Tip from a Bass Pro: Drag Deep Water for Prespawn Smallmouth

Land smallies by keeping contact with the bottom in deep water.

The Bass Pro Shop's Tender Tube, Jim Hanley's smallie lure of choice.

Pro: Jim Hanley

Home Water: Lake Erie, New York

Credentials: Hanley guides on the hallowed smallmouth waters of Lake Erie about 150 days a year. He's been putting clients on trophy fish for nearly 40 years.

Prespawn Fail

Many fishermen are too eager to target the shallows as soon as it starts to get warmer, according to Hanley. That may work on smaller lakes, but the vast Great Lakes are a different story. “Most of the bigger fish in Lake Erie stage in deep water,” he says, “but most fishermen aren’t as excited about targeting them there.”

Game Changer

Hanley looks for prespawn Erie smallies in 30 feet of water, using his sonar to target gradual depth changes leading into the shallows. A hard bottom and covering water are both key here. The most important factor in such deep water is maintaining contact with the bottom, making braided line essential for the increased sensitivity, Hanley says. “Many people will tell you to use the lightest weight possible that lets you maintain bottom contact. I disagree. I want to make absolutely sure I’m on the bottom.” So he often beefs up to a 1-ounce jighead when he’s dragging tubes, and he likes the Bass Pro Shops Tender Tube in pumpkinseed. In the event there’s no wind to produce a drift, Hanley uses his trolling motor to creep the boat along.

Shining Example

Still having trouble hooking prespawn giants on artificials? Go live. When all else fails, guide Jim Hanley drifts live shiners through the staging areas on Lake Erie to put his clients on the best numbers and biggest fish of the year. The method will work on any deep-water lake. Hanley drags shiners on a three-way rig in the 30-foot depth range, tying his rigs in such a way that it puts the bait at eye level of the fish. In water that deep and cold, strikes can be subtle, which often results in gut hooking, as clients let the fish eat too long. To help reduce release mortality, Hanley uses circle hooks only.

Photograph by Brian Grossenbacher