Summer Time is Smallmouth Time
By: Mark Romanack
The smallmouth bass ranks as one of the most important sport species in North America. Catching them in the summer time often involves seeking out deeper water where these fish prefer to hunt on rocky shoals, points that taper into deep water or deep water flats strewn with rocks and boulders.
The hotter it gets outside, the more smallmouth bass like it. The beauty of living and fishing in the Great Lakes region is there are almost endless opportunities to catch smallmouth bass in the summer time. In fact, some might argue that the smallmouth bass is the most overlooked sport fishing species in the north.
Smallmouth are abundant in a host of natural lakes and also the near shore waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and also Lake Ontario. Just about anywhere you find lots of rocky structure, scattered weeds, schools of baitfish and a double dose of crayfish you’re going to find smallmouth in good numbers and also big fish to brag about.
Part of what makes the smallmouth such a versatile species is they literally eat anything they can get their jaws around. Some of the most common smallmouth forages include emerald shiners, spot-tail shiners, round gobies, smelt, gizzard shad, alewives, young of the year panfish and of course their favorite meal the common crayfish. With a diet this diverse, smallmouth can seemingly always find plenty to eat.
A DISAPPEARING ACT
In the spring of the year when smallmouth are typically found in shallow water, these fish are targeted commonly by sport fishermen who pound the banks and enjoy consistent success. It’s during the summer and fall months when smallmouth move away from the shallows that finding and catching these fish becomes more challenging for the average angler.
The good news is that when smallmouth move deep, they are much more vulnerable to being found using modern sonar. In fact, some might argue that smallmouth can’t hide from those who know how to use CHIRP, DownScan, SideScan and Forward Viewing sonar technologies.
Hot summer days are some of the most productive times to target smallmouth bass. Steep banks such as this that provide deep water close to shore are literal magnets for smallmouth bass that forage along these sharp breaks for crayfish and a host of minnow species.
The acronym CHIRP stands for Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse. This form of fishing sonar consists of a continuous sweeping range of frequencies that provide more information and a sharper, more detailed sonar image.
Anglers who use the CHIRP setting on their sonar unit enjoy the ability to better mark fish that are found holding tight to bottom and also fish found among boulders, rock fields, scattered weeds and other cover. Fish that simply don’t mark using standard broad beam sonar technology literally jump off the screen when CHIRP is used.
DOWNSCAN AND SIDESCAN
Another form of sonar known as DownScan and SideScan Active Imaging allows anglers to not only see below the boat, but also out to the sides of the boat. The larger transducer cone angle is useful in hunting for fish compared to either broad beam or CHIRP sonar.
The down side to Active Imaging is many anglers struggle to interpret the readouts. Lowrance Electronics has greatly increased the ability to mark fish when using Active Imaging with technology known as Fish Reveal. This technology enhances fish marks and makes it easy to identify fish from other targets such as rocks, logs or other objects in the water.
Forward viewing sonar such as Live Target is yet another new sonar technology that provides anglers with a real time view of what’s happening underwater. Thanks to a faster data processor, Active Target makes it possible to see fish, cover and even your lure at the same time. Even better, as fish move and your lure moves, it’s clear to see how fish react to the lure.
This critical piece of information makes it possible to switch out baits to see which one or ones the fish react positively to. It’s even possible to identify fish species on Live Target based on the extremely detailed picture provided.
DEEP WATER PRESENTATIONS
In deep water smallmouth can be caught on a number of different presentations. Hands down, the drop shot rig has become the “go to” means of targeting smallmouth bass in the summer time. A drop shot rig consists of a weight on the bottom with a hook tied in-line on the leader about 12-18 inches above the weight. This hook is in turn tipped with different soft plastics.
In part, the drop shot rig is so effective because it is also very versatile and can be used with a host of different soft plastics aimed at imitating all kinds of different forage species. The drop shot rig can also be fished very slow for finesse situations or fish quickly to cover water when hunting for fish. The drop shot rig can even be used to find transitional zones that concentrate fish.
Most drop shot sinkers are molded from lead. A few manufacturers make drop shot sinkers molded from tungsten. A tungsten weight is more dense and does a better job of telegraphing the components of the bottom.
For example, with a tungsten drop shot sinker it’s possible to detect soft (mud, marl or silty) and also hard bottom (rock, sand, gravel) areas, making it possible to pinpoint the natural transitions where fish tend to concentrate.
The tube jig is another popular deep water smallmouth lure. Tubes do an excellent job of imitating not only baitfish, but also a crayfish scurrying across the bottom. Drifting and dragging tubes on the bottom is an easy and highly productive way of targeting smallmouth in deep water.
The Carolina Rig is another classic when it comes to catching smallmouth in deep water. The Carolina Rig consists of a fixed sinker on the line with a leader that can range from 12 to 36 inches in length. At the business end a soft plastic bait such as a worm, lizard, beaver or other creature bait gets the job done.
The Carolina Rig is commonly drifted, but this rig can also be casted to structure and worked slowly back to the boat.
The smallmouth bass is a hansom fish that deserves an extra degree of respect from sport anglers. Conservation practices such as catch-and-immediately-release have helped provide fishing opportunities that didn’t exist just a few years ago. When catching smallmouth bass, consider releasing fish even when the catch-and-kill season is open. The author feels that the smallmouth bass is more valuable in the water than on the dinner table.
CATCH AND RELEASE
The interesting thing about smallmouth bass fishing is that anglers who primarily target bass are going to play catch and release. Anglers who are simply opportunistic are going to keep smallmouth when they catch them.
While I personally have no issue with keeping and eating fish, I do draw the line when it comes to smallmouth bass. Ironically, I don’t consider myself a bass angler, but I sure enjoy catching and live releasing smallmouth bass at every opportunity. To me a fish as unique as the smallmouth is more valuable in the water than it is on the table.
For those who look at the smallmouth as a perfect candidate for a fish fry, please consider keeping only the smaller males for the table. Any smallmouth over three pounds has earned the right to swim and fight another day.
Here in the Great Lakes region, bass fishing conservation has made some huge strides in recent years. The catch-and-immediately-release early spring season is a classic example of how fishing opportunities can be provided, without damaging fish populations.
Unfortunately, the catch-and-killl bass season in many areas opens early enough in the year that these fish are still on the spawning beds and very vulnerable to fishing pressure. Extending the catch-and-immediately-release season to July 1 would solve that problem and prevent anglers from pulling fish off the beds and tossing them directly in the hot grease!