Tips For Catching Trophy Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass
Time and time again over the years, I have listened to many anglers and clients express their frustration at trying to catch smallmouth bass. Most anglers don't realize that these fish have their own set of behaviors that sets them apart from largemouth bass. The major differences between a smallmouth and a largemouth bass are as follows:
If you fish for smallmouth here in the northeast, especially in the Susquehanna river in Maryland, you will find that smallmouth bass do not stick that tight to cover. This is even more apparent in some of our slack water reservoirs. Smallmouth relate much more to a sudden or rapid depth change than they do cover. When we fish for largemouths, we are all taught to fish brushpiles and thick weedbeds, but small mouth bass are more likely to be caught on a rock ledge that drops off quickly from about six to twelve feet.
When fishing in the reservoirs here such as Conowingo, or in the rivers like the Susquehanna, smallmouths are sometimes caught shallow, but they are seldom more than 10-20 yards away from deep water. The Rapala DT series has been taking good smallmouth in these areas.
Everywhere we go, we see the majority of bass anglers beating the shoreline, and as this may work for largemouth bass most of the time, if you are after big smallmouth bass, turn around and cast to the open water rather than beat the shore.
Unlike largemouth, smallmouth often group together by size. I found that if we were catching smaller fish, in the eleven to fourteen inch range, we rarely caught a big one in the same area. On the other hand, when we caught a smallmouth that was above four or five pounds, many times there were several that size and even larger swimming right along with them. Big largemouth bass are loners, usually found by themselves on the best piece of structure, while larger smallmouth bass will often school together.
There are several things that tell you that smallmouth bass are much better suited for strong current than largemouth. For one, their pointed noses and the sharp angle of their fins are indicators that they are more suited to current. They often get behind a rock or stump and rush out to feed. Largemouth can adapt somewhat to current, but are much more at home in slack water.
Locating and then catching big smallmouth is a real challenge. That is why it is so much fun. Hopefully by reading some of these methods you have gained a better understanding of where these trophy fish go and what they are looking for, and of course, this will hopefully get you the fish of a lifetime. Remember, get out early and late in the year and brave the elements, hit these prime areas with the baits we described, and remember most of all, you are after a completely different fish! "These are NOT Largemouths!"
There are thousands of small ponds, lakes, and rivers that hold "Huge Bass" from Maine to Florida. Over the last 10 years of maintaining records, and having caught and released over 600 bass from 5 to 10 pounds, from small waters on the East Coast, and one over 10 pounds from Delaware, here are the tactics I have found that produce consistent trophies each year.
Even in small bodies of water (under 1000 acres), there will be only a small portion of the water that will hold the biggest bass. The most important features to look for are the areas where more than two or three different types of vegetation come together in the same area. Now, not all of these areas will hold big fish. The largest fish in the lake will always be in the best cover and locations. This will be where the various grasses combine near a creek channel on or near the beds and flats, adjacent to deep water cover.
Generally, this deep water access will contain other cover also, which is not visible without the use and understanding of good electronics, and a good understanding of what you are observing. Sometimes the features on the bottom will be subtle, but will be the "Hot Spot" of the area. Small depressions, with rocks or boulders along the drop-off, if they have a current break, will be prime locations for "Trophy Bass." When there is no real cover such as rocks or trees, sometimes depth alone can provide the proper cover from light penetration, and produce good results.
In small bodies of water such as in Delaware and Maryland, the bass are generally in or very near the same locations all year. This does not guarantee a trophy by any means whatsoever. It is rare to catch the biggest fish in the lake by conventional means. Many large bass from five to eight pounds are caught on artificials, such as spinnerbaits, jigs, frogs, swimbaits, and buzzbaits each year, but as a rule, the true trophies, 9 pounds and above, are caught on specialized techniques and live bait. Recently, several big bass have been hitting big "Saltwater" Rat-L-Traps in the 3/4 ounce and up size in various colors, worked with a fast, pumping action of the rod, and with swimbait tactics employed by the west coast anglers.
