Smallmouth Bass: Micropterus dolomieui Lacepede
a.k.a.--> brown bass, browny, bronzeback, smallie
The Smallmouth Bass is a slender, streamlined-shaped fish, which pound for pound puts up a fight that rivals any of the popular freshwater gamefish. No other fish jumps like a Smallmouth.
Smallmouth Bass are omnivorous in the food they consume. The Smallmouth Bass is a predator, feeding mostly on fish, crustaceans and aquatic and terrestrial insects. Where crayfish are abundant, they frequently comprise over two-thirds of the food.
Now that we know what they feed on, here are some tips when fishing for old Bronzeback in Canadian waters:
The most obvious spots to fish are rock shoals and drop off points. They also can be found in deeper water where the concentration of feeder fish are more abundant. A depth finder is invaluable in finding the best structure.
To cover large areas of water, diving crankbaits like Cotton Cordell's Rattlin Spot and the Rapala Shad Rap in silver or crawfish patterns are quite effective. When fishing shallow rock shoals, white and yellow spinnerbaits as well as shallow diving crankbaits have proven deadly. In deeper waters, a ¼ to ½oz jig head tipped with chartreuse, yellow or white Mister Twister grubs are also effective. Slowly bouncing these jigs off rocky bottoms will surely entice the most wary Bronzeback. If fishing deep water in late summer or early fall, try bouncing a worm colored Tub Jig off the bottom. When Smallmouth do go deep, they seem to like the 30 to 40 foot depth range.
When These Methods don't work:
Some days you can throw every lure in the book at them and they will not hit. That's when you have to switch to live bait. Rock shoals and rocky points are the best spots for Smallmouth. What you should do is get a bass hook and put a big worm on. Let the worm dangle off the hook. Don't keep hooking it until it's a ball on your hook. Use light line like 4 or 6 pound test so you can cast far. With this method, you don't use any weight.
Cast your big worm at the shore's edge or over top of a shoal and let the worm slowly sink. As soon as it sinks down a couple of feet, gently pull the worm towards you until it hits the surface then let it sink down again. It's almost like you are taking long slow jigs. But make sure you pull it very slowly and gently. You will find that most of the time, the Smallmouth will hit the worm as it is sinking. You could put a weight about 3 feet up the line like a stretched Caroline Rig but when you are fishing in the rocks, a weight will get snagged. It's best not to use a weight even if you find it frustrating to cast.
You can use the same method with a Crayfish or a minnow. You can also use a small float about 2 feet up from the bait and cast over the rocks and just wait.
If you have touched a gas tank, gas line or get gasoline on your hands, scrub (wash) your hands with sugar. After you have put bug spray on, wash your hands with salt. Do this before you touch your lures to minimize transfer of undesirable scents. This will maximize fish strikes.
Why Are They Deep
Sometimes the Smallmouth Bass just disappear. You can spend hours casting over the rocky shoals, river mouths or rocky points and catch nothing. Many times the reason you are not catching anything is because the bass have gone deep.
My experiences of fishing deep for Smallmouth have been on Lake Erie or in Algonquin Park. After hours of catching nothing, we turn on our depth finder and try to find a deep ridge where the main drop-off starts at about 35 to 40 feet deep.
What They Hit
Smallmouth Bass go down deep to feed on baitfish, which like to hang around deep ridges for protection. The bass also go deep when the weather becomes unpredictable. Unpredictable weather brings sudden changes in atmospheric pressure, which in turn means fish can feel a lot of discomfort in shallow water. The bass go deep to minimize this discomfort. When they go deep, they hang around drop-offs or underwater ridges so they can quickly swim deeper or shallower as the pressure fluctuates.
On Lake Erie, we drift over deep ridges with worm colored tube jigs. We even shove a piece of real worm inside the tube jig just as an added boost. The action we seem to do best with is one long jig (5 feet up) and as the jig sinks, give it little tiny jigs to give it an agitated motion as it sinks. You can let the tube jig spiral down naturally, which works, but not as well as quick jerks which makes the tube jig look like an injured fish or bug. Another reason why we give it little jigs as it's sinking is we can feel the bass hit the jig. If it's really calm water, you can see that your line stops sinking, which could mean a bass has hit the jig. If there are waves, it's best to feel the fish bite with your fingertips.
In smaller Canadian Shield Lakes like they have in Northern Ontario, we find the best way to get the Smallmouth is to get a big worm on a bass hook with no weight and just let the worm slowly sink down to the ridge. If you are drifting over the ridge, just give it a jig towards you about 2 or 3 feet and then let the worm sink again. When the bass hits the worm, unclip your bail and let the bass swim with the worm for a few seconds. Tube jigs do work in the smaller lakes but not nearly as well as real worms. Dropping a minnow straight down also works well but many of the lakes in Ontario, especially in Provincial Parks, don't allow the use of live minnows for bait.
Smallmouth Bass & Walleye both go nuts over salted (salt cured) minnows. I just catch a bunch of minnows and throw them on the grass until they die and dry off a little. They get a large container, put a layer of salt, then a layer of minnows, salt, minnows, etc..etc… I use table salt or fine grain pickling salt. Don't use Rock Salt as it has chemical agents, which will keep fish away.