Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips & Tactics
Crotch Lake is inundated with Smallmouth Bass. You can basically catch them on any lure and any color in the spring. They are all along the shore and hungry but there are places you should avoid so you don't waste time. For people new to Smallmouth Bass fishing; we wrote these tips and tactics to increase your understanding and appreciation of this fabulous hard fighting game-fish and increase your success at catching them. We also hope that seasoned bass hunters might pick up a few new tricks as well.
Please Note: Our American Friends should know that fishing with Crayfish (Crawdads) in Ontario is now illegal. It's to stop the spread of the Rusty Crayfish, which has already destroyed a couple of lakes in Ontario. The Rusty Crayfish has the strange behavior of crawling along the bottom of the lake and pinching weeds off at the base. Once they have killed all the weeds in a lake the whole eco-system is destroyed.
Another Note: Scented baits and rubbers do not work as well in the north as unscented or salted baits. In southern lakes and reservoirs, the water is warmer with more algae and suspended organic materials. Scented baits seem to work in the south and that is were most baits get tested for market. In the clear cool lakes of Ontario; using scented baits may give you a disadvantage. However, they still work; just not as well.
What Smallmouth Bass Avoid:
Smallmouth Bass are hypersensitive to Nitrogen and Sulfur. These elements are produced in the shallows when weeds die and decompose over the winter. To make things worse the ice traps Nitrogen and Sulfur so as the winter progresses concentrations get higher in the shallows. In the winter Smallmouth Bass go super deep. Lakes that are in rural areas and in close proximity to farms may experience high Nitrogen levels all year thus the Smallmouth Bass are deep all year. This process is most evident in Lake Erie where most of the bass are down forty feet deep all year. In Crotch Lake we do not have that problem because we are high up on the Frontenac Highlands and many miles from any serious farm production. We also have feeder streams and the Mississippi River washing away any possibly contaminated water. There will be a few spots that the bass avoid, which we discuss below.
Spring Bass Fishing Along the Shore:
In the spring there are three places you will find Smallmouth Bass and one place where you will not. As we said before Smallmouth Bass are hypersensitive to Nitrogen and Sulfur. If you are on a hump, back-bay or along the shore and the bottom is black as night; that means there is a high amount of decomposing matter on the bottom. The bass avoid these areas. Most of the Nitrogen and sulfur has dissipated but now as the water warms up Methane stars bubbling up through the muck. The Methane is aggravating to Smallmouth Bass while in most cases Largemouth Bass can tolerate it. It's best to avoid these areas.
In early spring you will find three groups of Smallmouth Bass near three different structures. The smaller bass, which are under two pounds, are either not old enough to start mating or it's their first year of maturity and they were unsuccessful finding a mate. This size of bass with travel along the shore in hunting packs. They will move into an area until all the food is gone and then they move to the next spot. Generally, they will be off rocky points and along rocky shorelines where there is wave action. Trolling along the shore or casting rocky points with Rapalas, Thundersticks, Fat Raps, Rebel Floating Minnow and other similar lures work great. Using spinners with a touch of worm or a worm harness also work. Senkos and soft creature baits such as a rubber Crayfish or minnows work great. What color to use changes day by day depending on light conditions and atmospheric pressure. One day they can be crazy for purple and the next day only hit green. On sunny calm days, earthlier colors work best such as black-&-silver, brown-&-silver, Perch Color, black and White. If you have some wind then generally bright exotic colors like firetiger, purple-&-silver, red and pink work. If you are not hitting bass and you are in an area where you know there are lots of them try changing colors and lures until you find one combination that works best. Just remember that it may not work the next day.
Smallmouth Bass in the two to four-pound range will spawn on sand in about three feet deep of water. Sand bars and beaches are great places to head to. Spawning beds are usually at least thirty feet apart. You should be able to see their round beds on the bottom and you should be able to see the bass. If you see bass in the water, you have to stay back and cast to where the bass are. If you get too close to them, you will spook them off into the deeper water. You also have to test to see how aggressive they are that day. First try casting different shallow running lures and light spinners. If not interested, try casting a spinner with a little piece of worm or a spinner with a rubber minnow hook. If this does not work try casting a hook with a live minnow, leech or worm and just let it sit on the sandy bottom. If they still have no interest try dragging the worm, leech or minnow along the bottom. If they take it give them a few seconds to get the whole bait in their mouth and then set the hook.
