I’ve fished for smallmouth bass all over North America. Smallmouth bass can be toughest fish to find. For many anglers the most common error is to approach smallmouth like largemouth bass. At times they will hit same artificial lures but make no mistake they live a very different lifestyle. Fundamental to catching “brown bass” consistently is to understand the species. Smallmouth bass are unique in their spawning habits, food choices and favorite hangouts. Smallmouth bass feed and spawn actively in cooler water temperatures; largemouth bass prefer 60 to 80 degree temperature. Smallmouths are at their best in waters ranging from the low 50’s into the high 60’s. Smallmouth migrate in large schools, cruising in relatively shallow water in six to ten water searching for and ready to ambush shad”. Smallmouths are also crazy for crawfish. Craws are high energy treats for the smallies. Logical hiding spots like rip rap around dams, boulder rock and ledges hold crawfish and the smallmouth. In moving waters, river, stream and creeks, look for riffles, in flowing creeks and deeper holes. The higher oxygen levels and cooler temperatures of moving water are magnets for smallies. With cold water generally is clearer water, bait choices can be heavily influenced by this factor.
While there are exceptions to any rule, largemouth bass like and respond to bigger bait such as jigs, plastic worms and crankbaits, for the most part smallmouth prefer finesse baits such as small hair and rubber leg jigs, tubes, drop-shot baits, jerkbaits and spinners. Spinnerbaits catch all bass species. I alter a 3/8 ounce double bladed spinner by replacing the back blade with a chartreuse Indiana blade. A dash of red spray paint a few specks of glitter dropped on the blade while the paint s wet and you have an unfamiliar bait to throw at pressured fish. For topwater, buzzbaits and topwater cup faced chuggers draw fish from deeper water. Because smallmouth live and like clear water they will rise to the “occasion” and surface to slug these lures. Jigs imitate crawfish and should be used in any water that fits the description of a smallmouth haven, 5/16 or ¼ ounce models work well. Success comes to the bass angler regardless of species who understands the importance of retrieve speed. Largemouth bass normally prefer a slow to medium retrieve, while smallmouth react to a faster, erratic retrieve, sometimes a blazing fast retrieve is better! Looking for a massive smallmouth bass, do something different. Don’t be afraid to test the topwater bite, I have a legitimate six pound summer smallmouth to my credit that hit a huge buzzbait. Upsize the other artificial knowing you may only draw a half dozen bites but each is a potential trophy.
Depending on where you launch your kayak and lures good smallmouth fishing could start in January in the south and 30 to 60 days later in the north. Smallmouth bass can be found in 8 feet-12 feet of 50 degree water feeing for the spawn. Ledges, channels and rocky points are like spots for early season smallmouths.. As the water temperatures rise into the high 50’s and low 60’s, smallmouth move up shallow to begin spawning. Minnow imitating baits, jerkbaits and jigs are some of the best lures to trigger smallmouth the bite at this time of year. When the water temps climb to the high 60’ and 70’s the smallmouth make the move to deeper, cooler water. During the summer months, smallmouth can be less aggressive, but still feed and can be caught on smaller baits. Cooling autumn temperatures find smallmouth migrating back into shallow (5-8 feet) of water. Spring time spots and techniques will now again produce in the fall.
To make a species specific tackle box for smallmouth bass, use small offerings (a pearly colored curly tail grub on a ¼ ounce leadhead, or a hair fly coupled with a slow, steady, swimming retrieve on open faced spinning equipment works a majority of the time. Smallmouth bass are not largemouth don’t view them the same way if you want to consistently set the hook on them. The most important factor to remember is largemouth bass relate to objects, smallmouth relate in the same way to deep water. Both seek schools of shad more than anything; the shad are more available in numbers, location and throughout the year. Largemouth to patterns are easier to develop, smallmouth can change literally by the hour. Largemouth, smallmouth (as well as spotted Kentucky bass) will all bite pre-cold front or as a storm approaches, and it has always been my belief and borne out by my catch records moon phase matters. Three days before or after new and full moons produces trophy size bass more often. To catch smallmouth bass consistently, get off the shoreline. Many largemouth bass angler love to hug the shoreline and have a “milk run” this rarely produces smallies. Sometimes a solitary or resident fish will be caught working the shoreline but ledges, long points, off shore humps, underwater islands and deeper channels are classic smallmouth spots. There is also a night bite for smallmouths.
Fast water, flat water, day or night, any season anywhere they swim, smallmouth can frustrate or fulfill the dream of the kayak angler.