A Guide For Catching More Smallmouth Bass
By Steve vonBrandt
Steve and Kurt vonBrandt have spent more than 35 years fishing the lakes, streams, and rivers of the United States in search of largemouth and smallmouth bass. They have guided clients to numerous trophy small mouth here in the northeast, and have entered enough trophy fish to be inducted into the N.A.F.C. “Hall Of Fame” in 2003. In this article, Steve and Kurt of S&K Guide Service, will share some of their best tips to help you understand and catch more and bigger smallmouth bass here in the northeast.
Smallmouths Are Not Like Largemouth Bass!
Time and time again over the years, we have listened to many anglers and clients express their frustration at trying to catch small mouth bass. Most anglers don’t realize that these fish have their own set of behaviors that sets them apart from largemouth bass. The major differences between a small mouth and a largemouth bass are as follows:
>If you fish for small mouth here in the northeast, especially in the Susquehanna river in Maryland, you will find that small mouth bass do not stick that tight to cover. This is even more apparent in some of our slack water reservoirs. Smallmouth relate much more to a sudden or rapid depth change than they do cover. When we fish for largemouths, we are all taught to fish brushpiles and thick weedbeds, but small mouth bass are more likely to be caught on a rock ledge that drops off quickly from about six to twelve feet.
>When fishing in the reservoirs here such as Conowingo, or in the rivers like the Susquehanna, small mouths are sometimes caught shallow, but they are seldom more than 10-20 yards away from deep water.
Everywhere we go, we see the majority of bass anglers beating the shoreline, and as this may work for largemouth bass most of the time, if you are after big small mouth bass, turn around and cast to the open water rather than beat the shore.
>Unlike largemouth, smallmouth often group together by size. We found that if we were catching smaller fish, in the eleven to fourteen inch range, we rarely caught a big one in the same area. On the other hand, when we caught a small mouth that was above four or five pounds, many times there were several that size and even larger swimming right along with them. Big largemouth bass are loners, usually found by themselves on the best piece of structure, while larger smallmouth bass will often school together.
>There are several things that tell you that smallmouth bass are much better suited for strong current than largemouth. For one, their pointed noses and the sharp angle of their fins are indicators that they are more suited to current. They often get behind a rock or stump and rush out to feed. Largemouth can adapt somewhat to current, but are much more at home in slack water.
When the water temperatures start to reach about 45 degrees, here in the northeast that happens around mid to late March, we start looking for big smallmouth bass. Water temperature is critical this time of year, as just an increase of a few degrees can really turn smallmouth on.
In the spring, in Maryland, and especially in New York, our two best baits for small mouth are the hair jig, usually in black or brown, and a Yamamoto grub, in smoke or chartreuse. We fish these baits in about six to twelve feet of water where there are clay or gravel flats. When smallmouth start moving up out of deeper water they are spooky, so stealth is very important. Don’t drop anything on the bottom of the boat, and keep the trolling motor on as low as possible.
The best method is to cast shallow and retrieve the lure slowly back towards the deeper water. Slowly is the key word here. In cold water, a slow, steady retrieve is deadly for big smallmouth.
When the water starts to get above 50 degrees, the smallmouth will start to move around the flats more. Some of the best spots for smallmouth don’t really look very good to the average angler that is used to fishing for largemouth. The better areas are just some pea gravel or some clay with maybe a stump or two, but fish these areas slowly now, and you will connect with a big smallmouth. Swimming a Yamamoto grub in these type of areas is absolutely deadly at these water temperatures. Keep working these areas slowly and don’t move too quickly, and you will hook one of the better smallmouth in the area.
Many times here in the northeast, we get a lot of heavy rains, which really muddies up the water such as the Susquehanna River and flats. This can really ruin a lot of the small mouth fishing, but finding clearer water can produce good fish even under these adverse conditions, as we proved earlier this year out on the flats. By searching out some clear water in the same type of areas, we connected with several big fish while we were hearing nothing but complaints from other anglers. In lakes or reservoirs, as well as the rivers, if you move to the back of creek arms and crank the advancing mudline, you can still connect with good fish. Another thing that works well in these situations is slow rolling a spinnerbait, such as a Terminator T-1, in 3/8 ounce or smaller, along the banks that are windblown that contain some chunk rock. This has always worked well in various parts of the country for many years.