If you can't see the bass in the shallows most often the sun is too intense or wave action on the shore is aggravating them. This is when the Smallmouth Bass will head out a little deeper and sit in the dark water just past the sand. In this case try casting deep running lures such as flatfish, deep diving Cotton Cordell, deep diving Rapala Husky Jerks, deep diving J-13 Jointed Rapalas and deep diving Fat Raps.
If this does not work try using green, dark yellow, brown or black tube jigs. You might want to put a little piece of worm inside the rubber before you put it on the hook. Cast out and let the tube jig spiral down. When you think it's near the bottom perform a long slow jig and pull it up near the surface again and then let it swim down again. Tub jigs have a spiral swimming motion as they sink and glide through the water. Sometimes they drive the bass crazy even when they are not feeding and sometimes they don't. In the spring it is rare that the bass are not feeding. Most guests targeting Smallmouth will catch fifty or more in a day. If tube jigs don't work then go back to a worm, leech or a minnow on a hook with no weight and cast out and let it sink to the bottom. Every ten seconds drag the worm or minnow about three feet and let it sit back down on bottom.
The third group of Smallmouth Bass spawning scenarios is the really big bass in the four plus pound range. Crotch Lake has many Smallmouth Bass in the four to six-pound range and it's just a matter of time before a seven or even an eight-pounder gets caught. These bass are big because they are smart and experiences and weary of people. Your tactics need to be stealthy and less obtrusive; meaning throwing a bunch of lures at them.
Really huge Smallmouth Bass will fight for, win and then guard the best spawning areas. The very best spawning area is a sandy area where there are periodic rotting logs on the bottom. There even may be rotting logs that have fallen from shore. Rotting wood moderates the alkalinity of the water thus helping the survival rate of the bass' eggs and young.
Because the bass are bigger and smarter they spook easier. It's best to use low-visibility dark-green six-pound test so you can cast farther. If you can see the bass in the shallows stay back and take one cast and let your lure float on the surface. These are not like smaller bass that are attracted to a splash; rather it makes them nervous. Let your lure float for a minute. The lure is in shallow sandy water and you will see if the bass starts to take interest. If you see a bass swimming towards your lure reel in about two feet and then let it float back up to the top. Once your lure reaches the surface give it a jerk to make it look like an injured fish. Wait about thirty seconds and reel in another two feet and do the whole process over again. For now, we'll call it a reel cycle. A big Smallmouth Bass may be hungry but first they will study the bait. If you have done too many reel cycles and your lure is getting too close to the boat just let your lure float on the surface. Every thirty seconds give the line a jerk. You have to be patient. If you see the bass swim away from the bait reel in, change to a different lure with a different color, wait two or three minutes and start the whole process again. You have to be quiet and stealthy. You should be wearing clothes that are dark and Earthy. Try to keep seated to minimize the bass' line-of-site.
You have done all this and the bass are still not interested you may have to switch to live bait. The best thing to do is put a minnow or a worm on a hook with a tiny weight and cast it out towards the bass and just let it sit on bottom.
Let's suppose you find a beautiful sandy area with rotting logs and you cannot see any Smallmouth. Remember we are talking early spring so the bass are spawning or just finishing spawning. Like we said above if the sun is too bright or wave action has become annoying to the bass in the shallows try the deeper dark water past the edge of the sand. You can start by casting tube jigs in the same way as we discussed earlier. If that does not work go to a minnow, leech or worm on a hook with no weight and let the bait slowly sink to the bottom.
Deeper Summer Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips:
Now that the spawn is long over and the water is warming up Smallmouth Bass move to rocky structure. Since they are the dominant species in the lake they force the walleye to go deeper and claim the best shoals, islands, rocky humps and rocky shoreline. Smallmouth Bass like the rocky areas where there is lots of wave action. This wave action against the rocks oscillates the water keeping organic material and silt from covering up the rocks to produce perfect living conditions for Crayfish. It also produces higher levels of Oxygen, which the bass need. Wind action pushes warm surface water, which is full of micro-plankton, around shoals and islands making the plankton more concentrated in the current thus attracting minnows.
