Winning Patterns for Smallmouth Consistency All Summer Long
By Steve Mattson
“Did you see that one?” my fishing buddy Travis blurted out. I jerked my head to the side to see a chunky bronze bass roll underneath his Skitter Pop, creating an impressive boil. Having seen that many times in the past, Travis patiently waited to see the fish’s next move.
While he was waiting for a response, I impatiently pitched my tube in the vicinity of the boil and looked out of the corner of my eye for a response from my pal. By the time I looked back to where my tube hit the water, I could see my line jump and start sweeping to the side. I quickly reeled up the slack, set the hook and belted out a “fish on!”
“Seriously, hey that was my fish,” Travis replied. I didn’t want to tell him that it felt like a good one too, nor did I ask him to get the net. I knew I was on my own for this one. No worries though; we have been on both sides of that circumstance in the past and surely will be in the future too.
No fisherman should turn up his nose on a tip or technique that works. It is always a great starting point to any day on the water, but being open minded to what the fish want on any given day is necessary to become consistent.
Sometimes a different colored topwater bait would’ve gotten the fish to crush it instead of toy with it. And sometimes the different offering all together trips the trigger. On your next outing, start off with a consistent producer to get well on your way to catching smallmouth.
There is nothing complicated about this fabled technique. Just thread a twister tail onto a jig head, pitch it out as far as you can, and slowly reel it back in. Once it makes it back to the boat, then do the same thing over again. Swimming grubs, as we like to call it, has been around for what seems like an eternity, but it’s still around because it works. Slow and steady usually wins the race, but at times an erratic retrieve is needed to get them to react. Because of the overall weight of the presentation, use spinning gear and eight-pound mono or a superline such as Sufix 832 in 10-pound test.
Born on the shores of Lake of the Woods, guide and pro Jeff Gustafson is well versed with bronze bass. His go-to setup starts with the 3/16-ounce Northland Fishing Tackle Lip-Stick Jig-Worm. Depending on the circumstances, he’ll thread on either the four-inch Northland Impulse Swim’n Grub or Trigger X Aggression Swimming Grub in minnow-like color patterns. “I use the Impulse grub on calmer days due to its sleeker design, but when I need a little more thump from the tail, I’ll thread on the Trigger X,” says Gustafson.
Swim enough grubs in the water column and you will catch a smallmouth. It’s about as much of a lock as a jig and minnow is to catching walleye.
If you have never caught a smallmouth on a tube bait, then I would say you either haven’t used one before or there weren’t any smallmouth in the lake. Crayfish are a smallmouth’s favorite food, and a tube bait is just that to a hungry smallmouth.
There are many successful ways to fish a tube bait. For most of us, the best thing to do is make sure that we are soaking one in the water more times than not. Some of the biggest smallies I have seen have been caught on tubes.
In clear water, it’s tough to beat the deadstick game. Cast into a likely holding area and let the tube float to the bottom and just sit there. The tentacles will likely still undulate, and believe me if there was a smallmouth in the vicinity, then it saw the tube float to the bottom and is likely watching it. Keep watching your line for movement so you’ll know when to pick up the slack and set the hook.
For those of us who aren’t very patient, the other option is to slowly pull the tube across bottom, occasionally stopping it as we scour the bottom. Some anglers hop the tube constantly, and this will catch them if the fish are aggressive. If you ever watch a crawfish in the water, you’ll recognize how they react to danger. Try to do the same with your tube next time. Slowly move it on bottom, then give it a pop to simulate a darting crawfish, then let it lie motionless.
There are lots of tubes to choose from on the market, but stick to the slimmer profile tubes such as the Trigger X four-inch tube. Line watchers can benefit greatly from using a bright, superline such as Sufix Performance Fuse in fluorescent neon fire, and then tie on a small fluorocarbon leader to the end. This provides the invisibility on the business end but allows your line to be a beacon to what is happening under the water. It is a line watcher’s dream setup.
Top It Off
Is there anything more exciting than seeing your topwater bait get smoked by a hungry smallmouth? When it’s on, it’s on. They don’t have any fear of rising to the surface, and do so with lightning fast reflexes. Early morning through dusk, summer smallies love topwaters.
The most successful techniques of topwater fishing are matched to the conditions at hand. If it’s dead calm, then work your bait slowly and patiently. Cast it out near a good-looking locale and let the ripples disappear before making your first pop with a popper. Smallmouth have amazing eyesight and can zero in on things in their environment with relative ease. Chaos on the water seems to happen more so when it’s windy, as that is when it would be common to have a frightened, disoriented baitfish scurrying about without a clue. With a little chop on the water, I’ll ramp up the speed of a topwater and even switch over to prop-style baits like the Skitter Prop or longer, thinner profiles like the X-Rap Prop. With a little chop, it’s ok to make a little noise.
Load up your gear, your buddies, some tubes, topwaters and grubs, and plan on making contact with some smallmouth. And don’t forget your smartphone either. You’re going to get quite a few “likes” on your Facebook page when everyone sees the fish you catch.