Smallmouth bass and forage

Last time we talked about the smallmouth’s preferred temperature range and how it affects your fishing. This week we’ll look at how the preferred temperature range of the forage affects your fishing.

Crayfish are the first thing that comes to my mind. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of species of what you and I call crayfish. Most of them seem to prefer temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees but that varies widely on both ends. Nevertheless, it overlaps with the smallmouth bass’ preferred temperature range.

Let’s say you head out to the lake and the water temperature along your favorite riprap bank is 68 degrees. That’s right where the fish and the forage like it. It’s perfect. Everything is perfect. You don’t have to be real smart to think that this might be the time to reach for a jig and to work it through the rocks so that it looks like a crayfish.

The situation with baitfish is much more complicated. Different parts of the country have different species of baitfish that keep the smallies alive. It might be gobies, perch, alewives, gizzard shad, threadfin shad, bluegill, crappie or any of a hundred types of minnows. They all have their preferred temperature range. We need to learn what that is.

The place to start is with your local Department of Natural Resources. They’ll have information on whatever is in your waters. The Internet is also a great research tool. This might sound a little complicated but without this information you’ll find it difficult to consistently catch the size and numbers of smallmouth bass that you want.

The thing to keep in mind is that if you’re going to be a top smallmouth angler you have to understand what temperatures they like and what temperatures their forage likes. When those temperatures overlap, you know where to go and what to look for.

Think of it this way — dragging a jig on the bottom makes no sense if they’re feeding on threadfin shad in the top 4 or 5 feet of water. You might catch a few but you’ll catch more with a jerkbait or plastic minnow. You hear the top anglers talk all the time about the importance of matching the hatch. This is basically what they’re talking about.

Smallmouth fishing is getting tougher all the time. Every year I see more and more anglers on the water, and more and more of them are chasing smallies. If we are going to catch our fair share, we have to get better.

The first step is to understand — truly understand — these great fish. The days are long gone when we could throw a squirrel tail hair jig against a rock bank and expect to catch a sack full. Savvy anglers know that and adjust their fishing accordingly.

Next week we’ll look at the original range of these predators and how that’s expanded over the years. That, along with the aging of our waters, is really increasing their popularity in our country, and around the world. 

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