Casting and Bait Tips for Maine Smallmouth Bass

Last week I described landlocked-salmon fishing out of Wheaton's Lodge in far-southeastern Maine. On another day fishing out of the same camp, we had great success with smallmouth bass, including the chunky example in the photo. In that process, I picked up a couple of good tips that some readers might find useful.

Lodge owner and veteran guide Dale Wheaton had us out on Spednic Lake in a really miserable east wind. Fortunately, there was enough of a lee shore to allow both fly- and spin-casting in relative comfort. Wheaton, now in his early 60s, has fished these waters all his life (so far) and seems to be on a first-name basis with most of the area's abundant bass.

In directing my casting toward a particular underwater boulder, he made the point that I should first leave my fly-rod surface bug absolutely still. No twitches or pops. As a reflexive twitcher of flies, I found this difficult to do. But more often than not, it worked very well as within a few seconds a bass would swirl on the bug.

When a bass struck and missed (or I missed the strike), the come-back cast to the same spot and fish was another matter. "Just let the bug sit there," Wheaton advised. "The fish already knows it's alive, so give him a chance to eat it." Again, I found remaining motionless for an eternity lasting 20 seconds or more to be excruciating. And again, Wheaton was right. Eventually, the fish came back to inhale the bug, and I was tight to a leaping smallmouth.

The other matter concerns Senko-style soft plastics, which Mrs. Merwin fished very successfully on a spinning rod. Wheaton used a small, plastic zip-tie tight around the bait's middle as an anchor for the hook. This was instead of the more commonly used O-ring.

As he explained, using an O-ring most often means hooking part of the soft plastic along with the ring when rigging, thereby cutting part of the bait and making it less durable. The tightened and trimmed zip-tie worked extremely well, typically sliding up the line and out of the way when a fish was hooked. Zip-ties were also much easier to use than O-rings, so there's a bag of little zip-ties in my future.

Some days after our trip, a wry footnote to all this came up at our local general store. I encountered a woman of long acquaintance who asked about our adventure. I said we'd had pretty good smallmouth-bass fishing.

She, being totally ignorant of all things fishing, said, "I thought bass were known as bigmouth."

"Some are," I answered, "but these are Maine bass. They don't talk much."