Now’s the time — today, this weekend — for prime smallmouth fishing! For the most part they’re still shallow and, unlike largemouth, they don’t shut down just because a cold front blows through or because the water turns a little chilly.
My best spots, at least until the water temperature drops into the low 40 degree range, are long lake points, rocky areas and laydowns in 3-6 feet of water. The smallmouth moved into those areas at the same time the largemouth moved into the backs of the creeks, and they did it for the same reason — shad.
The difference is that the smallies stay put a lot longer and remain active well past the point when the largemouths move off towards deep water. That means they’ll chase crankbaits and jerkbaits. Both imitate distressed shad, and both are perfect for triggering reaction bites.
My favorite crankbait is the IMA square bill. It has good action at slow and fast speeds and is about the right size for this time of the year. It's also relatively snag free. That’s important because if you’re fishing the way you should be, you’ll bounce it off rock and wood, or anything else that’s down there.
Sometimes, especially when the water’s cold and they want something moving a little slower, jerkbaits are the thing. My preference is the IMA Flit 120. I like to fish this bait with soft pulls, pauses and twitches.
You’ll have to experiment a little to find what they want, and it can change from day to day or within just a couple of hours. Remember, though, that you’re after actively feeding fish. Keep it moving, but don’t be afraid to rest it from time to time.
Regardless of which bait I select, however, I always go with something in a shad finish. IMA has several good ones. Pick the color that most resembles your local shad colors. (When in doubt go with bone.) In the long-run you’ll catch more fish with a natural pattern of that type. I do like a little chartreuse on my baits, though. For whatever reason that seems to help catch them.
Another great thing about this time of the year is that you can sleep late and still have great fishing. The December bite is forage driven. That means that as the water warms throughout the day the shad become more active. When that happens the smallies become more active and you catch more bass. Why get up early if you’re not going to catch them before noon anyway?
There is another option, of course, that’s even better than sleeping in. Get up early, bag a deer or knock down a few ducks, and then go fishing. That’s my idea of a real fun day.