Ask any springtime Great Lakes angler if he or she loves to catch big smallmouth bass? The answer will be a resounding YES! Pound for pound, the smallmouth is a hard-fighting, great biting fish and loves to get air during the fight. The Great Lakes region is home to some of the best smallmouth fishing on planet earth. Folks come from all over the world to catch them every year. Springtime is a busy time of year for many, from the smallmouth and steelhead fishing, mushroom picking, and springtime gobbler hunting.
Many that can find some time will tell you pre-spawn smallmouth bass fishing can be phenomenal. The weather, temperatures, and winds play a huge role in your success. Knowing what to look for will be key. When water temps climb from the 30’s and start reaching the 40’s (usually in late March, early April), the fish will start to move in shallower and be ready to bite. Peak spawning occurs late May to early June and when water temps reach between mid-40’s and 50’s the fish will put on the feed big time before the spawn, giving the bank or wading angler a chance at some quality fishing. No boat is needed here folks and some say the wading or bank angler have it even better than a person with a boat – since they have access to water that a boat cannot get to. Kayakers love this type of fishing, too.
Where to Fish
Great places to fish are harbors, marina docks, piers, islands, boulders, and beaches. My favorites are wind protected bays with sand or rock piles as these will attract the smallies like a magnet. Did I mention this structure usually goes nowhere? So, once these key places are found, you can come back every year and catch them. The baitfish are also attracted to the warmer water and if you find it, you will strike the bronze gold. Typically, if temps are dropping and the wind is blowing hard with the waves into shore or out into the big lake, the fish will move out to deeper water with depths between 10-20 feet and school up. However, when those bays start to warm and calm again, they will be right back in the shallows and will spread out.
Baits to Use
When the temps reach the 50’s pretty much anything will catch fish, but depending on conditions, soft plastics really shine. A tube jig, worm or grub matching a goby, shiner, crawfish or smelt is tough to beat. Try using the darker shades of greens, purples, black, brown, or pumpkin. In very clear water, consider white, pearl, or smoke. I love using all these colors with red or silver flakes as they match the forage base in the Great Lakes. Sometimes when fighting the fish, they will spit up what they are feeding on. Pay attention to this small detail and it can pay big dividends. Color, size, and profile are very important, and my favorite sizes to use are 3-4-inch baits. I generally use a wide variety of lead heads in sizes 1/8 oz. up to 1/2 oz., depending on the fall rate of the bait I want. If the fish have been pressured or conditions call for a more finesse approach, a shaky head with a plastic worm or tube whacks fish, too. If you’re fishing on a day when the fish have moved out deeper, having that heavier jig will allow you to cast out further into the deeper water allowing you a chance at that 5 to 6 pounder. Crankbaits and stickbaits like #10-12 Rapala Husky Jerks and #5-9 Rapala Original Floaters can be deadly on big smallmouth. Also, pay attention to your surroundings and match the hatch. If you see gobies, or schools of alewives, smelt or shiners, that’s what the smallmouth are feeding on. Try to match the presentation to the bait you’re seeing and you will not believe the numbers you can put on board in a day. I’ve had many 100-fish days.
Bigger baits do take bigger fish sometimes, so leave nothing on the table here. Swimbaits, spinners, and jigs tipped with shiners should never be overlooked, and lastly, streamers for the fly angler. Yes, I love stripping streamers for these fish and I prefer to do that if I can. Long leaders are not needed here, folks. A five-foot leader will do the job. My favorite all-around bass rod would be a 7-foot spinning rod with medium power, like a Lamiglas XP or Infinity in a 703S series. If you like to fish out of a kayak, try the Lamiglas Paco Kayak model in a 724S. Line choice for me is braid because it has no stretch which I pair with a 6-10lb fluorocarbon leader. Perfect choice to use for these fish.
This time of year produces some big small jaws and 3-5lbers are very common. Don’t miss this fishing opportunity in the spring. It’s truly one of my favorite times of the year, it’s when nature begins a new life. Once smallmouth fever happens to you, it’s over. Vacation time will be planned every year in the early spring to chase these fish.
From the cold winters a new season shall be woken, a bronze back beauty from the shallows of spring, will give an angler a renewed spirit that was once broken.