Catch Smallmouths Right Now

To me, opening day always meant the first day of walleye fishing. In the old days we’d pack up the station wagon with rods, tackle and cans of spam and beans and head to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage in Wisconsin or up to Lake of the Woods in Canada for the first big trip of the year.

It was on one of these trips to Canada that we stopped off in Orr, Minn. on the way to Canada to have breakfast—you know, it’s that tiny town with the Big Bluegill. After breakfast, we milled around checking out all the action on the ramp and struck up a conversation with one of the anglers. The next thing I know—of course, due to Poppee’s magical gift for gab—we were in this guy’s boat and about to fish for smallmouth bass.

We puttered out to a little rock pile in the middle of the lake and started pitching black ringworms on 1/8-ounce jigs. Blammo—fish on! Poppee could barely hang on and had an acrobatic battle with a 3-pounder on his hands.

This guy we fished with really knew his stuff—while all other anglers were chasing the big crappies and bluegills that Pelican Lake was known for, he had the shallow rocks all to himself and was having a ball with the smallmouths on light tackle. In fact, the fishing was so good on Pelican that day we cut our Canadian trip short one full day so we could go back to this lake to fish for more smallies—some that ended up topping out at 23 inches.

Since then, we’ve always had respect for smallmouths and have fished them whenever we can, especially on opening day.

Deep smallmouths
When smallmouths are deep, we like two techniques: drop-shotting and live-bait rigging. If there are small perch present in the lakes you’re at, chances are smallmouths are feeding on them and will follow the schools.

We’ll drop-shot an AuthentX plastic 3-inch Moxi or a 4-inch Ringworm in Chartreuse/Orange core, which imitates a perch color, off of rock piles, ledges, edges or in pods of fish we’ve scanned on a locator. A lift-drop jigging motion keeps the tail moving and the smallmouths snapping. We’ll let the boat drift or keep in on point with the trolling motor, depending on wind conditions.

Sometimes the smallies just won’t touch the plastics. Here, we head shallow and catch a dozen small perch using Custom Jigs & Spins’ 1/16-ounce nickel or gold slender spoons with a few spikes. Then we’ll move off the smallmouth area and put the perch on the drop-shot rig or on a Lindy Rig. Either way, if those smallies are feeding on perch, it’s game on. (Check local regulations, but usually you can fish with perch if they’re caught from the body of water you’re fishing.)

Shallow smallmouths
This month, the smallmouths are shallow, and there’s no better way to catch them than by pitching plastics with light line and a light jig. We’ll use B-Fish-N Tackle H20 jigs in 1/16, 1/32 and 1/8 ounce. These jigs have a wire keeper built right in that holds the plastic tight to the head.

Right now we’re dreaming about how those 20-inch smallmouths sitting on the shallow rock piles of Pelican Lake, and how they’d react to an Oyster-shell pattern Ringworm on a 1/8-ounce jig.

I wonder if that old guy with the beat up 16-foot boat is still around and he’d remember us.