Where legal, the spring spawning period is the best time of the year to target smallmouth bass. Learn to capitalize on the different phases, and 50-plus-fish days become quite possible.
Like largemouth bass, smallmouths invade inshore areas during the spawn, but most similarities end there. Whereas the former typically prefer protected bays and coves with weeds and woody debris, smallies favor open, gravelly shallows adjacent to deep water. They also typically begin spawning a week or more after largemouths and tend to be more aggressive, especially during the prespawn, when trophy-size, egg-laden females are active.
Here's a breakdown of the smallmouth's spawning phases and how you can make the most of each:
As water temperatures reach the mid 40s, smallmouths suspend near sharp dropoffs close to rocky points or shallow flats. New Hampshire guide and tournament pro Rick Lilligard entices these sometimes sluggish bass by fishing metal-blade lures, such as the Silver Buddy, with a slow yo-yo retrieve. As the water warms and the fish become more active, searching baits, such as jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits, grow more productive. But the best is still to come.
Once water temperatures hit the 50s, small-mouths stage on the edge of gravelly flats, often congregating in large numbers around piles of boulders or other structure that connects deeper water with spawning shallows. Lilligard calls these "contact points," and it's possible to catch several dozen fish here without moving the boat. A Shad Rap will shine during this interval, as will tubes and spider jigs.
When the full moon coincides with water temperatures in the upper 50s to low 60s, actual spawning begins. Males clear out 2-to 3-foot-diameter nests on pea-gravel flats in 1 to 10 feet of water. After inducing hens to lay their eggs, the males aggressively guard the nests and fry for two or more weeks.
This period offers excellent sight-fishing opportunities. Use quality polarized glasses to locate the whitish nests. Cast bright tubes and grubs past the target, then work them back over it. When the bait disappears, it's time to set the hook, which should be wide-gapped and barbless to facilitate quick releases.
After spawning, smallmouths go into a bit of a funk. But it's not as long or as pronounced as the largemouth's post-spawn lull. Although smallies will retreat into deep water to recuperate, they're soon back up on flats and along rocky points and shorelines--and searching for food aggressively. The key now is to cover lots of water with spinnerbaits, topwater plugs, and both soft and hard jerkbaits. Erratic retrieves trigger explosive strikes.
For the fastest action throughout the spring spawning period, timing is everything. So jot down the rough dates of the various spawning stages in your area on a calendar for future reference. The exact timing will likely vary from year to year due to weather, but this is a good starting point. While fishing, use a water thermometer to further gauge the current stage. Then tailor your tactics to it--and keep the net handy.