A variety of tackle, from simple to
complex, can catch smallmouth bass. A light or medium-light action spinning rod with an “open-faced” reel is the most common tackle combination for “smallies”. It lets you cast light baits, but provides a good drag system and rod with some “backbone” for handling larger smallmouth. Use 2 to 6 pound test line. Monofilament line is the standby for smallmouth fishing, but fluorocarbon leaders are a great option for these sight feeders. Braided lines are preferred by some, especially if jig fishing or in areas with many snags. Some smallmouth anglers prefer a light bait-cast combination when fishing bigger water and using bigger baits because of the superior drag system and ability to “thumb” the bait. A few anglers use fly-fishing tackle to pursue smallmouth bass. Most fly anglers use around a 5 or 6 –weight rod tipped with 6X up to 3X line.
Time of year and conditions affect smallmouth feeding behavior. In one Iowa study of smallmouth fishing the following feeding behavior observations were made. "There were many weeks after spawning when bass easily took lures. Many adult males seem to keep their nest-defending trait and strike lures retrieved close to them. Smallmouths were least vulnerable to angling between mid-June and mid-July after spawning and post-spawning, and the extreme clarity of the water seemed to make adult smallmouth gather into larger and deeper pools. Schooling was first seen in mid-July. Smallmouth schooled as a species and with quillbacks, river carpsuckers and white suckers. Large bass tended to school with the larger suckers. Smallmouth showed little fear when schooled and often let anglers wade within 20 feet of the schools. They were highly susceptible to angling when schooled."
In spring, minnows and shiners are numerous and are the favorite food choices. As early summer approaches, crayfish become abundant and are a preferred food, especially in shallow rock riffle habitat. As summer progresses and crayfish numbers decline, smallmouth must again rely heavily on the more available minnows. Spread throughout this feeding pattern are times of increased aquatic and terrestrial insect foraging, especially at peak insect hatches.
Before the spawn and later in post-spawn, when bass again start to feed actively, lures that look like minnows work best. Single blade spinners work well, as do leadheads and shallow running minnow-shaped crankbaits. Size preference of a food item for smallmouth is smaller than for its relative, the largemouth bass. Use No. 0 through No. 2 size spinners, 2-5 inch long crankbaits or 1/16 – ¼ ounce lead-heads.
During mid-June to mid-August, when crayfish are abundant, lures that mimic this crustacean are the top choice. Water levels are lower and the fish are more in groups, relying on the deeper holes around riffles and cut-banks. Crayfish colored crankbaits, especially those that are similar to the color and action, will usually get fast action. Crankbaits that hug the bottom, bouncing off rocks, or stir up a small cloud of silt can trigger a bite from a hungry smallmouth. Lead-heads rigged with soft plastics in crayfish colors also work well, especially fished in an erratic motion by raising and lowering the rod tip.
In late summer and early fall, after the crayfish population is low, minnow imitating lures are again the top producer. Lead-heads rigged with soft plastics work well, particularly the soft-bodied twister tail variety in white, yellow, or chartreuse. These lures let the angler work the bottoms of the deepest pools where smallmouth seek shelter from sunlight.
Smallmouths are more active surface feeders in mid-summer when water levels recede. There are many species of terrestrial insects common to the nearby land that struggle for freedom on the surface. Heavy hatches start increased surface activity as bass feed actively on these easily-caught prey.
Natural baits, such as crawfish, minnows, hellgrammites and nightcrawlers can trigger a bite when all else fails. Threaded
on a No. 6 or 8 hook and weighted by a small split shot, you can cast or drift these
baits into the deeper holes with little trouble. When a smallmouth picks up a crawdad, the first impulse is to immediately set the hook. This usually results in re-baiting for another try. Smallmouths usually carry their prey for a short distance in their jaws before eating it. Patiently
wait for the fish to stop its run, reel up the slack and set the hook.
Smallmouth feed hungrily during pre-spawn. Cast and retrieve lead-heads along the rocky shoreline and points. Since the water depths fished are relatively shallow, lightweight jigs of one-eighth to one-quarter ounce work best. Many smallmouth anglers use hair or marabou dressed jigs this time of year in white, blue, purple and combinations of these colors. Anglers often tie their own lead-heads to get the favored combination.
The other lead-head dressing often used in pre-spawn is a plastic body twister. Try colors in purple, yellow, and white. You can tip the hook of the hair jig
or the twister with a minnow without affecting the action.
While lead-head presentation is important at all times, when the water temperature is 48 to 55 degrees, the colder temperatures affect how fast the fish reacts to a lure. Slow retrieves with a pumping motion so the jig bounces along the rocky shoreline habitat will improve your chances of catching a smallmouth.
Toward the end of pre-spawn, small crankbaits work well. The 2-inch size lure is preferred because smallmouths like fairly small-sized food items. Crayfish colored crankbaits work best, particularly on the numerous rocky land points in West Lake Okoboji.
A crankbait is one of the best lures for summer fishing; those similar to the color, size and action of a crayfish work best. When using crankbaits in water deeper
than 10 to 12 feet, place a split shot in front of the lure to make it run
Fall is one of the best times to fish for smallmouth bass. The fish are close to shallow rock reefs in 10 to 15 feet of water. Crankbaits are still the preferred lure, but they must be deep-diving models. Lead-heads tipped with a minnow run a close
second, with minnow shaped plugs that imitate bait-fish the third choice for fall