Off rocky points and around islands Smallmouth Bass will be between five and fifteen feet deep. If you have a group of small islands and between them is a rocky plateau, then in late summer the bass may be up on top in two feet of water. Generally, they will be five feet or deeper. Fishing off points is like fishing in the deeper water off sand bars. Flatfish, Fat Raps, deep diving Cotton Cordell, deep diving Rapala Husky Jerks, deep diving J-13 Jointed Rapalas and deep diving, Senkos and soft creature baits on jigs all work great. You can troll or cast. If you are trying for super-shallow late summer bass, you have to use shallow running lures.
In the summer the Smallmouth Bass tend to go after earthlier colors such as brown-&-silver, gold-&-black, silver-&-black, dark purple-&-silver, blue-&-silver and the color that works all year for all fish is Perch color.
Fishing Underwater Shoals and Reefs:
Above we talked about structure that bass swim around. In this section we discuss tactics for structure that bass can swim over such as an underwater shoal that is a few feet under the surface. Another hotspot is an underwater reef. A reef can be described as a ridge of rocks that comes up from the depths and then goes back down again. It can also be described as a long mound of underwater rocks starting at a point and reaching twenty of thirty yards out into the lake. The shallow underwater ridge connecting two islands is also considered a reef.
Smallmouth Bass living around shoals and reefs can be moody because they have more weather conditions to deal with. These are also the prime feeding grounds and generally where you catch the biggest Smallmouth Bass in the summer. They will change feeding habits based on weather, light penetration, temperature of the air, wind direction, temperature of the surface water, changes in atmospheric pressure and other factors. Let's say twenty yards in front of you there is a shoal under the water. The shoal is about fifty square yard. The water is two feed deep on top and then slides down to twenty feet deep all around the shoal. There is a nice breeze hitting one side of the shoal producing waves around six inches high but the shoal breaks them up and the are just inch-high rippled on the other side. Weather will dictate where they are and how deep they are.
Below is a diagram showing the possible zones where the bass may be.
Wind Consideration: If the Smallmouth Bass are feeding aggressively they will be on the windy side of the shoal. If this is the case, one of techniques described for Zones A, B & D should be effective.
Zone A: When you reach casting distance of the shoal the first thing you should do is cast small shallow running lures such as floating linear and floating jointed Rapalas and Thundersticks or whatever shallow lures you have. Keep trying different colors from bright colors like red, fire-tiger and chartreuse. If this does not work try casting more natural colors such as silver-&-black, gold-&-silver, blue-&-silver. If you are catching good size bass than keep going. If not, try Zone B.
Zone B: Cast lures and colors just like Zone A but use deeper running lures such as Fatraps, Cotton Cordells, buzzbaits and even small spinnerbaits. If that's where you are hitting good size bass, then keep doing it. If you are not hitting them then try Zone D.
Zone D: If the bass are in Zone D this means they are aggressively feeding but choose to stay deep. This may be caused by too much wave action, dropping pressure, too much light penetration or maybe they followed a school of minnows down deeper. In this case you want to try dropping tub jigs that have a little bit of worm stuffed in them or regular jigs tipped with a leech, minnow or a salted rubber. It's best to use salted baits or unscented rubbers. Try a whole range of colors. If you start hitting bass then keep doing it. If you don't have any luck, then Zone's C and E must be where they are.
Zone C & E: If the Smallmouth Bass are on the quiet side of the shoal that means they are not feeding aggressively. This is when you go to live bait. For Zone C, put a minnow, leech or big juicy worm on a size-5 bass hook with no weight and cast into the zone and slowly drag the bait over the rocks. If a bass grabs the bait, release your bail and let him take some line for about 5 seconds before you set the hook. You don't want to set the hook right away and you also do not want the bass to swallow the hook. The 5-second rule seems to be the safest for the fish.
If you are not getting any action in Zone C, then cast out over the deeper water of Zone E and just let the bait slowly sink. Let it sink right to the bottom and site there. If the Smallmouth Bass are there they see it and know it's there. If you do not get a bite pull the bait towards you about a foot and let it sit back down on the bottom.
The methods above work for any structure. On days when it's dead calm and there is no wind at all, you might have to try all six styles on all sides of the shoals. Usually when it's dead calm the Smallmouth Bass are right up in the shallow water and can be taken with shallow running lures.
Fall Smallmouth Bass Fishing:
Smallmouth Bass fishing in the fall is the same as summer except you will find a higher population of bass in the shallow water so not only are you catching more bass but bigger bass.