Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 22:38
Updated date: 2/6/17
Smallmouth bass - Micropterus dolomieu

"He is plucky, game, brave and unyielding to the last when hooked. He has the arrowy rush of the trout, and the bold leap of the salmon, while he has a system of fighting tactics peculiarly his own. I consider him.....the gamest fish that swims"

-- Dr. James Henshall, 1881



The smallmouth bass is a chunky, short fish with a darker back and a light body. Coloration in smallmouths is highly variable and can range from light green to dark brown. The most common coloration is a greenish-bronze, lighter on the belly. They usually have some kind of spotting, barring, or mottling on the sides. The eye is reddish. The mouth of the smallmouth is large, but does not extend past the eye.




Smallies are found primarily in rivers and streams in the Midwest, exceptions being the BWCAW lakes and the huge expanse of Lake Michigan. Lake-dwelling bronzebacks tend to be found over deep structure (mid-lake humps, rock bars, etc.), and the electronics and gear associated with this type of fishing doesn't typify our definition of Roughfishing. Therefore, I will discuss the smallie in the environs in which he is best pursued, in the ever-moving, ever-changing waters of streams and rivers. The typical smallmouth stream is slightly different than a trout stream, although populations do coexist in some fisheries. Smallies need clean, oxygenated water but tolerate warmer sections in order to take advantage of larger and more abundant forage such as chubs and crayfish. "Marginal" brown trout water is often suited nicely for a population of smallmouths. Whatever waters they occupy, they seek out areas of rock and rubble. An area with fist to head-sized rock interspersed with stretches of gravel is going to be a prime area for both numbers of bass and also large fish. Like trout, smallies tend to be just out of the main current, like in the eyes or current seams on either side of a hole's tongue. Any large boulder or stump that breaks the current will hold fish, behind the obstruction where a pocket of dead water exists, and also in front of the boulder where the current has scoured a depression which acts as the perfect ambush spot for a bass to utilize. They will be found in these faster-water stretches throughout the warmer months, where they key in on hatching caddis or mayflies. However, large deep pools are always worth a good working over as large bass may be cruising the depths terrorizing baitfish. A lot of anglers target only pools, though, so learning to take fish from faster water will put you on less-pressured, more opportunistic feeders. Larger rivers are more difficult to read, but where a small stream may hold only a few fish over 15" in several miles, a big river may hold a dozen or more trophy bass on a single structure. Look for the same type of current breaks and obstructions as on a small stream, on a grander scale, but put emphasis on the shoreline. Most of my success in big rivers comes less than 5 feet from shore, or rock points a bit farther out. Riprap is a goldmine, especially below a dam. Smallies will charge into schools of minnows here, sending them flying through the air. I've often waited for a few anglers to fish a stretch of riprap, then followed them and taken a dozen or more nice smallies. They cast far out into the river, oblivious to the hungry smallies right under thier feet. Some of these spots see a lot of pressure, but if you sneak up the bank and present a subtle fly or lure at specific spots, fish are always to be had.




I may be a bit biased, but to me a flyrod is the ultimate way to present a bait to river smallmouths. Your flies can be designed to stay on the bottom yet out of the snags associated with good smallie water, and you can effectively imitate various forage types with only your flyrod and a small box of flies. Before you begin fishing, find out what forage is available to the bass. You may take a few steps into the stream and see crayfish or sculpins fleeing from under your feet. Shiners may be seen leaping from the water, with the occasional swirl from a bruiser Bronzeback. Maybe a hatch of dark hendricksons is in progress, and you can be sure rare sport is to be had if you can effectively imitate the natural. Target the eyes and tongue of the pools, boulders and logs that obstuct flow, and sections of riffles that are home to aquatic insects in thier nymphal or adult forms. Along with the enormous variety of these aquatic insects, fly selection should include deep clouser minnows and mid-water streamers imitative of natural baitfish, some type of crayfish-imitating flies, and a few poppers or deer-hair bugs for topwater action. This selection will catch smallies anywhere in the midwest. Lures for spinning tackle would include spinners, jigs and minnow-imitating crankbaits. Use a light enough rod and line to be able to cast light lures and control them in the current. A topwater of some sort should also be in your arsenal. Giant spinnerbaits, cranks and jerkbaits are more suited for Largemouths and will reduce your catch rate for smallies. We often catch smallmouths incidentally while targeting redhorse or mooneyes with nightcrawlers. They are often deeply hooked, as bass tend to inhale thier prey. If you must fish for smallies with live bait, please consider using circle hooks to reduce fish mortality.


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