I’m often asked what mistakes I think most smallmouth anglers make. Or, to put it another way, what can the average recreational smallmouth angler do to improve his or her catches. That’s a complicated question that has many answers. Still, there are three things I think anglers can do — right now — that’ll improve their catches. Here goes:
1. Fish deeper
If there’s one thing that I see recreational anglers do on a consistent basis, it’s fish too shallow. It’s rare for smallmouth bass to be real shallow or right up against the bank. Targeting laydowns and backwater areas might work for largemouth, but it’s a poor strategy for smallmouth. They want deep water.
Turn your back to the bank, get several cast lengths away from it and start looking for underwater structure. Channel breaks, weedlines and deep stump beds will usually out-produce anything along the shore. And even when there are a few up tight to the bank there’s almost always more away from it.
I know it’s easier to fish shallow. Fishing in deep water is a skill you only acquire after many painful days on the water. But it’s a necessary skill. Without it you’ll have many painful days at the dock when you return without any fish.
2. Pay attention to the forage
Smallmouth bass are never very far away from something to eat. In most lakes they tend to hang below schools of forage that roam around the lake. To find those schools you have to know how to use your electronics. There’s no other way to find them.
Practice is the key. If you want to learn to catch smallmouth bass, learn to use your electronics first. I recommend going out on the lake without tackle and spending the day just messing around, seeing what there is to see.
Make sure you take your owner's manual with you, and read it. The new stuff is wonderful. It’ll show you things you never even dreamed of being able to see. If you can’t use all the features, though, it’s worthless.
3. Upsize your lures
For some reason the writers and anglers from years ago made it a point to convince everyone that you had to throw little baits on light tackle to catch brown bass. That might be true in streams and small rivers, but in lakes it’s pure hogwash.
Smallmouth bass will hit big baits. In fact, sometimes that’s the only way to catch them. I can’t tell you how many two-pound smallies I’ve caught on big crankbaits, gaudy spinnerbaits and full-size Zara Spooks. Go big with confidence.
There’s something else we need to talk about. It’s the fact that where you fish makes a big difference. Smallmouth bass aren’t largemouth bass. They aren’t everywhere. You have to choose your streams, rivers and lakes carefully if you expect to make the best use of your fishing time.
Making that choice isn’t easy. We’ll talk more about it over the next couple of weeks.