I can’t really be too specific when describing which areas to target because each lake, river and reservoir that holds smallmouth bass are all very diverse with different depths, structure and vegetation. The best way to locate schools on any body of water, is to find their main source of food. Bass won’t stick around if there is nothing for them to eat. In our local waters they can often be found in depths of 0-20 feet, depending on what they are feeding on and the time of year. Most of the Bass I caught last summer were found in weed beds ranging from 5-12 feet of water, or along shallow rock structures on main basins, again in 5-12 feet.
“Did you hear that?” I still remember speaking those words to my Dad while fishing in the Last Chance Bass tournament a few years ago. We were casting towards a rock shoreline when I heard a splash behind us. We both turned around and started casting out in the middle of nowhere towards the ripple and wouldn’t you know, double-header! For two minutes the hits were fast and furious, then nothing. Talk about timing! There was a school of suspended Bass chasing baitfish and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. This is the one and only time that has happened to me in a tournament but no matter what, if I see or hear a splash, I will immediately cast to that location because you just never know what might happen!
Weather plays an important part when it comes to presentation and lure selection. On calm days one of my favorite ways to fish is using topwater lures. They are so versatile and can be used to fish almost any type of structure. Watching the fish jump out of the water at a topwater is always fun! I personally like using “popper-style” baits like the Rapala X-Rap Pop, but if the wind starts to pick up I will switch to a topwater with a prop on it, or stick bait with a “walk the dog” presentation. My largest smallmouth bass was caught a few years ago on a topwater while fishing Rainy Lake, weighing in at 5.50 pounds! That particular day my five biggest bass would have totalled around 24 pounds, all on topwaters… it was a fun day to say the least! Casting jerkbaits and shallow-diving, square-lipped cranks are a great way to cover rock structures and shorelines. Another technique that works great to cover water through any type of structure and in any type of weather is the spinnerbait. Summertime bass are hungry and active so you can work the baits fast to cover as much water as possible. Once you find a school you can slow down your retrieve and switch to a soft plastic presentation. Tubes, grubs, worms and river bugs are some of my favorite plastics to use this time of year. If you decide to head out to fish a little deeper, using a 4”-5” soft plastic minnow on a 1/4oz jig works great, you can jig it just as you would if you were walleye fishing, and when you come to a shallow area of the structure you are fishing you can wind up and cast it around. The possibilities are endless when it comes to lure selection and having a good variety allows you to adapt to the always changing conditions of smallmouth fishing. If you are fishing in heavy cover try casting a frog to entice a hit and to see where the bass are hiding. Once you locate a pocket of fish try using a flippin’ jig with a soft plastic creature bait to break down the pocket and hopefully land you some big bass!