Early Season Smallmouth

By: Mike Mladenik

I cannot wait to get on the water for the Catch and Release Season for smallmouth bass! While pre-spawn may be an excellent period to catch a trophy, it can also be a tough bite. Locating big females is easy; catching them seldom is! Anglers need to take many variables into consideration, including water temperature, type of water you are fishing, and last, but not least, the weather. If you omit one of these key pieces of the puzzle, you’ll have limited success.
Where to fish? While it is important that the water has a quality smallmouth bass population present, it should not be the deciding factor. I know of many lakes where trophy smallmouths are present, but they are tough to put a handle on during the pre-spawn. Spawning areas may be limited and difficult to locate, especially on a large lake. On deep, clear water lakes, water will warm slowly and it may be weeks before you see active fish.

For the first few weeks of the season, it’s hard to beat shallow stained water reservoirs. A small reservoir with stained water will warm rapidly and the water temperature can be in the low to mid-sixties a few weeks after ice out. Once the water reaches 55 degrees, smallmouth begin staging in spawning areas. If the weather is stable, they move into the shallows. If hit with a cold front and a drop in water temperature, they move off to the first break. Anyway you look at it, they’re easy to locate.

This past May, I got together with a good friend. We fished a 300-acre reservoir that historically has produced huge smallmouth. The water levels were normal on the river and the big smallmouth were holding off the edge of the main river channel, out of the current. The water temperature was on the rise, due to stable weather patterns and the fish were only days away from actual spawning. I knew we would catch lots of smallmouth, but getting the big fish would take finesse presentations and fishing right on top of the fish.

A rock and gravel shoreline on the edge of a slough was out first stop. The shoreline is steep, with few signs of a hard bottom and most anglers wouldn’t give the area a second glance. A few years back, during low water conditions, I noticed broken rock and isolated gravel. The next spring, I fished the area and caught a few big smallmouth and have been catching fish there each spring. It is these small isolated areas that hold the largest smallmouth. We managed to catch a few smallmouth around five pounds a piece.

Next, we moved to a rock point with an adjacent rock/gravel shoreline and caught lots of fish. While we did catch a few 18-inchers, most were in the 15-17 inch range. Nice smallmouth in anyone’s book, but not the hawgs we were looking for. I told my friend that my experience has taught me that larger spawning areas may hold high numbers, but the largest smallmouth avoid the crowds.

We were still looking for a giant bass, so we returned to out first spot. My friend continued to toss the soft plastic jerkbait. I told him to pitch the bait under a large maple tree. As I began telling him that big bass like to hang out under trees, he began setting the hook on what I could tell was a large fish. Soon afterwards, we brought a fat 21 ½ inch smallmouth into the boat. While we did not weigh the fish, it easily went over 6 pounds.

In spring, you can’t work a soft plastic jerk bait too slowly. The retrieve for that day was letting the jerkbait sit on the bottom with only an occasional slight twitch. When we moved the bait quickly, we would only get light bumps. After we had a light bump we would stop, and often the smallmouth would grab the jerkbait long enough for us to set the hook. Although both the four and five inch jerkbaits caught fish, the 4-inch bait was most effective.

We were using Lamiglas XPS 703 and EXS 703 rods, which are ideal for fishing 4 inch soft plastic jerkbaits. Lamiglas HMG series rods, which include the EXS 703 are the most sensitive rods I have ever fished. The light graphite handle allows you to respond quickly to the lightest bite. Since we were fishing tight to cover, we rigged the jerkbaits weedless with 3/0 Sickle Hooks. We spooled our spinning reel with 6 pound Yo-Zuri Ultra Soft. Ultra Sort is a fluorocarbon/nylon blend, with limited memory, specially designed for spinning reels.

After we caught a few big smallmouth with the jerkbait, I switched over to a watermelon red tube. Even if one bait is hot, I still like to make a few casts with something different. A look at a fresh bait can trigger a cautious big smallmouth.

We had a great day on the water. Not only did we catch lots of smallmouth, but also several trophy class fish. We chose the right water and right presentations for the day. Actually these patterns are typical for early season smallmouth. www.mikemladenik.com

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