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Squarebills for Smallmouth

Editor’s Note: This submission comes from TFO ambassador Burnie Haney, who offers some interesting strategy for smallmouth bass.

Oftentimes in our conversations about smallies the topic of topwater plugs, jerkbaits or the drop shot get the most attention, and yes, they all catch fish. However, one technique that isn’t talked about as much is casting squarebill crankbaits for smallies. In many regions of the country bass anglers are well-versed in casting squarebills in and around wood or over rock rubble for largemouth, but there are also many anglers who have yet to pick up a squarebill when they’re specifically targeting smallies. Below are a few squarebill presentations I’ve used over the past 15 years when I’m out chasing Great Lakes smallies and clear-water smallies in general.

Safety Considerations

Smallies are a fish with big attitude, and they get pissed off when you hook em, which is why I like them so much. And once you get them in the net or in the boat, they’ll show you just how sassy they can be. For this very reason I have a couple recommendations that can better prepare you for this close encounter. Wear a quality pair of polarized sunglasses; this allows you to see where and how well the fish is hooked as you get it near the boat, and should the fish throw the lure as you attempt to land it, the glasses prevent a treble hook from hitting you in the eye.

Another handy item is a good set of needle nose pliers or a hook-out device. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than trying to pop out a treble hook and it finds the flesh on your thumb or finger with a pissed off smallie still attached to the other end. Now I realize that may sound weird to some folks and you could be thinking if treble hooked baits are that dangerous why throw them at all? I can only say I throw them because they flat out catch fish and that’s what I’m all about. So being prepared for a hook in the hand should the unthinkable occur isn’t all together a bad thing, either. Now having said that, if you use the needle nose pliers, you’ll greatly reduce your odds of getting hooked in the hand.

Rigging Up & The Presentation

I do most of my squarebill fishing with the TPM CB 7105-1, 7-10 MH power rod. I keep two of these rods rigged, one with a 6.3:1 reel and the other with a 5.1:1 reel. Both reels are spooled with 8-pound. Cortland Master Braid (Moss Green). I set the drag so the line slips just a tad on the hookset. What I most enjoy about this setup is it lets me make 35 yard casts or longer which is super important whenever I’m chasing clear-water smallies and the rods moderate action doubles as a good shock absorber on the strike while the braided line provides rock-solid, long-distance hooksets.

As for the two different retrieve speeds, during low light conditions I’ll use the 5.1:1 reel and once the sun gets up good I prefer the 6.3:1. If I notice multiple fish are chasing the hooked fish back to the boat, then I may pull out an 8.3:1 reel and turn-on-the-burn. I’ve found with clear-water smallies you can use speed as a trigger, especially so when you’re around a bunch of actively feeding fish. It seems to make them more aggressive as they race each other to get to the bait first.

Most of my clear-water squarebill fishing for smallies is focused in 3 to 7 feet of water in and around slate shoals or rock rubble areas. And if the area has some scattered vertical vegetation near it, that’s even better. What works for me is firing a cast out employing a steady retrieve trying to contact the hardbottom area. When the lure contacts the tops of any perimeter vegetation, the braided line is great because a hard snap of the rod tip will make the lure explode out into open water, which can stimulate a strike from a following fish.

Early in the season when the water temps are 58-65 degrees, I usually start with a 1.5 squarebill. As the summer progresses and the water warms into the mid-70s to 80-degree range and the bait (baitfish and crayfish) get bigger, I’ll use the 2.5 squarebill more, but even then I usually start my day with the 1.5 and I’ll let the fish tell me what size they prefer.

I use Lucky Craft squarebills; keep in mind there are many brands available and for this style of fishing getting the bait to deflect off the hard-bottom area is what triggers the most strikes. I recommend you find a squarebill bait that you like best then try it out on different size lines and retrieve speeds until you find it regularly bumping bottom. Once you get that dialed in then it’s just a matter of locating what areas of your lake or river are holding the actively feeding smallies.

I try to keep my color choices simple. I’ll use a Mad Craw (Red Craw) early in the spring, switch up to a Chameleon Brown Craw in the warmer summer months and mix in a Perch or Shad imitator as the season progresses. Day in and day out those four colors will usually get you bit anywhere you go.

Remember with squarebills seeking hard-bottom areas that provide deflection opportunities with a steady retrieve is usually the best option, but on some days, they’ll also work along the weed lines with a stop-and-go retrieve. Let the fish tell you how they want it and don’t forget speed as a trigger anytime you’re around a group of feeding smallies because their competitive nature can get the better of them resulting in more hook ups for you.

Good luck and be sure to post photos of those catches. Comments, questions about fishing for smallmouth? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

A Few Tips for the Hearty Smallmouth Bass Angler

Editor’s Note: This week, we turn to TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney for a few tips on fishing for late-fall smallmouth bass. Enjoy.

When the water drops below 50 degrees, it’s the best time to down-size your presentation for consistent rod action throughout the day. In central and northern New York, our waters are running 46, 47 degrees, and when other power presentations fail to produce, light line and small baits will get you bit day in and day out.

