Jason Mitchell Outdoors | Early Season Smallmouth Bass

Early Season Smallmouth Bass

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By Jason Mitchell

Smallmouth bass are one of my favorite fish to target.  Smallmouth bass are just built to provide joy and excitement.  Much has been written and said about the fight of a smallmouth.  The stubborn digging below the boat and airborne acrobatics simply make these fish so much fun to target and catch.  Late spring and early summer can be such a tremendous time to target smallmouth because fish are often shallow and relatively easy to catch. 

Smallmouth bass will typically spawn when the water temperatures reach the low sixties but fish will move shallow long before.  Stable and warming water temps often create tremendous shallow water fishing opportunities.  Cold fronts will often momentarily push fish off these shallow locations but only temporarily.  Smallmouths typically look for rock, boulder and gravel locations in which to bed.  Reefs and shorelines that offer this rock rubble bottom are prime.  If I had to pick a perfect location to find shallow smallmouth in the spring, that location would be a large shallow flat or reef that protrudes from the shoreline where there are scattered rocks that range between the size of a baseball to the size of a bowling ball.  Larger boulders scattered in the mix are alright and the entire reef doesn’t necessarily have to be covered with rock but you can bet that the rock areas are the sweet spots.

Obviously large spots can hold more fish and attract more attention from anglers as well.  Some of my favorite locations that often get overlooked or missed by other anglers are simply shallow rock spines that are slightly offshore, perhaps a hundred yards.  The closer to shore these locations are, the easier these locations are for other anglers to find.  Of course, you can always catch fish on the easy to find obvious locations depending on the amount of fishing pressure but missed and overlooked is often better for cooperative fish in today’s world.

Polarized glasses are a must for reading water and side imaging can also help immensely.  To really maximize the potential of side imaging, I often like to search through an area with my bow mount trolling motor down and lift my outboard motor so I get a better reading off both sides of the transducer.  When I see patches of rock or boulders, I than move the crosshairs to mark that locations with a waypoint.  You can bump fish off a location if you move to close but the fish typically return so if you have to get your boat right on top of a location to really learn the spot, do what you have to do to understand what you are fishing.

Suspending jerk baits like the Salmo Rattling Sting are absolutely deadly on spring smallmouth bass in shallow water. Simply snap these lures one to three times in a cadence and then momentarily stall the lure.

For simply covering water and fishing through locations relatively fast, jerk baits like the Salmo Rattling Sting are simply deadly.  The lures have a long cast weight transfer system that allow for launching casts which is important early in the year when you must be able to reach spots and cover water.  Snapping the rod forward will cause the lure to slash and careen in opposite directions but the pause or stop between the snapping cadence is often what triggers strikes.  If I could pick just one hard lure for springtime smallmouths… my vote would be a jerk bait.

One change we have seen however on some fisheries is the move deeper by bedding bass.  This seems to correlate with angling pressure.  On heavily fished water, we are seeing more bass bedding in much deeper water.  Depending on the lake, these deeper locations are often seven to fifteen feet of water.  This is where deeper diving crankbaits and even some square bills can really shine especially if the fish are scattered and there are numerous locations along a shoreline that all have potential to hold fish.  Salmo Rattling Hornets in both the 5.5 and 6.5 sizes can be deadly along with Square Bills.

There are times however when soft baits shine particularly with extremely clear water or post frontal conditions that cool down water temps.  My favorite all-time plastic for early season smallmouth in shallow water would have to be a fluke style plastic.  Flukes can be fished slowly unweighted or fished faster like a jerk bait by simply rigging on a darter head.  You can also drop shot flukes particularly if you are fishing over deeper ten to fifteen-foot locations offshore.

Soft baits like flukes can be very effective on smallmouth bass in shallow water and are particularly effective in ultra-clear water or after cold front conditions.

I haven’t mentioned color yet but usually early in the year; location, depth and speed are so much more important.  In other words, if you find fish, you usually can catch them and often with a variety of presentations.  These fish are often triggered to react out of aggression.  Don’t be consumed with matching the hatch but do focus on being visible.  I usually vary from the basic white to dark spectrum.  White and pearl can be great colors as can be black, pumpkinseed and motor oil.  Crayfish patterns always seem to produce but these fish often strike out of annoyance.  Simply get lures in front of fish.

Spend time to really dissect locations and learn spots.  Always try to learn spots and fish from a comfortable distance.  If you can see fish, these are often the toughest fish to catch.  Try to back off far enough where seeing the fish is difficult.  If the water is ultra-clear and the fish are difficult, what I have done with great success is running my boat around the area with my big motor to churn up and stain some of the water, often just making a pass back and fourth idling upwind of the fish.  This will sometimes cloud up the water just enough where the fish are not as spooked and discriminating on the presentation.

Pictured is the author Jason Mitchell with guide Andrew Ragas with a great northern Wisconsin smallmouth.

Jason Mitchell Outdoors airs on Fox Sports North on Sunday mornings at 9:00 am.  More information including past episodes can be found online at www.jasonmitchelloutdoors.com

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About Author

Jason Mitchell is a professional angler, and outdoor writer. Host of Jason Mitchell Outdoors Television, he is a renown multi-species and ice angler, and owner of Devils Lake, North Dakota's, Mitchell's Devils Lake Guide Service.