Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips

Smallmouth Bass seem to go through multiple stages of behavior throughout the year. These stages are primarily caused by food sources and nitrogen levels in the water.

Once the ice starts to form on the lake Smallmouth Bass go super deep and basically hibernate. Decomposing organic matter on the bottom releases nitrogen and the nitrogen rises and gets trapped under the ice. Smallmouth Bass are hyper-sensitive to nitrogen so they go deep to avoid it. This is why you rarely catch Smallmouth Bass while ice fishing. Even during the summer they prefer to stay in rocky areas and away from areas where there is anything rotting on the bottom.

Spring is not really a good time for Smallmouth Bass fishing. The big bass that are of breeding age come shallow and seek out areas along the shore that have a sandy bottom to lay their eggs. Smallmouth Bass that are spawning do not feed but they will hit a lure while defending their spawning bed. On Red Cedar Lake they are out of season until the 4th Saturday in June anyways so targeting bass at that time is illegal. Even after the spawn the big bass go deep again but not like they do in the winter. They can be anywhere from 15 to 40 feet deep. The reason they go deep again could be because of a number of factors including uncomfortable traces of nitrogen still trapped in the mud or under rocks in the shallows. During late spring and early summer the bass can find larger minnows down deep as well.

Usually by the beginning of July the Smallmouth Bass start heading towards the rocky points and shoals. Small bass up to 1.5 pounds generally patrol the shoreline in hunting packs and these packs may have 30 or more fish. They will move into an area and feed until all the food is gone and then they move on. The easiest way to find them is troll along a rocky shoreline that has the wind blowing onto it. If it's a gentle wind the bass with be in 3 or 4 feet of water. If there is a strong wind with big waves the bass will back off into deeper water in the 6 to 10-foot range. Trolling with small floating minnow mimic lures like Rapalas and Thundersticks along these areas will produce bass. If there is a deep drop-off and you are not getting them shallow try dropping tube jigs into the deeper water.

Smallmouth Bass can be funny. One day they are only hitting blue and the next day they may only hit green. If you come to a rocky area that looks good for Smallmouth and you don't catch anything try different colors.

Bigger Smallmouth Bass in the 1.5 to 3 pound range will travel in hunting packs as well but generally these packs are limited to around 5 or 6 fish. If you catch one in this size range then generally there should be a few more around. Big Smallmouth Bass in the 3.5 to 6 pound range are generally mating pairs. They will claim a prime area where minnows migrate to and stay there. Most often they chase the smaller bass out because they don't want to compromise their food supply. If you come across a rocky shoal or rocky point that looks like a great Smallmouth Bass hotspot and don't catch anything it does not mean there are no bass there. Try different colors and different lures. Cast shallow running lures of the rocks or try tube jigs or deep-running Fat Raps or Cotton Cordell in the deep water off the rocks. If nothing hits then you may have to switch to live bait. Put a minnow or a big fat worm on a hook with no weight and just cast out and slowly drag the bait over the rocks.

Shoals Vs Rocky Points:
Rocky points are easy to fish. If there is a gentle wind the bass will be on the windy side. If the wind is really strong with big waves they move deeper or move behind the point in the calmer water. Fishing a shoal can be tricky because the strength and direction of the wind is always changing and can dictate where the bass will be. The explanation below goes with the diagram below.

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, small Mepps Bucktails or the Mepps spinner with the rubber minnow hook. 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.

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