapping cards, users receive easy-to-read contours that will help put their boats on the right spot.
Pairing their unit with the right mapping card, anglers can unlock many options that’ll change how they break down water. With Humminbird and LakeMaster, anglers can select and highlight a particular depth range to target productive water and stay in that zone. When this is coupled with the ability to highlight shallow-water areas, anglers can keep their boats out of harm’s way and identify key shallow-water spots.
After identifying key areas to locate smallmouth, anglers should idle to pinpoint structures where smallies are holding — possibly lone, isolated boulders; rocky underwater points; or a section of hard bottom along a grass edge.
With Side Imaging, anglers get a 180-degree side-to-side view below the surface. A return image for each slice is added to images taken right before and after to build a lake-bottom view. Zoom in to view it closer, or mark the GPS location to fish it at a later time.
After pinpointing structure to fish, I’ll turn to Down Imaging. Down Imaging uses high-frequency sonar beams that transmit in ultra-thin slices through the water column, resulting in a return that produces a portrait-like snapshot.
Adapting to smallies’ feeding habits and locations is an ever-changing game. When smallmouths actively feed in the summer months (usually early morning and in the evening), locate points or flats with baitfish on them for topwater action.
Areas with structure — boulders, gravel, sand or grass — often hold smallies. But, areas with a transition of one form of cover to another are often where that school of smallmouth will be. Cover water quickly to find a hot school of feeding smallmouth. Use a walk-the-dog plug like a Heddon Super Spook. It casts far, and anglers can alter retrieval speed and cadence. Being able to achieve the greatest casting distance possible is vital; nobody wants to be a few yards short of an active school of smallies. Spooling up with braided line will give anglers that maximum casting distance.
“For me, the Seaguar Smackdown Braided line in 40-pound test is the ultimate line for topwater plugs,” said Bass Pro Tour pro Matt Lee. “Now that it’s available in low-vis gray, its low profile in the water won’t alert wary smallmouth.”
As the feeding frenzy slows, anglers will need to change up presentations to more methodical tactics to probe fish-holding cover. Keeping lures in the strike zone for as much time as possible improves the odds of getting bit.
For baitfish-feeding-oriented smallmouth, a soft-plastic swimbait like the Zoom 4-inch Boot Tail Fluke is a phenomenal choice, as anglers can control its running depth based on the weight of the jighead, size of fluorocarbon fishing line and retrieve speed.
Paying attention to when the strikes occur is also a must. Anglers will want to be able to replicate that retrieve on the following casts.