When the snow melts and the temperatures of the lakes and rivers start to rise it is time to get ready for pre spawn smallmouth bass. Hard bodied or jointed jerk baits designed to suspend in the water are a great option this time of the year, especially on windy overcast days when the smallmouth seem to be most aggressive. Conversely, it seems slower moving weightless plastics seem to perform best on calm sunny days.
Tackle and gear: I usually for 3 poles rigged up for fishing with a jerk bait.
- 7′ Medium fast action rod with a 5:1 reel or greater, Abu Garcia makes a couple of great reels for jerk bait fishing. Line it up with 15lb braid with a fluorocarbon leader and you have yourself a great set up for your larger hard baits and larger spinning lures.
- I love this set up on still sunny mornings. 6’3″ medium light Quantum MXP rod, 4:1 spinning reel, 10 lb braid with 18 inch 8lb fluorocarbon leader. This is my go to soft plastic jerk and twitch bail set up. #3 and #4 wide gap and offset hooks, 1/64-1/32oz weighted offset #3 hooks (optional).
- 7′ Daiwa Medium spinning rod with a 4:1 or greater spinning reel with 6 lb fluorocarbon line. This is a wild card rod, in the past I have had success with this using weightless flukes as well as smaller hard bodied bait. What I have found is that since fluorocarbon line sinks it has a tendency to bring the hard and soft plastic baits a little deeper and the 6lb line has a little better feel with the lighter baits than the 10lb baitcasting setup. If I could only take one I would take this one because I believe it is the most versatile but the other set ups are specific to the task..
- Hard Bodied Baits – Husky Jerk #10, Floating Raps #7, Berkley Cutter 90 are some great choices. Natural colors in clear water and heavily fished areas, white, pearl, perch and Chartreuse are winners in the spring in stained water.
- Soft bodied baits – Zoom super fluke 5″, these just have great movement and seem to out fish any other soft plastic jerk bait I use. In recent years I Berkley Gulp Alive, KVD and others have come out with good quality products as well. Texas rigged weedless, these baits are dynamite in the spring.
Spring is such a great time for smallmouth because no other time in the year are their patterns more predictable and so many large females being “stacked up” in the same place. Focus on areas deepwater drops and inland spawning areas 10ft deep with gravel bottom and ground structure is a great place to start. Egg laden large females will be actively feeding and can have several trophies sitting in the same small indentation or around the same stump. Small mouth will spend most of the winter in 30-40 feet of water then move in to shallow flats right after ice out and till the spawn which usually starts when the water temperature gets to the mid or upper 50’s. Any large flats in 8-15 foot of water next to 30-40 shelves are great place to start. Look for a gravel bottom, often times a nice rock pile or stump could hold 10 large females during this time of the year.
Smallmouths often need to see baits a couple times before they decide to strike if they are not actively feeding so if you see a good-looking spot take 3-4 casts before moving. When they are feeding and you catch one make sure you cast right back to the same spot because big females are rarely alone at this time of year. This can be some of the most fun, fastest fishing of the year. When they are feeding it is not out of the realm of possibility to land five four pound fish in ten casts.
When it is overcast and windy it seems to stir the smallmouth up and have the best bite. Anytime I’m using a jerk bait in the wind I always use bigger and heavier hard bodied baits. I also work the bait faster than I do with soft plastics. Rapala Husky Jerk 10 is a favorite bait in these condition with white, Chartreuse and pearl white being hot colors. I always check with a bait shop or online about hot colors on a particular body of water.
Soft plastics are an art form, and my go to set up on calm sunny days. I work the bait at about 3-5 feet of depth with longer pulls mixing with short twitches. One key tip is to keep constant slack in your line especially when using the braided line set up, it will give the bait more of an erratic darting motion and the twitches more realistic look. Also use the line as your strike indicator, when you see that slack tighten set that hook. I remember one time a friend and I were in the same boat using the same colors and the same bait. The only difference was he added a tiny weight and was working the bait at a rate that he was averaging 3 casts to every one of my casts. At the end of 75 minutes it was 14 fish and he had 1 and I was averaging about 16″ per fish with a couple of four pound, nineteen inch plus smallies. The only difference was I had no weight added and was working the bait very slow, sometimes as slow as 4-6 seconds between actions. This method is especially deadly on a sunny calm morning, the smallmouth aren’t as stirred up as they will be when the wind picks up but they are always up for an easy meal. This is often the first lure I start out with and the last one I end with.
For the people who fish them, spring smallmouth bass fishing is in a class of its own. Using jerk and twitch baits is one of the most fun ways to catch them. Tight lines!