Smallmouth Bass Tips & Tactics

Smallmouth Bass are among the easiest fish to catch once you find them. Smaller bass in the 1/3rd to 1.5 pound range tend to travel in schools and they follow the shoreline until they find a congregation of minnows or rocky areas with lots of Crayfish (Crawdads). Once they have eaten everything they move on. When you find one of these schools it's non-stop action. In Rugby Lake the bass are usually in 2 to 6 feet of water. They will be shallow on a calm day and then go down to 6 or 7 feet when it's windy and there is too much wave action on the surface. They will hit surface lures like Jitterbugs and small Spooks. For medium depth you can troll or cast countdowns or shallow running lures such as Floating Rapalas, Jointed Rapalas and Thundersticks as well as spinners such as Mepps #2 spinner with a bucktail or bigger sized Blue Fox spinners. For deeper water you can cast deep running lures such as Cotton Cordells, FatRaps and Husky Jerks. In Rugby Lake the best colors are white, yellow and chartreuse. Sometimes silver-&-blue, silver-&-purple and orange work well.

Medium size Smallmouth Bass in the 1.5 to 3.5 pound range tend to travel in packs of 4 to 8 fish and are a little harder to catch because bigger fish are smarter and spook easily. You can use all the same lures and colors as mentioned above but you need to cast at a farther distance. These size Smallmouth Bass tend to be a little deeper than the small ones. They like to hang out at rocky points or along rocky shorelines with head-on wave action; with both of these structures facing the open lake. What you will find is as Smallmouth Bass get bigger they tend to become more claustrophobic and move away from confined areas and prefer areas with quick access to deeper open water. This is not true all the time but it's a general guideline that will help you locate bigger bass.

Really big Smallmouth Bass in the 3.5 to 6 pound range generally are loners or they travel in mating pairs. They stake out the very best spots, which is usually prominent points facing the open lake, islands, shoals or the mouth of narrows where minnows are migrating through. They stake these spots out as their territory and try to chase the smaller bass out. On good days when they are really feeding all the lures and colors above work. When you find a really good spot that you think is a prime Smallmouth Bass hole and you are not catching anything then you have to get serious. Big bass are big because they are smart. They have most likely been caught and released before so they are wary of boats, artificial lures and the scent of humans.

Be very quiet and paddle within casting distance of the hole you want to fish.

Cast lures and keep changing colors if you are not getting strikes.

Try different depths and retrieval patterns or jerk the lures and constantly change the retrieval speed.

Try casting out tube jigs in the deeper water off the structure you are fishing and let them fall all the way to the bottom.

If lures don't work you will need to change to live bait. The best thing to do is get a medium size bass hook and tip it with a minnow or a big fat worm and cast out and let it sink to bottom. Then slowly drag the minnow or worm across the top of the rocks. When a bass grabs your bait, open you bail and let them take the bait for 5 to 10 seconds and then set the hook.

Let's say you catch a 5-pound bass off a point. There is a high probability that the bass' mate is there as well but the second bass has been spooked. Try fishing other spots for a couple of hours and then quietly go back to where you caught the big bass and try to get the second one. If everybody releases the big Smallmouth Bass they will become easier to catch in the future.

How to Fish a Shoal with a Deep Drop-Off

Smallmouth Bass are moody and will change feeding habits based on weather, light penetration, temperature of the air, wind direction, temperature of the surface water, changes in atmospheric pressure and other factors. Let's say 20 yards in front of you there is a shoal. The shoal is about 50 square yard. The water is two feed deep on top and the water slides down to 20 feet deep all around the shoal. There is a nice breeze hitting one side of the shoal producing waves around 6 inches high but the shoal breaks them up and the are just inch-high rippled on the other side.

Below is a diagram showing the possible zones that the bass will be.

Wind Consideration: If the Smallmouth Bass are feeding aggressively they will be on the windy side of the shoal. If this is the case, one of techniques described for Zones A, B & D should be effective.

Zone A: When you reach casting distance of the shoal the first thing you should do is cast small shallow running lures such as floating linear and floating jointed Rapalas and Thundersticks or whatever shallow lures you have. Keep trying different colors from bright colors like red, fire-tiger and chartreuse. If this does not work try casting more natural colors such as silver-&-black, gold-&-silver, blue-&-silver. If you are catching good size bass than keep going. If not, try Zone B.

Zone B: Cast lures and colors just like Zone A but use deeper running lures such as Fatraps, Cotton Cordells, buzzbaits and even small spinnerbaits. If that's where you are hitting good size bass then keep doing it. If you are not hitting them then try Zone D.

Zone D: If the bass are in Zone D this means they are aggressively feeding but choose to stay deep. This may be caused by too much wave action, dropping pressure, too much light penetration or maybe they followed a school of minnows down deeper. In this case you want to try dropping tub jigs that have a little bit of worm stuffed in them or regular jigs tipped with a leech, minnow or a salted rubber. Scented rubbers do not work in the north. It's best to use salted baits or unscented rubbers. Try a whole range of colors. If you start hitting bass then keep doing it. If you don't have any luck then Zone's C and E must be where they are.

Zone C & E: If the Smallmouth Bass are on the quiet side of the shoal that means they are not feeding aggressively. This is when you go to live bait. For Zone C, put a minnow, leech or big juicy worm on a size-5 bass hook with no weight and cast into the zone and slowly drag the bait over the rocks. If a bass grabs the bait release your bail and let him take some line for about 5 seconds before you set the hook. You don't want to set the hook right away and you also do not want the bass to swallow the hook. The 5-second rule seems to be the safest for the fish.

If you are not getting any action in Zone C then cast out over the deeper water of Zone E and just let the bait slowly sink. Let it sink right to the bottom and site there. If the Smallmouth Bass are there they see it and know it's there. If you do not get a bite pull the bait towards you about a foot an let it sit back down on the bottom.

The methods above work for any structure. On days when it's dead calm and there is no wind at all, you might have to try all six styles on all sides of the shoals. Usually when it's dead calm the Smallmouth Bass are right up in the shallow water and can be taken with shallow running lures. You can also try casting Crawler Harnesses. Go-Getters, small Mepps Bucktails or the Mepps spinner with the rubber minnow. You can also try surface lures such as Jitterbugs, Bass Poppers and Heddon Spooks. Be aware that surface lures will attract Northern Pike. They can steal your lure if you don't have a steel leader on. Also, if a big Northern Pike moves into the area the bass will stop feeding. If you are not catching bass put on a Daredevle and try picking off some Northerns.