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Tactics for Smallmouth Bass
By Tim Allard
Having trouble getting smallmouth to smack offerings. Sometimes the
only way to get fussy fish to bite is by downsizing. Here are some
tips on this simple but often ignored technique.
A lot of smallmouth baits range between 4 to 6 inches. Downsizing
means using 1 to 3 inch long offerings. Downsizing also relates to
bait thickness. Many traditional smallmouth hard baits (i.e.,
jerkbaits and minnowbaits) as well as productive soft baits (i.e.,
tubes or swimbaits) seem to hover around 0.5- to 0.75-inches in
diameter. A 4-inch bait could still be considered downsizing if it
has a 0.25-inch or less diameter, such as finesse worms and
Downsizing for Choosy Bass
There are many reasons to downsize lures for smallmouth success.
Fish mood is a big one. When smallmouth are neutral or inactive
pint-sized baits often seal the deal better than larger lures. Cold
fronts, weekend boat traffic, fishing pressure or when you've
spooked a smallmouth with your boat are all reasons bass might be
turned off. Using hors d'oeuvres-sized soft baits can often get you
bites in tough conditions. Excellent options are Senkos, creature
baits, tubes on light jig heads, and finesse worm shaky head rigs.
Over the past two years Berkley Gulp! Alive 3" Minnows and Leeches
have saved me on numerous outings when smallies had lock jaw.
Undersized Throw-Back Baits
Smaller lures can frequently produce bites when used as throw-back
offerings to a following fish or one you've spotted in clear water.
You need to factor in conditions, casting accuracy and fish mood. In
some instances using hard baits will outperform plastics when you
need to make long casts or wind makes tossing light baits difficult.
Good bets are a 3-inch Rapala X-Rap jerkbait or a Strike King Rocket
Shad. However, if you need a slow fall along with scent to coax
hits, plastics like Senkos, tubes, and soft-jerkbaits are often
better than hard baits.
Small Forage = Small Baits
Downsizing success is sometimes a matter of matching the predominant
food source. At times, smallmouth will focus on dragonfly or mayfly
larvae and various other aquatic invertebrates. On many lakes I fish
tiny one-inch crayfish top the smallmouth menu the first few weeks
of the season.
Why do big bass eat small creatures? The answer comes down to effort
and availability. A mayfly larvae put up less of a fight (if any)
for smallmouth than a school of shad. It's easy for bass to graze on
these petite snacks to fill up their bellies with minimal effort.
With such a bountiful buffet in front of them why would they
consider chasing fast-moving baitfish, or a spinnerbait for that
At times using smaller lures is the only way your bait will get
noticed. Many baits are available to imitate tiny crayfish,
terrestrial and aquatic insects, and other micro morsels. Remember
to focus on profile, colour and action. A light hair or feather jig
with the right colour pattern can imitate a lot of the small snacks
Downsizing isn't just about bait size. Part of the package is using
light gear. You often need to drop hook size when rigging smaller
baits to maintain the finesse facade. Opt for sturdy, sticky-sharp
hooks from reliable manufacturers like Owner, Gamakastu, Eagle Claw,
Monofilament or fluorocarbon lines between 4- and 6-pound test is
also needed. This facilitates longer casts, which is often necessary
when fishing finicky or skittish smallmouth in shallow water. Light
line also helps baits appear more natural in the water. Heavy line
impedes the natural action of smaller-sized baits. Of course, don't
be reckless. If you're fishing craggy rocks, upgrade your line
strength as necessary to prevent break offs. Use a medium-light to
light-action 7' to 7'6" rods with a soft-tip to easily be able to
fling light baits a good distance.
The next time you're faced with tough smallmouth fishing be sure to
try downsizing. It's amazing how effective small profiled lures are
when average-sized baits aren't working.