Bronzebacks after dark

The clear waters of deep, rocky reservoirs in summer mean two things: smallmouth bass and night fishing. One of the very best at dredging big bronzebacks from gin-clear waters is Dale Hollow Lake guide Bob Coan. A veteran of several decades of night fishing, Coan has honed his skills on the world's most famous trophy smallmouth destination.

 As Coan explains things, there are three keys to catching big smallmouth after dark in the summer: moon phase, time of night and technique.

 Coan believes that smallmouth feed primarily on shad and other baitfish for about three weeks of every month. They typically find these baitfish around vegetation or main lake cover. Then, during the approaching full moon, smallmouth change their focus from baitfish to crawfish, which are invariably near rocky cover. The crawfish are spawning during the full moon period, and this makes them more vulnerable to anglers.

Beginning about five or six days before the full moon and extending until two days after the full moon, Coan targets rocky areas for his smallmouth. During the rest of the month, he works areas that hold baitfish.

 Coan's second key to success is the time of night he fishes. He opines that during the period when smallmouth are focused on crawfish, the nighttime bite is

earlier — from sundown to midnight — concurrent with the peak hours of crawfish mating. Once the moon passes full, he tries to be on the water from midnight to dawn.

 Once you're in the right places and fishing at the right times, technique becomes the critical issue. This is where Coan really shines. He is a master technician who leaves no detail unattended, but his basic approach to night bassing is relatively simple.

 When fishing during the full moon period when crawfish are the targeted prey, he uses jigs and soft plastic craws. Here he favors Punisher hair jigs in brown and orange or avocado and orange with a complementary colored soft plastic trailer. His secondary choice is a Berkley Power Craw, also in a crawfish pattern.

 For the other three weeks of the month when the smallmouth are primarily dining on baitfish, Coan opts for lures that mimic shad, like single-tail grubs or swimbaits measuring 3 to 4 inches in length. The trophy smallmouth specialist finds that changing gears not only maximizes the number of bronzebacks he catches, but also the number of trophies he and his clients boat.