Right now most of the smallmouth are on the beds or darn close to it. You can still catch them, but you have to think a little differently.
A lot of anglers are fishing up close to the shore with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and, on especially warm days, topwater plugs. That’ll work if they’re going to the beds or moving off them. But if they’re on the beds about all you’ll get are followers that slap and chase your baits. That can be a good sign, though, if you’re patient and willing to cover a ton of water.
You see, followers are usually bed fish that are trying to chase something away they think is after their eggs. The problem you have catching them is that smallmouth spawn so deep you can’t see them. About all you can do is guess where the bed is at and fish everything you can. There are two ways to do that.
First, you can fish with a Carolina rig. I like to use lizards, but a lot of guys swear by creature baits. Regardless of which plastic you choose, I recommend crayfish colors. I think they look the most natural as you’re dragging them across the bottom.
My second option, and the one that’ll usually produce the best if you have the temperament for it, is an Original Floating Rapala. Rig it up with a heavy sinker just like you would a Carolina rigged plastic. Leave about 3 feet between the bait and the sinker. Cast it out and drag it around. As you do that make sure you pull on the bait with slow, steady strokes of the rod tip in between pauses on a slack line.
The lure is buoyant so it’ll float up, off the bottom until you pull it with your rod. Then it’ll look like it’s diving down to eat something on the bottom. If you fish this rig long enough, you’ll finally pull it down on top of a bed.
Like I said, you have to have the temperament for this kind of fishing. You’re going to make cast after cast without a bite. But when you do hit the right spot — a bed — you’ll usually catch one. My thinking is that smallmouth are more aggressive than largemouth. You don’t have to make repeated casts into the bed. One time will usually get the job done.
Every angler has a favorite color. My preference is for something that looks like a bluegill. That varies from lake to lake. The best thing to do is take the time to catch a couple of bluegills and then buy a lure that looks like them. If you don’t want to do that, you can go with Bleeding Copper Flash or maybe Rainbow Trout.
I want to say something else, too. If you bed fish, please treat the fish with care and release them as soon as possible. And make sure you do it where you caught them. We have an obligation to take care of our smallies so future generations can catch them like we do. That won’t happen if they can’t reproduce.