Photo by Brent Humphreys
In spring and summer, there’s nothing I love more than wading for smallmouths. Sure, there are plenty of big, well-known bodies of bass water close to home, but I find more challenge (and reward) in hunting for hogs in the local streams. Spend a day casting an in-line spinner or drifting worms, though, and you may assume a 12-incher is a real prize. In some of these bodies of water, it might be, but if you’re willing to explore and put in a little time, you could earn a bigger bronzeback than you ever thought lived in the local “crick.”
Do the death roll
You may get lucky and hook a stud bass now and then on the same lures that fool numbers of small fish, but you’re better off excluding the little guys altogether and focusing on pounds instead of inches. My No. 1 small-stream bait is a Strike King Bitsy Tube in pearl pepper or sandy candy, simply rigged on a jighead. I choose light colors because I want my tubes to mimic baitfish, not crayfish. Measuring 23⁄4 inches, these tubes are bigger than what you may normally throw but still small enough to be gobbled up by those fish that are larger than a dink. I like my tubes to look like dying baitfish rolling across the bottom. It’s a slower presentation because big bass don’t always want to move fast to eat.
If your stream has a handful of those holes that everyone knows hold a few nice bass, do yourself a favor and leave them alone early and late. You may know that first and last light are peak fishing times; however, they are also the times when a big smallie is most likely to leave the hole and roam for a meal. That’s why it’s important to have a good handle on stream features a quarter mile up- and downstream. In the early morning, start by throwing buzzbaits or larger stickbaits over skinny flats and shallow eddies above or below the known honey hole. At last light, big fish sometimes drop back into the tails of holes or riffle water close by, and a loud popper or aggressively twitched Zoom Fluke will often make the play.–Joe Cermele
“When I was 14, I was fishing Tunkhannock Creek in Pennsylvania with a buzzbait. The average bass was 12 to 14 inches, but one day I managed a perfect sidearm cast under this waterfall and a fish just exploded on it. It weighed 41⁄2 pounds.” —Dave Wolak, pro bass angler, Wake Forest, N.C.
1. Large Forage
Whereas trout can survive in a stream rich in small bug life, smallmouths need a little more heft in their diet. Find the water that has a healthy population of crayfish, larger baitfish (particularly sculpins and darters), and hellgrammites, and there is a good chance it supports bigger smallies.
2. Deep Holes
In order for a stream to produce smallmouths of size, there needs to be a fair smattering of holes that are in the 6- to 10-foot depth range. Not only do bigger bass like the sanctuary of deeper water during spring, summer, and fall, but they need wintering holes.
3. Current Breaks
Regardless of flow speed, water with boulders, downed trees, root snarls–anything that breaks the current–will be more attractive to larger smallmouths than open water with little structure variation.
Illustration by Chris Philpot
A) Cast upstream of the hole you’re targeting and let the tube hit bottom.
B) If you don’t get bit, lower the rod tip at the end of the drift and work the tube back with sharp twitches to prompt a reaction strike.
C) Keeping the rod high, let hte current tumble the tube across the bottom. Set the hook on any stop.