Change your techniques to stay ahead of the game and catch more smallmouth bass this summer.
If your heart doesn't skip a beat when a smallmouth bass grabs your lure, you better check your pulse. These bronze beauties are among the hardest-fighting fish in fresh water.
And, good news, summer is a great time to go after them — especially if you fish the right spots with the latest tactics. Here's how to make it happen.
WAYS OF THE SMALLMOUTH BASS
Smallies spawn in shallow water in late spring and early summer, when water temperatures reach 60 degrees or more. This is after walleyes and northern pike, but about the same time as other members of the sunfish family, including bluegills and largemouth bass.
Male bass linger near spawning beds to guard eggs and newly hatched fry, but as July rolls around, fish are settled into post-spawn patterns. Smaller 1- to 2-pound fish feed in depths of 3 to 8 feet. Bigger fish may go shallow when conditions are right, but consistently catching beefier bronzebacks often means deeper water.
Broad-shouldered bass often stage in 10 to 15 feet of water during the early post-spawn, roaming rocky structure for crayfish, baitfish and large aquatic insects. Going into July and August, the big bite typically moves even deeper, and often farther from shore.
Often, summer smallies seem to be here, there and everywhere, but some places always yield consistent hookups. "In general, the fish are set up a little deeper than they were earlier in the season," says Wired2Fish's Ryan DeChaine, who devotes countless hours each season to chasing smallmouths. "The fish spend less time near the surface, although insect hatches can draw them up.
"Some of the best spots are rocky humps topping out 15 to 20 feet beneath the surface," he continues. "The best humps typically offer a nice mix of different rock sizes, up to and including giant boulders, which are absolute bass magnets. Some form of woody cover, like a laydown, log or old cedar tree, sweetens the pot even more."
FIND SMALLMOUTH BASS FAST
High-quality sonar and GPS greatly speed up the search process. Start by reviewing lake maps before you leave home. Identify potential hotspots such as reefs, points and humps in your target depth range, and plug coordinates into your plotter to speed up the water recon.
When you hit the lake, scan these areas for fish and forage with sonar, and assess the overall quality of the structure.
"I rely on Humminbird's new high-frequency MEGA Imaging, which paints an amazingly detailed picture of what's under the surface, including rock sizes, bottom hardness transitions and bass," DeChaine says.
Scanning each piece of structure, note boulders, timber, isolated weed patches, funnels and other holding areas. Mark them for further exploration later this season and in years to come. Marking points of interest with icons or names that will jog your memory helps you remember why you dropped a waypoint over there in the first place.
Factor boat position into the equation. Plot angles of attack and where to pin the boat while probing prime lies with your favorite summer smallie presentations. Remember, factors such as waves, wind and the sun's position can affect how bass position themselves on or near structure and cover.
Fishing's the best way to confirm theories about potential honey holes. Often, fast-moving lures like a crankbait, spinnerbait or heavy, bottom-bouncing jig shine here. You can always slow down once you locate bass.
Smallmouth Bass in Space
TIMELY SMALLMOUTH BASS TACTICS
Minnow-imitating jerkbaits, tube jigs and drop-shot rigs are all standard fare for summer smallies. But DeChaine adds another presentation to the mix.
"Last season I adapted the Gene Larew Biffle Bug and Hardhead jig system to fit my style of fishing offshore summer smallmouths," he begins, explaining that the Biffle method, popularized by bass pro Tommy Biffle, features a bug- or beaver-style soft-plastic bait bumping quickly and erratically along bottom, like a deep-running crankbait.
"It's a great method of covering water and triggering reaction strikes from bass in a variety of settings," he says. "For best results in the areas I fish, I replaced the Hardhead with a VMC Swingin' Rugby Jig, tipped with a 4-inch paddletail swimbait. The combination mimics smallmouth forage, such as crayfish and baitfish like gobies and darter-type minnows."
DeChaine chooses plastics with ample tail action yet little body movement. "Swimbaits with a full-body wag tend to rise off bottom at slower speeds than baits with most of the action in the tail, like the Megabass Spark Shad," he says. "Whichever jig and softbait combo you choose, position the jig's hook at the center of the bait — in position for a solid hookset when bass attack."
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DeChaine fishes this on a 6- to 7-foot, 2-inch medium-heavy rod with a high-speed reel with 15-pound fluorocarbon. To present the bait, he makes a long cast and lets the jig fall to the bottom. "I keep the rod at a 45-degree angle to the water and retrieve the jig quickly along the bottom, allowing it to careen off obstacles," he says.
Strikes often register as a lack of weight or bait movement as bass overtake and inhale the jig. "Test the bite by speed-reeling to load up the rod," he says. "If you feel the weight of a fish, make a sweeping hookset while continuing to reel. Then hang on."
DeChaine notes that repeating productive casts is critical to milking the most fish possible from an underwater sweet spot or aggressive school of bass. "Once you dial in the right depth, location and casting angle for attacking it, repeat the program until the spot runs out of biters," he says.