Jul 15th, 2008 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Jul 15th, 2008 at 12:00 AM
Smallmouth bass are among North America's best fighting fish anytime of year. But, late summer and fall fishing for smallies has another advantage – the scenery along the rivers and lakes where smallmouth thrive is fantastic.
Many of the best spots for smallmouth are well known. Places that come to mind include the Mississippi River where legendary ice angler Dave Genz spends the open-water season chasing bronzebacks and walleyes. Others include places like Lake Michigan's Sturgeon Bay or Mille Lacs, MN, Rainy Lake, or Lake Erie.
Other smallmouth destinations are gaining attention. Count Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay at Ashland, WI. Still others are closely guarded secrets. Smallmouth addicts are close-mouthed when they discover a stream all to their own. It's not all for selfish motives, though. Too much angling pressure by people who don't practice catch and release can harm fragile fisheries.
One thing is sure no matter where smallmouth are found. You're in for the tussle of your life when you hook a trophy. These aren't finicky fish. Put bait in front of a school and you're likely to get one, or several, to play. A common sight is seeing another smallmouth bass swim to the boat as you reel in the one that's hooked. Tactics to catch them are generally straightforward. The key is finding them.
First step to success – identify the places with good populations of fish. Check on-line sources like web sites devoted to smallmouth bass or to destinations where they are found or to the guides who lead travelers to smallies. Web sites for state resource agencies also offer up-to-date data on surveys.
Careful study of a Gazetteer for your state will reveal important streams that link to larger waters that harbor smallies. Those little blue lines are often worth a look. The maps list ramps. Anywhere roads cross them offer potential access points for someone wading or using a canoe.
Next, read the water. The search for smallmouth bass is all about current.
Like other river predators, smallmouth relate to moving water. They want to be near the food and oxygen it provides without having to fight it all the time. They may be even a bit more oriented to slack water than walleyes or sauger. Places where the bass can sit while waiting for an easy meal are key. But, exactly where they locate themselves relative to the current will change with the seasons.
Summertime and early-fall fish relate to riffles where water bubbles over rocks. The churning adds to oxygen content and cuts glare of the sun. Genz even catches fish in the prop wash of his outboard during mid-day, the time when the bite seems best. He targets the current seam right against the bank behind brush or behind an island. In times of low water, the right current speed is usually found behind mid-river boulders.
Summer typically translates to low water and current. But Genz said the low water translates to fewer places for the smallmouth to be. Locating them is easier than ever. They can't hide along the bank in shoreline cover because the downed trees and brush are out of the water, so they station themselves behind rocks along current breaks. The water may only be 2- to 4-feet deep.
Genz uses a bullet sinker or a Lindy NO-SNAGG Center Slip sinker. The weight is normally three-eighths of an ounce. He wants the weight to be able to fall to the bottom, and then move with the current as he lifts the rod tip and drops it again. If it doesn't reach the bottom, then the water is too fast to hold smallies. If it falls too quickly, then there's not enough current to attract them.
Genz uses big minnows of 4-inches or more. In tournaments where live bait is banned, he'll substitute a 3-inch tube on the hook. Use a variety of colors to see what the smallmouth want that day. He also uses an 8 foot rod to better control the sinker and keep the bait off the bottom to avoid snags. Genz enjoys fishing with buzzbaits early in the morning.
In lakes like Mille Lacs or Lake Michigan, target the tops of rocks piles. The best structures are often the ones that top out at 5 to 10 feet and are surrounded by 20 to 30 feet of water. Swimming a Max Gap jig dressed with a Munchies Thumpin' Grub slightly over the tops of the rocks works wonders. Lindy's 6-inch Tiger Tube is great for times when fish are aggressive. Don't get hung up using only drab colors like pumpkin seed. Experiment. Use a drift sock on windy days as you drift the breaks.
Cool water, deeper fish
September and October can be outstanding on the Mississippi River. Focus on rip rap banks related to shore with a 1/8th ounce Max Gap Jig and Munchies Thumpin' Grubs or Tubes.
But, where warm-water river fishermen avoid holes that hold only a catfish or two that time of year, deeper holes are the places to search for smallmouth bass as weather cools in late October and November. They'll spend the winters there. Best spots are nearly devoid of current, so fish don't have to work to hold their place. Prime areas also feature a fallen tree or big rocks, but cover isn't necessary.
Try casting a suspending jerkbait like a Rogue. The density of water changes so if the bait rises slowly, add a suspend dot to the bottom. Bend the hook barbs down to avoid injury to the fish. Cast, jerk it, pause as long as you can stand it, then repeat the jerk, pause through the hole.
A quarter-ounce jig and small plastic crawdad also work. Stand-up jigs with hair that move slowly in the water are best. Cast, drag it on the bottom, pause, shake the rod tip, repeat.
On bigger water, Lindy Rigging with big chubs at spots like Little and Big Bay de Noc or on Lake Superior pays big dividends. Fish relate to deep-water humps as water dips to 50 degrees and below. If you're catching walleyes, which isn't all bad, move shallower on the structure. Smallmouth bass will be there. Work vertically and slow. Pick-ups can be subtle even with big fish. Set the hook hard to drive the point into their tough mouths. The wrist snap used for walleyes leads to lots of lost smallmouth bass.
Smallmouth bass are fun to catch. But, smallmouth fisheries can be harmed if too many are harvested. Photograph them and let them go. Graphite reproductions are great reminders of the experience.