I’m seeing a lot of photos these days on social media of anglers holding up big smallmouth bass. These images are highlighting lakes like Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota, Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay in Wisconsin, and of course there are those who post the picture but won’t give up the name of the lake. I understand. Sometimes it’s OK to have secrets.
There is just something about catching those smallmouth bass that can really make you want to come back for more. It could be the fact they crush lures, especially the ones scooting over the top of the water. It could be because they like to jump. You know when you hook one because you can see that line coming to the surface and when that fish comes flying out of the water with its head shaking it is a sight to behold. It could be they like to hang in packs and where you catch one, there are going to be a bunch more. There are a lot of things to love about catching smallmouth bass, which is why everyone loves the opportunity to target them on bodies of water where they are a dominant species.
Besides Chequamegon Bay, where I spend a lot of time these days, I love pulling a small fishing boat behind a big houseboat out of Sioux Narrows on Lake of the Woods in Canada and casting crankbaits to the rocks along the shorelines around the islands. You can have a week of 100-fish days in the middle of summer up there. I hope the houseboat industry can weather the COVID border closure because the lack of fishing pressure this summer means it will be gangbuster next year.
Sturgeon Bay out of Door County is my pick for the No. 1 smallmouth destination in the world. This fishery has both high numbers as well as an impressive size structure when it comes to smallmouth bass. Hire a great guide on your first couple of trips to this area so you can shorten your learning curve when it comes to techniques and locations. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even haul my boat there anymore. I just go with a guide. They always know where the lunkers are hiding.
My favorite technique? Topwater of course. I like the chuggers. Those lures with the big round cup on their nose, that when you snap the rod tip they pop and shoot a big splash of water over the surface. You can pause these lures and twitch them and smallmouth cannot resist a well-placed topwater.
When the smallies don’t want to commit to a topwater lure I go right to the dropshot setup with a circle hook tipped with a Gulp Leech or a Gulp Minnow. You can cover a lot of depths with this rig and it is my number-one producer when those fish are tight to bottom.
Of course everything works on smallmouth bass. Crankbaits, jigging spoons, plastic worms and twister tails, spinnerbaits, and I have even caught them on slip-bobbers and hair jigs.
The majority of anglers don’t list the smallmouth bass as their favorite freshwater species, though it is often in their top three as their favorite fish to hook. In my playbook the smallmouth bass has always been my No. 1 species to have on the end of my line.
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