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Bass Angler Magazine

Targeting the Shallow to Mid-Depth Range for Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Smackdown

by David A Brown

When smallmouth inhabit shallow to midrange depths, reaction baits can create incredibly exciting moments as these brown beasts are renowned for their aggressive nature and arm-jolting strikes. Often roaming in packs of similar-sized fish, smallmouth are driven by feeding competition and a natural curiosity. Show them swift-moving presentations like the LIVETARGET Yellow Perch Rattle Bait, a LIVETARGET Threadfin Shad Swimbait or the new Mustad Arm Lock Spinnerbait and anyone with an appetite will come take a look.
A time tested approach is to offer smallies something they’re used to seeing – and chasing – and eating. Crawfish are on the menu anytime smallies are on the rocks, and exceptional craw imitators can turn passive inspectors into ravenous eating machines. Consider showing smallies the LIVETARGET Hollow Body Craw when time – or money – is on the line. By strategically aligning two distinct lure families (hollow bodies and jigs), this lure sets a new standard in Craw imitations. The hollow carapace offers more than just a snag resistant design; anglers can squeeze scent paste inside the hollow cavity for a long lasting trail. The hollow body also emits tiny bubbles when the lure lands on bottom. This may be the perfect smallmouth trap!

No doubt, it’s fun when they chase, but much of the smallmouth game involves finesse fishing — either sitting overtop deep spots and “video gaming” (vertical presentations to fish spotted on down scanning sonar), or playing the game of cat-and-mouse with distant fish. For the latter, modern electronics have decidedly improved this game. Unquestionably, one the most impactful technological developments in a decade, forward-facing sonar has become a must-have tool for the serious bass angler, as it provides that all-important real-time image of what’s in front of the boat. It’s all about stealth and minimizing your presence in the fish’s world. Bedding fish and shallow roamers are easily spooked by an approaching boat’s sight, shadow and/or pressure wake, but forward-facing sonar enables you to spot a smallmouth before it’s aware of your presence. Think of it as long-distance sight fishing; an opportunity to target a fish in its naturally aggressive mood before the awareness of a potential threat puts it on high alert.

Even in deeper spots, the closer you get to the fish, the harder they are to catch. Smallies will tolerate well-placed baits dropping into their world, but once they become aware of the boat, the game changes. One of the top baits for this style of fishing is a dropshot rig. A cylinder weight hung below your favorite worm or baitfish imitator rigged on a Mustad TitanX Wacky/Neko/Dropshot Hook keeps a bait off the bottom and in the fish’s face. Other productive options include a Ned rig, a marabou jig and a tube. Whatever you throw, the immediate observation of forward-facing sonar not only allows you to make precision casts, it also provides the crucial feedback of fish response — key perspective that guides your presentation and retrieve adjustments.

Take Your Time: Most agree that a medium spinning rod like the 6’10” Mustad BLF Instinct Series, 8- to 10-pound braided line and a 6- to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader is the way to go. The ideal complement: patience. Big smallmouth fight with dogged persistence and rushing is the recipe for disaster. Take it easy on the drag, let them run when they feel the urge, keep the rod low to discourage jumps and maintain smooth, consistent pressure.
Big smallmouth won’t make this easy, but the rewards of diligence are indescribable.

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