Smallmouth tactics you should be doing!
By Chris Viel
- Leave the live bait at home:
Over the last eight years, I have had the opportunity to fish a multitude of tournaments for various species of fish. With bass tournaments almost always comes the inability to use live bait. Not only has this taught me the effectiveness of artificial bait, but it also gave me insight into how to effectively fish an area when time is of the essence. For the most part, there are two types of bites I am aiming for: a reaction strike or a finesse presentation. Due to the soft nature of many live baits, it is difficult to cover water fast with them unless you troll, but with artificial baits you can cover both particular water columns and multiple depths in a single cast. Reaction baits include crankbaits, jerkbaits, topwater, spinnerbaits, etc., while finesse baits usually include soft plastics and smaller profile hard baits. My usual rule of thumb when approaching a new body of water is to fish for a few reaction bites to get the approximate location or depth of the fish, and then slow down and work a finesse bait to coax the larger fish in the area. This technique will allow you to start putting the puzzle together, and hopefully give you insight into the hot bite of the day! Simply put, modern artificial baits are made with extremely supple plastics, lifelike paint jobs, and natural scents, which all attempt to mimic natural forage. Fished correctly, they can often out-fish live bait and cost a fraction of the price – unless a northern pike decides to make it his next meal!
- Rig Outside the Box:
From magazines, Internet postings, and company advertisements, everyone has a specific way to rig or fish a bait. Some of the most effective fishing days I’ve had happened when I decided to go outside of the box and fish bait in a manner not typically used. Terminal tackle, line type/weight, and colour pattern options are endless these days, so why not use them to your advantage? I distinctly remember a Thunder Bay BASS event this year where we prefished with a fluke style bait. Usually, I would fish this bait slowly and methodically, but after missing a fish and reeling the bait in at a breakneck speed, I saw two smallmouths come up and try to eat it. Bingo! I re-rigged my leader and beefed up my hook, and started working the fluke as a subsurface bait that almost imitated a topwater. This bait was crucial for our success that evening and ended in a win for my partner and I. We later saw that the bass were feeding on schools of baitfish by pushing them to the surface; this pattern triggered a reaction strike from the roaming fish! In all, do not always think the conventional way is the right way. If the fish aren’t biting, change things up and hang on!
- Match the Hatch:
Growing up an avid fisherman, I would do anything I could to get out on the water. Rain or shine, river or lake, I was out there and trying to fill my brain with tricks and tactics that would get me more fish on my next trip out. It was at this point that I was exposed to the effectiveness of fly-fishing. The learning curve that came with this method of fishing really opened up my eyes on how to imitate exactly what the fish were feeding on. Fast forward fifteen years, and I am using these same techniques to target giant smallmouth. There are three ways someone can generally go about identifying what the fish are feeding on. The first is after you’ve caught a fish, place it in the livewell (assuming your boat has one) for twenty minutes and look at what they regurgitate. This will give you the first clue you need in order to choose the right bait. The second technique I use is to simply drive slowly around and see what bait is roaming around the water you are fishing. This is where a pair of good quality polarized glasses and silent electric motor will come in handy, as you can notice everything from leeches, to crayfish, to schooling baitfish. The last tip to matching the hatch is by doing some research as to what type of forage is in the lake. This can be especially true for lakes where baitfish is the predominate forage.
- Approach Structure From All Angles:
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen anglers pull up to a spot, fish the obvious section, then leave. Over the years I’ve had time to use many of the modern advances in technology, including side imaging, which has unlocked a tremendous amount of detail of spots I never knew existed. If a fish finder isn’t an option, use the following no-fail tactic to search things out with your bait. First, start fishing well before you get to the structure. Make a few long casts as this will allow you to catch any schooling fish, or fish on the outer edge that use it as either a travel route or ambush point. Next, after you have picked apart all the sides of the outer edge, move in closer and focus on the transition points, whether that be a drop, rocks to sand, or weed lines. This will not only allow you to figure out where the fish are holding, but allow you to catch the pressured fish no one ever noticed!