The Sebile "Magic Swimmer" and the Tru-Tungsten 4 inch swimbait have really produced some big bass in the northeast. I never believed that these baits would work here until I met Bill Seimantel at the Big Bass World Championship at Table Rock lake in Missouri in 1999, and he convinced me to try them here in the northeast. Since that time swimbaits of all types have produced numerous trophy class fish.
When fishing for true "Trophy Bass", the best bait to use is the primary forage in the body of water where you are fishing. This should be researched in advance by contacting the Fish and Game Department of the state you are planning to fish in, and checking with local tackle shops. You also need to know what is legal to use in each state you're fishing.
Most lakes, ponds, and rivers in the Delaware and Maryland area, have golden shiners in them, and they will really produce big bass. When these are not available, extra-large wild shiners are the next best choice. If you insist on using only artificials, then a large frog, big buzzbait, a 12" worm, a 3/4 to 1 1/2 ounce Rat-L-Trap, or a "Castaic," "Sebile", or "Matt Lures" Swim Bait are the best choices.
You will need at least two or three dozen shiners each time you go, and they must be in a temperature controlled, chemically treated bait keeper system to ensure they are lively. This is very important. When using live millroach or shiners over a deep structure, I like to hook them through the back, and for drifting, through the lips. When working cattails, marsh reeds, and heavy pads, I hook them through the tail and let them swim in towards the heavy cover where the bass are. Use 3/0 to 5/0 sharp, Daiichi or X-Point hooks. I like to use balloons instead of bobbers, they work best if you blow them up to about the size of a small orange. You can tie them directly on the line, and use split shot if you prefer.
The best equipment is a heavy action, 7-7 1/2 foot, E-glass or S-glass rod, of high quality, such as a G.Loomis or St.Croix. Recently, many rod manufacturers are making rods of composite and graphite materials that are lighter, yet stronger, and produce the same characteristics of the older E or S Glass rods. G. Loomis makes a good one, as well as Kistler. I always use line of at least seventeen pound test, and most of the time twenty to thirty pound monofilament. In certain deep water, or heavy cover situations, I use forty to fifty pound test "Stren Super Braid", or "Power-Pro line".
I suggest using a good baitcast rod, but a spinning rod in heavy action will also work. The reels should be a strong metal reel, with at least 3 ball bearings, and strong gears of brass or better, in a 5:1:1 or 5:3:1 gear ratio, or similar range. It is best for all around power and speed on these larger fish. Knots are very important. The best knot to use is the Palomar, it has 100% knot strength. You should also learn some other specialty knots for braid and other superlines as well.
The best time to go is whenever you can. However, if you have only a few days, and can choose, the solunar tables, weather conditions, and barometer, should all be considered. They play a major role in fish activity. In the very early spring, anglers who are willing to brave the elements will catch the biggest bass. These fish strike earlier in the year than most people imagine.
There are some great small waters for Trophy bass in Rhode Island, Vermont, Minnesota, Florida, and of course, California, Arizona, and Texas. However in the Northeast, you can't go wrong by spending your time in Delaware at Noxontown Lake in Middletown, Lums Pond in Bear, Killens in Dover, and Diamond in Milton. The Susquehanna River, Liberty Reservoir, and the Potomac River in Maryland also hold huge fish where you can catch both largemouth and smallmouth.. These waters, fished with the techniques outlined in this article, will produce you the "Trophy of a Lifetime."
Northeast Bass Fishing For Trophy Bass
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Steve was the owner of a bass fishing Guide Service in Wilmington, Delaware, Anglers Radio in Delaware and New Jersey, and Delaware Tackle in Delaware. He is a tournament angler and freelance outdoor writer. He has over 40 years of fishing experience in the Northeast and California. He has fished lakes, ponds, and rivers from 1962 until the present. His new website offers over 150 bass fishing instructional videos for free at Delaware Trophy Bass.
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