Last week we talked a little about how and why smallmouth bass suspend in the winter. You’ll recall that I pointed out that they typically suspend wherever the baitfish are suspended. They don’t just hang around the baitfish, however. They hold directly under the school. Understanding that is the key to catching them.
My best guess is that they hang down there waiting for dying forage to pass by them on its way to the bottom. Thinking about their feeding habits in this way is important. It gives you an understanding of what’s going on. Another thing you need to understand is that when they’re doing this they’ll only feed when they’re looking up. This is a winter thing, and it’s as close to an absolute rule as there is in all of fishing.
These fish are not aggressive. They’ll feed when it’s easy to do but they won’t work very hard at it. To catch them we have to present our baits in a natural fashion. If something looks out of the ordinary they’ll ignore it. Lures that are presented below the school of baitfish but above the smallies will have the most success. It’s even better if those lures look like struggling food.
The two techniques for doing this that immediately come to mind are the float-and-fly and pulling a hard jerkbait. The depth of both of these lures can be easily controlled, and they can be made to look like something that’s in trouble, something that dropped out of the main school of forage.
That’s the first step. The second step is to use something that looks like the real thing. Winter water is almost always clear, and because the fish aren’t aggressive they have a good chance to look everything over. Flies (tiny hair jigs) and jerkbaits that look like the local forage are an absolute necessity. Don’t worry about what’s new, what’s hot or what your buddy says will catch them. Pick what’ll look real to the bass in your water.
Now, you’re ready to fish. To make them bite you’ll need to put your bait right on their nose and give them plenty of time to make up their minds. You must play to their instincts. Really, it’s about teasing them until they can’t stand it any longer. That’s not all that hard to do.
With the float-and-fly you can wiggle your rod tip. That’ll make the fly twitch like a dying baitfish. Move your jerkbait forward an inch or less. That looks like something trying to live against everything Mother Nature can throw at it. Take your time. Make sure you have plenty of pauses between wiggles. When you think you’ve waited long enough, wait at least 15 seconds more. This is about playing to a smallie’s most basic instinct.
If you learn to do this you’ll catch a ton of smallmouth bass this winter. I do it every year. In fact, winter is my favorite time to fish. It’s a myth that suspended smallmouth bass won’t bite.