This past Friday my bass tournament teammate (Mike Cusano) and I fished Oneida Lake with the TFO Professional Series TFG PSS 703-1 paired with 5.1:1 spinning reels loaded with 4 or 6-pound test to present 2.8 and 3-inch Keitech swimbaits on 1/8 or 3/16-ounce jig heads.

Our best presentation was a long-distance cast with a slow steady retrieve. We wanted our baits to imitate the small size forage base of perch and shad, and these little swimbaits baits work perfectly for this application.

Often times in tournament fishing we hear anglers talk about employing a stop-and-go retrieve to help generate strikes. However, when it comes to cold water bassin’ I believe a slow steady retrieve works best especially for smallmouth. My theory: Since the water is colder, the fish usually react a bit slower. If they can find forage in open water that’s slowing passing by, they’re going to hit it nine times out of ten rather than let it go.

We employed this presentation with good results on a recent Friday and knew we could duplicate it on Sunday in the 2018 Brian Rayle Go Anywhere Tournament on Oneida Lake. During the tournament we landed 35 bass and 20 perch, with our five best bass weighing 21.31 pounds, which beat the second-place team by more than a 2-pound margin.

A lot of anglers put their boats away once the late fall hunting starts, and when they do, they leave behind some of the best smallmouth bass fishing of the season.

So the moral of this story is the next time you find yourself surrounded by cold-water smallmouth bass, in gin clear water, make sure you have a TFO Professional Series TFG PSS 703-1 rod paired with a 5.1:1 reel loaded with 4-6 lb. test and a handful of small swimbaits with 1/8 or 3/16th oz. jig heads.

Trust me on this one, you’ll be glad you’re properly geared up to enjoy all-day rod action.

Additional thoughts on smallmouth tactics? Let us know on one of our social media pages.

It’s Back to Basics for Smallmouth

Tis the time of year for freshwater transition. It’s September. It’s still a bit too hot for trout, and the largemouth bass is a morning and evening proposition. However, the most willing sparring partner in early fall is not hard to find. The smallmouth bass is a viable fly-rodding option as summer yields to autumn. Smallies love to take a fly and fight hard, from the hookset to the release.

Even though the bronzeback is a formidable foe, it’s a fish I’ve consistently neglected throughout my 30 years of fly fishing. I’ve always found trout sexier. It’s true that trout, as a species, boast loads of tradition, but if you honestly evaluate the attributes of each species, the smallmouth compares favorably and is well worth pursuing.

And since trout usually need a break, I’ve decided to give smallmouth a fair amount of love from now on during each fishing season.

So, it’s back to basics. Below are a few key components of my strategy.

Time Year for Smallmouth

Geography, of course, plays a role. I live in Western N.C., where the southern smallie season starts in late spring and ends in late fall. My fishing calendar starts in March and April with trout. As soon as the trout start to feel the heat of summer in late May and early June, it’s time for smallmouth. And when the autumn leaves start to turn, it’s about time for trout.

Temperature and Time of Day for Smallmouth

Smallmouth can be caught if the water temperature lingers in the 50s, but cold water is better for trout. Smallmouth like water temps in the high 60s and 70s, about the time trout head for the oxygen of the riffles.

For most of us, fishing revolves around work and family commitments, but the ideal time for smallmouth is early or late in the day. Low light is better than bright sun simply because the fish feel more secure. If you can fish on a cloudy day, take advantage of such conditions. The fish will hold shallower longer.

Where to Find Smallmouth

Smallmouth are not easy to find on your local river. But if you find one smallmouth, you will usually find several. And once you pinpoint a fishy spot, remember it, because chances are, fish will hold there consistently.

Smallmouth are ambush feeders. They use structure — logs, rocks and boulders — to hide and wait for unsuspecting prey, not unlike brown trout. And don’t forget your trout training. The tails of pools usually hold nice fish. Deeper runs are also a good option.

Food for the Smallmouth

If you don’t have a specialty box of smallmouth flies, don’t despair. Trout love dragon flies and crayfish. The venerable woolly bugger works well for both. I like to use bead-head versions of this pattern. When fish are feeding on the surface, I love poppers, and there’s no better smallmouth popper than the Sneaky Pete, which can be fished with a small woolly bugger or similar substitute as a dropper.

For trophy fish, there’s no better option than Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer. The Game Changer’s movement rivals many conventional lures.

The Equipment for Smallmouth

Heavy trout or light saltwater setups work well. A 5 or 6-weight rod is about as light as you would want to go. A 7, 8-weight can be used to throw bigger poppers. If you throw small flies, you can bring your lighter rod. Big flies, obviously, need a bigger stick.  For instance, you would not want to fish a Game Changer on your 5-weight rod. Step up to a 7-weight or bigger.

Temple Fork’s Axiom II series is a good option as is the BVK series. As for reels, our Power or BVK are good choices.

I fish for smallies with standard weight-forward line, but specialty lines and leaders come in handy when you need to throw bigger flies into a headwind or find yourself fishing deeper water, where you need to get the fly down fast.

Most of the time, I keep the leaders simple —- with a 9-foot 2 or 3X approach. Again, the main variable here is the size of the fly. There’s a difference between casting a size 10 woolly bugger and a 5-inch Game Changer.

If you have any other smallmouth suggestions, feel free to leave a comment on one of our social media pages.