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Smallmouth Bass Tactics

Last week we focused our efforts on catching largemouth bass, but this week, we’re going to delve into catching smallmouth bass.

There’s no question about it, a lot of the same lures and techniques will work for catching both species of bass, but there are also some different approaches that may work better for taking smallmouths.

While the two species of bass, at times, may be found in the same body of water — such as a deep enough lake — it’s also true that the smallmouth prefers rivers and large streams. Smallmouths prefer slightly moving current and a bit cooler temperature than largemouths. Unlike largemouths, they tend to avoid the warmer, murky, or muddy water typical of many ponds.

If I’m going to target smallmouths, I’ll head to a river or large stream, but there are some lakes in Pennsylvania that can offer up some pretty decent smallmouth catches as well.

If I’m smallmouth fishing in a lake, I’ll be fishing rocky structures and deeper water; shallow lily pads at the back of a bay are probably not a good choice. If, on the other hand, I plan to fish moving water in a river, I am less concerned about depth since the cooler, moving current may be productive even in only a few feet of water.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the same lures work for smallmouths, and some type of top water lure would certainly be high on my list. The clear, shallower water of a river makes a top water presentation a good choice, especially in the late day or evening hours. Top water prop-baits, chuggers, and even floating minnow-type lures can produce some smashing strikes. Some of my best fishing has been with a floating Rebel or Rapala minnow lure. I cast the lure and then let it set on the surface until the water settles and then give the lure a few light jerks and then a pause. If that doesn’t produce a strike, I’ll start a slow retrieve with several stops on the way back.

While I like working my spinning and bait casting tackle with lures for smallmouths, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the flyrod. Yes, here again, some of my best action at times has been while working a surface popper with my flyrod. I’ve had great action casting a white Gaines popper into three-foot-deep moving water and then retrieving it with short, quick jerks. I have a buddy who fishes with nothing but a flyrod, and he has told me of some great action on surface poppers, even in the large, lower, and quieter pools.

I’ll be honest; I would never think of going smallmouth fishing without a good selection of jigs and soft plastic grubs and tubes. Lead-head jigs of one-quarter ounce with a Berkley Power Grub are hard to beat. Tube-type soft plastics are also high on my list. As for color, I often start with brown or greenish brown to imitate one of the bass’s favorite foods — the crayfish. White is also a good choice, and if the water is a bit cloudy, I’ll often go to chartreuse.

In recent years, another popular smallmouth jig has performed well — the Ned rig. Basically, it’s a jig with a soft plastic attached, but the jig head is flat, and that helps make the plastic stand upright on the bottom. On a very slow stop-and-go retrieve, the lure kicks up a bit of the bottom, attracting the bass.

Smallmouths love minnows, so any lure that imitates a fleeing, wounded minnow will no doubt produce.

Spinnerbaits and in-line spinners will also work well at times.

Certainly, other soft plastic presentations can be effective as well, such as Texas or Carolina rigged worms and lizards.

My biggest smallmouth so far this year was one of 20-inches — taken on a wacky worm presentation. There are also a number of different crayfish and hellgrammite imitations that will put a bend in your rod.

Obviously, finding a lure that will work probably isn’t as difficult as finding enough time to get out on the water and make an offering.