Basic smallmouth movements

About the author

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick is better known to the bass fishing world as the Smallmouth Guru. He lives in Celina, Tenn., and is the owner of Punisher Lures.

Let’s talk a little about how smallmouth bass really move around in a lake. Most of what I’m going to say is based on my own experience, although when I talk to other smallmouth specialists I often hear the same things.

First, let’s talk about how they relate to structure. We all know that they follow creek channels, drops and other stuff under the water. What a lot of anglers don’t understand is the importance of the bank.

In my experience, smallmouth relate to it all the time, regardless of what else is happening in their world. They do not just wander around in a lake or stop anywhere that happens to look good to them. They move according to what they are — creatures that must adapt to their environment because they can’t change it. Here’s what I mean:

If a fish lives on the north bank, he or she will always relate to the north bank. Movements straight out, away from the bank into and out of deep water will happen and when they do the fish will relate to underwater structure way out in the middle of the lake. They’ll follow it east or west, to be sure.  But when they’re done out there, and they want to return to shallower water, they’ll come back to the north bank.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they’ll come back to the same exact spot. It may be some distance away from where they left in the first place but it will still be on that same bank. It’s almost unheard of for one to cross the lake and start moving shallow against the south bank. They just don’t it.

This is important for us to understand. When we cross a lake, we’re almost always fishing a different group of fish. Let’s say you caught them on a certain bank yesterday but today you can’t buy a bite? If you want to find those same fish, you’ll move up or down the same bank. If you want fresh fish you’ll want to move over to the other side.

Another thing we need to understand is that little smallmouth bass don’t move like big smallmouth bass. The smaller fish tend to stay put more than the big ones. I don’t think many of them move more than a few hundred yards, if that far. And even when they do move they tend to do so slowly. It rarely happens overnight.

The bigger ones will move miles up and down a bank over the course of a season, and they sometimes do it fast. They can move a mile or more in one night. I know that sounds like a lot but I’m telling you I’ve seen it happen.

When we’re out on the lake, we need to understand exactly what it is we’re doing when we “lose” our fish or when they move to what we think are parts unknown. It’s especially important to have that understanding if we can only fish once or twice a week. We’ll talk more about that next week.

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