Smallmouth or largemouth?

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Lake Champlain is one of many Northeast bass fisheries with thriving populations of largemouth and smallmouth. That begs the following question.

Which bass do you target with the tournament clock ticking away?

One obvious influencer is time management. There only are so many hours and minutes in the day between takeoff and weigh-in.

Pose the question to New Jersey native and pro Michael Iaconelli and his answer might surprise you.

“This blows people away when I say this,” he said. “During summer tournament season ideal smallmouth conditions are not cloudy, windy and rainy conditions.”

Here’s the real reason about when to target smallmouth.

“It’s a clear, sunny day with no wind,” he continued. “It’s the weather but not really the environmental part of it,” he continued.

Iaconelli quantifies his claim with the idea that smallmouth are highly visual feeders. Calm water improves fish vision throughout the water column. They can see the bait and find the lures.

Last year in early September Iaconelli proved it on Lake Erie. It’s where he won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate. He did it in convincing fashion with a come-from-behind charge on the final day. It was a rare day on the inland sea. No wind. Slick water. The smallmouth snapped up Iaconelli’s lures soon as they landed on the bottom at 15 feet.

Pose the same question about summertime largemouth to Iaconelli. His answer is more reflective of the idea many anglers have for ideal smallmouth fishing.

“When you have clouds, wind and rain you’d better be largemouth fishing.”

That’s what he’s doing at the Northern Open underway on Lake Champlain. Iaconelli never gave thought to the smallmouth fishing after seeing the forecast. Day 1 delivered a strong low pressure system that spun the wind vane from south to north. It rained and the wind gusted to 25 miles per hour. Breezy describes the remainder of the tournament.

Iaconelli is now in position to validate his largemouth theory. Going into the championship round he’s in 4th place. Winning isn’t out of the question. Just four pounds separates him from leader Scott Siller.

Iaconell can’t scientifically justify his reason for shunning smallmouth when his equation doesn’t add up. But he can back up his claim that smallmouth aren’t as reliable.

“The reason is bait. In summer, when smallmouth are offshore, they always follow the bait.”

Baitfish schools stay on the move in part because they are swimming to survive. Find the bait and you’ll likely be on smallmouth. But here today, gone tomorrow.

“That’s a big reason you hear guys lament how they caught them yesterday but not today,” he said. “The bait moved on them.”

Conversely, Iaconelli believes that largemouth are more structure-oriented. They aren’t as aggressive and prefer waiting on the bait to come their way.

It’s also why a dual pattern is risky for gambling on both species during summertime.

“Locating bait can eat up a lot of time,” he said. “So why waste it when you can be targeting largemouth in shallower water?”

Less time wasted on searching blindly for bait means more time with a lure in the water.

“You narrow your choices to what’s catching largemouth instead of having to switch back and forth,” he added.

Smallmouth get Iaconell’s attention in the spring and fall. It’s when he believes the already aggressive fish by nature get even more amped up. In spring, the fish are feeding after the rigors of spawning.

Iaconelli says they are easier to catch, too. Generally smallmouth will spawn in 10 feet of water or a little less. That puts less distance between the angler and the fish. The strike zone is smaller. And the fish are in the feeding mode. They get that way in fall although the bite is deeper.

“The point is the fish are more concentrated in large numbers,” he said. “You can limit quick and upgrade from there.”

Iaconelli won’t be doing that on Lake Champlain. That’s because he’s sticking with largemouth and hoping they can carry him to a win. 

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