Are you fishing too deep?

Those of you who read this column on a regular basis know that one of the things I often talk about is that far too many smallmouth anglers fish too shallow. They just don’t get deep enough. I stand by that — sort of, most of the time. This year, though, is the exception that proves the rule.

This has been a crazy year. The early part of it was pretty tough. I had trouble getting on a good bite and, based on what feedback I got from around the country, a lot of you had the same problem. But then the rains started and the unstable weather became almost normal.

When that happened, the bite got better. There could be several reasons for this. One of them, I think, is that the off and on rains, along with our cooler weather, kept the smallies shallower than usual.

In a normal year, I’m catching fish in August at about 25 feet here at Dale Hollow Lake. This year I’m catching them at 15 feet, and mostly in the better, well-defined creek channels. My friends up north are telling me the same thing. Their fish are acting more like late September smallmouth than August smallmouth.

That presents an interesting situation. If we follow conventional wisdom, we’re fishing too deep. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

But, here’s the thing we have to always keep in mind: Smallmouth bass might be different than largemouth bass, but they’re still fish and they’re going to act like fish. That means they’ll find a preferred temperature zone if it has sufficient oxygen to keep them comfortable. This year that means shallower than usual.

Of course the baitfish have a lot to do with this. And guess what? They’re shallower, too. I’m seeing alewives in places I can’t ever remember seeing them — shad, too.

So, if you’re having trouble catching brown bass right now, maybe you should move shallow rather than deep. I’m not talking about largemouth shallow. They aren’t going to be up in the weeds and around laydowns in 3 or 4 feet of water. They’re still smallmouth.

My best thinking is that you should start maybe about half as deep as usual and then move up and down to see where they’re at. Try some of the things I’ve written about over the last few weeks. That might change your luck.

Another thing that might help is to move your lures a little faster. The fish aren’t as lethargic this year as they are in most years. They’ll hit jigs that are bouncing along at a pretty good clip and they’ll most definitely hit baits that are presented on a vertical fall.

I know all this goes against most everything I’ve said over the last few years. Go deep and then go deeper is my standard advice to anyone trying to catch a smallmouth bass. This year is different, though. Sometimes you have to accept reality and change with the times.