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Warming up to Spring Smallmouth  at Cabela's

Warming up to Spring Smallmouth

Author: Scott J. Hamilton

As a guide, my clients often pepper me with questions. I always try to answer them accurately based on my years of experience, but some require a touch of salt.

Scott Hamilton hefts a fat Canadian smallmouth. Photos by Bill Morgenstern.
As a guide, my clients often pepper me with questions. I always try to answer them accurately based on my years of experience, but some require a touch of salt. Some questions are truly enlightened, for example, "What do you do to catch smallmouth bass after a cold front?"

Tough question, obviously coming from an angler who has faced the problem. Other questions are down right bazaar. "Where are the washroom facilities?" I was asked this one when we were 25 miles from the nearest "Loo". My answer was, "behind that big white pine over yonder." I am often asked. "What are the best baits and lures to take on my early spring smallmouth fishing trip?" And, "What tackle will I need?"

I love these questions. They allow me to have some control over an angler's success. When guiding clients, I want them to catch fish. Hey, it's great for them and better for me. I am tickled, they're thrilled and I know I will have return business.

What are the best baits and tackle to take along on a Canadian smallmouth bass fishing trip? Assuming an angler has done his homework and is planning to fish a lake loaded with smallmouth, the question is quickly answered. You don't have to take a second mortgage on your house to buy what you need for the trip, a few basic jigs and plastics do the trick.

Water temperatures are in the mid 30's to lower 40's for a month after ice out. A slow presentation is required, when you want to tempt a bite from inactive fish. Vertical jigging with plastics has proven, season after season, to be deadly for sluggish bronzebacks.

Sensitive graphite jigging rods 6 to 6 1/2 feet long, are the best for most jigging applications. Depending on your budget, buy the best rods you can afford. If you want top of the line, be prepared to spend hundreds of dollars. If that is beyond your means, great rods priced between $75 and $150 are available. In most cases, buying combos will save you money.

Combine your rods with top quality, medium sized spinning reels. Each reel needs a top quality drag system to provide you with the necessary performance. I use reels from Shimano and Abu Garcia but most manufactures have an elite line of reels available. For cold water, spool up with a premium, limp, 8-pound test line. Sensitivity and rod action is key to early season success. Another important piece of gear for airline anglers is a quality rod case, with a lock. Arriving with a broken rod, or an empty case, can ruin a great trip before the boat has left the dock.
Another fat smallmouth comes to the boat. Photos by Bill Morgenstern.
In early spring, smallmouth bass bite very lightly. Hits are extremely soft. When you feel the slightest resistance, set the hook! One of my clients said, "It feels like snagging a wet sponge that pulls back like a ton of Brahma bull". In the spring, smallmouth try to stay on the bottom, just like big walleye.

Don't expect the usual acrobatics from spring smallmouth. Just be on guard for a tremendous Tug-O-War. This is where confidence in a rod and reel combination pays big dividends. Never skimp on quality.

After years of pursuing early season smallmouth, I have discovered that natural looking lures produce best. In cold water, smallies turn their noses up at large, gaudy colored baits. These baits work well in the summer, for active fish. Leave them at home in the early part of the season. Last spring, a client showed up at the dock with a wheel barrel full of lures. He insisted on taking everything along. As it turned out, all he needed was a handful of jigs and plastics from my small tackle pack.

Tube jigs are the backbone to spring smallmouth angling. I use small tubes rigged on 1/4- to 1/8-ounce jig heads. At this time of year, smallies are feeding on baitfish. It is impossible to match smallmouth prey without using different sized tubes. One to 4-inch tubes are all you need.

I always say, any color will work great as long as it is silver, black, gray or a combination of them. Here is a classic example of matching what the fish are feeding on. Small minnows or baitfish are what I try to mimic in the early spring. Most manufacturers produce some fantastic tubes. Berkley, Gitzit, Gene Larew and Strike King all market tubes that fit the bill for spring smallies. Salted or scented tubes are an important option to consider. Here is a tip. A little rattle in your tube could make all the difference. Several tackle makers sell small rattles that can be added to your lures. I do anything to tip the odds in my favor when fishing for inactive bass. Other bait choices to bring along on your fishing trip include, plastic twister tails and hair jigs. Try natural colors in smaller sizes. If the baits you choose aren't scented, think about using a spray on or dunk attractant like Yum or Smelly Jelly.

Over time, I have found the benefits of using quality jig heads equipped with premium hooks. Strong, sharp hooks provide the best opportunities to land trophy smallmouth. Light wire hooks straighten during extended battles. Dull hooks are just no good at all. Owner, Gamakatu, Mustad and VMC hooks are used by a number of jig manufactures. Shop around and be sure to load your tackle box with them.

Early spring smallmouth fishing can be tough. Go back to the locations where you caught your last smallie in the fall. Likely, they'll still be there. When you find the fish, practice catch and release. Most big smallmouth that you catch are females that are ready to spawn. If you let them go, you can help to ensure future success. Released fish turn into record book entries. Filets turn into. . . well, you get the point.

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