When you think about smallmouth bass, the Great Lakes come immediately to mind, followed by clear natural northern lakes of all sizes, rocky mountain streams and big mid-South reservoirs.
But the state of Oklahoma — land of shallow, muddy water lakes where largemouth have long reigned supreme? Not so much.
"People might not realize it, but Oklahoma really is coming on strong with smallmouth," claims Jeff Kriet, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Ardmore, Okla. "There for a while it was one of those places that nobody thought about.
"Lake Eufaula produced our state record — it was better than 8 pounds. And there are some guys who caught 24-, 25-pound bags of smallmouth there this year. Texoma kicks out a lot of big smallmouth each year. At Lake Texoma, big bass at the tournaments almost always will be smallmouth. So people are starting to target them now because they've come on really strong. I live on Lake Murray, and when I used to guide there I would guarantee 50 a day or they wouldn't have to pay me. It's that good."
This emergence of quality smallmouth fishing coupled with Kriet's tournament travels to places like Champlain, Oneida, Erie and St. Clair have enabled him to develop a real knack for finding and fooling bronzebacks. In fact, he is one of the best in the country at catching smallies in a variety of habitats throughout the year.
And that is a big reason why he is one of the Elite Series' most consistent performers.
"We don't have a lot of what you would call classic smallmouth water," the BASS winner says. "We have very little deep water, and clear water in Oklahoma is nothing like it is on Champlain and St. Clair. But usually on the south end of our lakes you can find some water that's fairly clear.
"What has helped me is fishing for smallmouth up north in our tournaments. I've learned some things about catching smallmouth in those places that I've brought back home and put to good use. A smallmouth is a smallmouth no matter where it lives."
Whether it is in the middle of one of the Great Lakes or a small flat in Arbuckle Lake in the Sooner State, there are some universal truths about smallmouth that the 38-year-old angler always seeks out.
First and foremost is a hard bottom and shallow water.
Kriet points out that all of the big smallmouth he has ever caught in his home state — and most of those he has tangled with in other places — have been in 8 feet of water or less.
"For me, the key to catching the big smallmouth on the Oklahoma lakes and across the country is sand," he explains. "That's a big deal to me. I like sand and a little bit of scattered rock in the sand.
"That's what I look for just about everywhere I go. You go to Champlain and it's the same thing. Go to St. Clair and there's not a lot of rock in there. But you can be running across the middle of St. Clair and see a double echo (on your depthfinder that denotes) a hard bottom anywhere on the lake, and you can more or less throw out a buoy and catch smallmouth."
That kind of habitat will harbor smallmouth throughout the year, according to the four-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier. While postspawn through fall are the prime seasons, he even catches them on those types of spots in the winter and prespawn.
"Prespawn, summer and fall, I'm looking for secondary points and things like that where I can find a good hard bottom and clear water," Kriet notes.
"On Texoma, we catch a lot of big smallmouth just on the edge of a sand drop. It looks like a swimming beach, but it will drop really fast. It might be 3 feet on top of the drop, but it will fall into 8 or 9 feet just like a wall. We'll throw a jerkbait down the sides of those sand drops and really catch them."
Kriet's most productive lures and techniques are a mixture of homegrown methods and northern lessons.
Winter to early spring is the time frame when hard plastic jerkbaits really shine on smallmouth.
In the coldest water, his choice is a 4 1/2-inch Smithwick Suspending Rogue (purple back/silver sides or solid chartreuse), which he dives down to its maximum depth and lets hover at that level for several seconds.
As the water warms, Kriet utilizes a variety of 4- to 6-inch Yo-Zuri, Megabass and Lucky Craft jerkbaits in two primary colors: purple back/chartreuse sides and purple back/shad colored sides.
"The more the water warms up, the faster I fish a jerkbait," he advises. "With smallmouth, a lot of times it's a big-time reaction deal. That's when I'll jerk it as hard as I can. What you'll do is trigger a school. You'll pull up a whole mess of them. Then it's on!
"In the summer and fall, I'm jerking that bait about as fast as I can. I want it really erratic."
And in the typically off-colored waters of his native Oklahoma, there are times when the best technique is ripping a spinnerbait across the top of scattered grass and submerged brush.
Tube Tricks For Smallmouth
Jeff Kriet's best all-around weapon for catching smallmouth from Oklahoma to Oneida is a 3- to 5-inch Rite Bite salt-impregnated tube, usually in either solid white or watermelon with purple flake.
For smallmouth, Kriet uses two primary techniques— jerking and dragging. When dragging the tube along the bottom, he teams it with a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jighead (depending on the depth); the jerking method requires a lighter (1/16- to 1/4-ounce) head.
"I catch a lot of smallies jerking a tube with a light weight, especially if it's around grass," he says. "Throw it out, let it sink a little bit and jerk it almost like you would a fluke.
"When it gets tough, dragging a tube with a heavier head is a better choice. You can smoke them by making a long cast and just letting it drift."