This time of the year is a transition period almost everywhere, but not just for the smallies. The forage transitions, too. If the prevailing forage in your lake or river is some kind of baitfish — shad, alewife, panfish — it’s likely that they’re moving towards the shallows. When they make that move, they do it in huge schools, and they tend to stay deep.
It’s popular to think that’s because the water is clear and there’s a lot of sunlight penetration. I disagree with that a little bit. Sunlight might cause some of it, but more likely it’s caused by their need to stay in their preferred temperature range. No matter what causes it, however, you can have a ball catching the smallmouth bass that are trailing along underneath them. And, you can catch those smallies the most fun way there is — on top.
It’s not hard to do. Use your electronics to find the bigger schools of forage. Try to find the deepest ones that are out there, whatever deepest means where you’re fishing. It doesn’t matter if they’re up near the creeks and cuts or if they’re out in the middle of open water. The smallmouth aren’t relating to structure at this time of the year. They’re relating to the forage.
Once you find a good school, toss a topwater popper over the top of it, make sure you create a ruckus, and hang on. It doesn’t matter how deep the forage is or how deep the smallmouth bass are. They’ll come up for your lure. The water’s real clear at this time of the year in most places so they won’t have any trouble seeing what’s going on.
I’d guess they think there’s a crippled baitfish that’s gone to the surface, but that’s just a guess. None of us knows for sure. What they think doesn’t matter, anyway. All we really care about is what they do. Actually, they probably don’t think at all. They just react out of instinct.
Their surface attack is incredible. It’s like an old-fashioned commode flushing. I don’t care how much experience you have doing this, you’ll jerk your popper away from the first couple that strike. You can’t help it. But once you hook them on top they stay on top during the fight.
If you think smallies can’t tail-walk like a largemouth, you’ll know better after you catch a few of them like this. Believe me, they can. When they stop doing that they’ll sometimes flip in circles. They never stop, even when they’re right alongside the boat. Quitting isn’t in their nature.
Don’t worry too much about what lure you throw. It’s important to try to match the hatch as best you can with size and color, but this isn’t rocket science. If you’re in doubt go with a shad looking Rebel Pop-R. They’ve been around forever. There’s a reason for that. One of them will get you through most days on most waters. That’s pretty much all I ever use.