Akin to the saying "smallmouth ain't largemouth," night fishing for smallmouth ain't like night fishing for largemouth, either. The contrasts are about as stark as the bronze and green fish are.
Stephen Headrick, known as "the Smallmouth Guru," makes his living on Dale Hollow Lake in north central Tennessee where smallmouth are king and largemouth are referred to as "green carp." Headrick blogs regularly on Bassmaster.com about his favorite fish and hasn't touched on the subject of night fishing in more than a year. Since then, the Guru has a few more tricks up his sleeve and a new night fishing necessity.
Headrick likes hitting Dale Hollow after hours for a couple of reasons.
"It's cooler. When I go for a burger, I don't stand outside in the 95-degree heat and eat it, I go indoors where it's cool, and bass do something similar. They eat when it cools off a bit at night," he says. "There's also a lot less boat traffic."
Headrick's night fishing depends entirely upon the phase that the moon is in and how much light it is giving off.
More moon than less
When the nights are bright, meaning one-half or fuller, Headrick takes an aggressive approach. He reasons that since the visibility is better, the bass will be more willing to chase a lure down.
"On brighter nights, I like a spinnerbait. Rather than a pair of willow blades, I go with an Indiana or Colorado blade, it gives off more thump in the water, which makes the bait easier to find," he says.
Headrick is focusing on breaks in 20 to 35 feet of water. He says as water is drawn out of highlands reservoirs to generate power, the fish hunker down next to these breaks until the level stabilizes. Once he's found a good break on his graph, he tosses the spinnerbait parallel to it and lets it fall to the bottom. Once it's there he pops it one time to get the blades spinning then slowly bounces it across the bottom in front of the break to keep the bait in the strike zone.
He uses Stren Clear Blue fluorocarbon in either 12- or 14-pound test — much heavier line than he would use in daylight on the clear waters of Dale Hollow. He throws it on a 6-foot, 9-inch All Pro rod. The spinnerbait is his own design, a 1/2-ounce Punisher spinnerbait. He'll go with a 3/4-ouncer if he's fishing deeper. Headrick's baits have heavier wire than most, which he says imparts more action.
"Thin wire will give you better feel of the blades than heavy wire, but the heavy wire on my baits makes the whole body and head shake when you retrieve it, giving it more action," he says.
As the moon wanes away to a sliver, or is waxing from nothing, Headrick takes a more subtle approach.
Less moon than more
"If the moon is one-half or less, it's jig time," he says. "I'm a hair jig guy, and when it's real dark this time of year they seem to eat crawfish, so I throw an olive green and orange jig."
He works the jig along the same breaks as the spinnerbait, and in the same manner.
The jig is also his creation, a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Punisher hair jig. He throws it on a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy All Pro spinning rod with 8- to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon. Headrick says line visibility is critical when fishing at night, otherwise you're just casting into the dark. He uses Stren Clear Blue fluorocarbon because it phosphoresces when exposed to his black lights.
Headrick works the jig like he does the spinnerbait, paralleling the break to keep the bait in the strike zone and hopping it along.
Let there be (black) light
Fishing in the dark can be tricky unless you have some lights. For Headrick, this means black lights. They allow you to see your line, especially if it's a phosphorescent kind, and are less invasive than white light.
Headrick uses Punisher's Super Black Light kit, a bank of 48 LED bulbs that affix to the gunnels of the boat and shine out over the water. Eight white LEDs on the back of the bank illuminate the deck of the boat. The bank attaches via suction cups and a 1/4-inch plug that also supplies power from your batteries.
"The LEDs are a lot smaller than the old tube lights, and they draw a lot less wattage," he says. "They also last 10,000 hours, so they'll outlive me."
Headrick's jigs, spinnerbaits and lighting systems can be found at www.punisherlures.com.