Finding large smallmouth bass in summer requires a highly analytical approach. The secret is to study the terrain. “Use your electronic fishfinder to check depths and read the lake bottom instead of just looking for fish,” Dale Wheaton advises. As a registered Maine guide, Wheaton has been studying lake bottoms-and smallmouths-for more than 40 years.
By midsummer, lakes are full of feed. The biggest bass gather in schools in places where choice food is easiest to catch. You want to identify these spots. First, look for dropoffs, where rocky reefs or points fall off into 15 to 25 feet of water. Smallmouths also gather along reefs to forage for crayfish, and they gang up in 10 to 15 feet of water close to weedbeds, where frogs and baitfish hide. At midday, big bass often congregate where old river channels carve into lake bottoms. Once you know where these bait-attracting features are found, you’re on your way to finding large bass.
Big smallmouths don’t stay long in any one spot. They cruise slowly from place to place, following the forage, according to daylight and weather conditions. Once you’ve found a spot where big fish are likely to gather, you must figure out when they go there.
Every time you catch a bass of 3 pounds or more, note the spot and the depth, the type of bottom, the weather, and the time of day. You can assume that big bass are gathering and feeding in similar spots under the same conditions.
When the sun is low or the sky is overcast, schools of big bass move around and feed aggressively, but they follow certain routes. If you anchor on one of their corridors, big bass will come to you. But how do you find a travel route?
“Once you know a few places where big bass gather, look at the topography between them,” Wheaton advises. “If there’s a point sticking out into the lake between these feeding places, fish will have to go around that point. A good spot to fish is where the underwater point drops off into deeper water. Look for them about 12 to 20 feet down.”