Smallmouth Bass Basics

Here at Vermilion Bay Lodge (VBL) we are lucky to have all five major species of game-fish (walleye, pike, lake trout, musky, & smallmouth bass). Eagle Lake has potential for big bass (5#’s plus), with a good average size (2-3#’s) being the norm. For getting into larger numbers of fish, we have boats on smaller portage lakes. Your reward for the extra effort required to get into these is a lake full of bass. High-Rock & Caribou Lakes are two of the best. Without a doubt, smallmouth bass don’t receive the attention that walleye and northern do. That’s a good thing if you really like to fish for bass because the competition from other anglers is practically nonexistent. For those of you who might be a little “rusty” on this species, we are going to offer you a few elementary tips on what to do should you decide to try and catch these feisty fish.

Seasonal Tactics: To keep it very simple lets divide up the whole season in three parts. In early spring when the water temps reach 60 degrees, the bass are in spawning locations, very shallow, and very concentrated. This usually begins about June 1st and lasts about two weeks. Don’t worry about where to look, we can point you in the right direction here at the lodge. As spring progresses into summer, the bass are spread out, relating to shoreline structure. Early morning & evenings are the best times of day to find them feeding in close and shallow. Preferred temperatures during this time are 65 to 70 degrees. During mid-day, expect them to be suspended in deeper water close to these shallower areas. By mid to late September, bass will be spending more time in deeper water, congregating on mid-lake humps and reefs, once again becoming very concentrated.

On the Water Tactics: There are many baits and techniques designed to catch smallmouth bass. We are going to assume you don’t know any of them, have just motored away from the dock, and have been given a few locations (and baits?) to try by the lodge owner at VBL. There are a couple of key things to remember:

The first is to put your baits tight to the structure you are fishing! This is very important. The structure might consist of a single big boulder in a field of smaller ones, a downed tree along a stretch of shoreline, a rock face offering some shade, or a rock point tapering into deeper water.

The second is to not rush your retrieve or hook set. The first few feet of your retrieve are the most important. Let your bait pause when it hits the water…watch the ripples move away from your bait and be prepared to set the hook. This can be challenging when using a top water lure. A common mistake is to set the hook immediately when the fish strikes. You will hook more fish by momentarily pausing when you see the hit. Otherwise there is a good chance that you will pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth. Try to hold back until you actually feel the hit! This is a skill that comes with experience. Twitch your bait, let it rest again, begin an erratic retrieve. Bass are very aware of any nearby commotion and will come to investigate. Be patient and don’t rush it! The lakes we fish have good water clarity. So even bass hanging suspended off structure in deeper water (10-15′) can react to a bait struggling on the surface. Chances are if you don’t have results on the first half of your retrieve you can speed up and cast to the next spot.

Suggested Baits to Use: Some of the best baits for early season and fishing tight to structure are surface baits, or at least baits that are “floaters”. You are less likely to get hung up and the spectacle of big bass smacking top water baits is amazing! Give some of these a try: Rapala Skitter Prop (lime frog pattern), Rapala Skitter Pop (no prop), Pop-R’s, Heddon Zara Spook or one of many buzz baits. Other shallow diving baits can also be dynamite, and allow you the ability to fish them as a surface or subsurface bait. Good ones are the Rapala Original Floating Minnow, & the Rapala Shallow Shad Rap (perch pattern is hot). Smaller spinner baits can also be effective as well as in-line spinners such as the Mepp’s #4. Rubber worms such as a Senko are a killer bait and can be used with a small jig head or rigged with a worm hook. This bait requires a slower retrieve (letting it sink to the bottom and twitching it back), and can be highly effective. As summer rolls around having a few deeper diving baits to work deeper shorelines are helpful. Try the Rapala Shad Rap or Rapala Tail Dancer. The basic lead head jig tipped with live bait or one of many good plastics (Gulp Minnow, Berkley Realistic Minnow) is effective, especially in fall.

The lures mentioned are just a small fraction of what is available, but for sake of simplicity, we have kept the number down to the bare bones, essential baits that we have had success with.

Other Equipment Basics: Go with 6-10 pound test mono on a spinning reel with a good working drag. You could also opt for 10 # super-line (Fireline works well) if you wish, but be sure and use a 3′ fluorocarbon or mono leader. Bass are wary and the less visible you are to them the better results you will have. A seven foot, medium power rod will help you make longer casts than a shorter rod will. Some quality ball bearing snap swivels are essential if using spinners such as a Mepp’s to eliminate line twist. As we encourage catch & release (on our portage lakes we expect it) we suggest that you flatten down the barbs on the hooks. When you are in the midst of a fish flurry you will appreciate the ease by which you can safely deal with your catch, never mind the point of keeping your lure in the water more than your partner!

Why not join us in person here at Vermilion Bay Lodge and let us introduce you to some fine smallmouth bass fishing. Our web site will provide you details on our accommodations, services and prices.