Smallmouth will spawn when the water is about sixty to sixty-five degrees, and they like to do it on gravel flats, clay points, humps, and protected bays. They spawn anywhere from about two to six feet deep here, but most of the time they are too deep to see on their beds.
When fishing for bedding largemouth, where it is allowed, such in Delaware and Maryland, the largemouth have to be finessed into striking many times. This is not true for smallmouth, as these fish are very aggressive. It is really very simple to catch large bedding smallmouth by swimming a smoke or chartreuse colored Yamamoto grub across their beds. We always practice catch and release, and if you want to continue to enjoy this type of fishing, releasing them right away after they are caught is crucial.
POST-SPAWN (Late Spring)
When the water temperatures reach sixty-eight to seventy-two degrees, you can really catch quite a few good sized smallmouth in the daytime even in bright sun. The small mouth move into two different patterns at this time and really smash top water baits such as Zara Spooks. They will either hold near the bedding areas or on the outer edges of flooded bushes, and nail Spinnerbaits and floating worms, or they suspend between two points on main lake flats. Either way, these lures and methods will provide some great daytime action.
Here in the northeast, the smallmouth action really slows down during the hot summer months. When we aren’t with a client here, or fishing a tournament trail that demands all of our attention, we usually head south towards lakes like Pickwick in Alabama. We have had great success here throughout the years in the summer months. There is a lot of current at Pickwick, and it keeps the water much cooler, and very well oxygenated, and this is key in catching big smallmouth. The best places here are on the channel drops and offshore rock piles. If you don’t know this area, it is best to hire a guide unless you are planning on spending more than a few weeks there and enjoy the challenge of trying to locate these areas yourself. It is usually very hot and humid this time of year, and we would rather fish for them at night as we do the largemouth here this time of year. Smallmouth move onto humps and roadbeds looking for crawfish and a Yamamoto spider grub on a jighead is our best lure at this time. Another good bait is the Terminator night bait, a single Colorado blade in black, and it works well in many areas at this time of year at night. At night, we do catch some smallies shallow at times, but you are still better concentrating your efforts in about six to fifteen feet of water.
By October, the lakes and rivers around here are about seventy to seventy-five degrees, and the fish are suspending in the deeper water. After there are a few nights where the temperatures start to really drop the water temperatures, the small mouth start to become far more catchable. Long points that run out into the river channel are perfect spots to use a crank bait to catch these smallies-especially on the windy days. We also take good size smallmouth on blade baits and spinnerbaits that are suspended on rock banks.
When the water temperatures are about 52-56 degrees here, usually about mid November, the smallmouth we have caught were always on a point with a fast taper into deeper water. If the smallmouth are in water deeper than fifteen feet, we throw a blade bait or tailspinner, if they are shallower than that, we throw the Yamamoto grub again. We always load these baits with a new product called “Megastrike,” which is a revolutionary new advance in scent technology.
When the water starts to drop below fifty degrees again, the small mouth become a little more lethargic and start suspending off points and sloping banks. We use a hair jig then, or a drop-shot rig with a grub for these fish. Sometimes when these tactics fail, (and they do when the water temperatures drop below forty degrees), we then reverse our tactics and try larger baits such as a big jointed Rapala or similar type bait. We have even caught them trolling these bigger baits this time of year. Although the action is slow, many times the fish are giant!
A BIG CHALLENGE
Locating and then catching big smallmouth is a real challenge. That is why it is so much fun. Hopefully by reading some of these methods you have gained a better understanding of where these trophy fish go and what they are looking for, and of course, this will hopefully get you the fish of a lifetime. Remember, get out early and late in the year and brave the elements, hit these prime areas with the baits we described, and remember most of all, you are after a completely different fish! “These are NOT Largemouth's!”
You can book a trip or order a videotape from S&K Guide Service that will help you learn new techniques to catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass by simply dropping them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by visiting the website at www.skguideservice.com
Steve and Kurt vonBrandt are tournament anglers as well as guides and video producers, and have their own radio and TV shows on the Internet and Comcast cable in the area. They are also Redman/BFL regional qualifiers, and the 1998, 99, and 2001 Big Bass World Champs/De.