Smallmouth bass are amazing fish, and late summer ushers in some of their most interesting behaviors of the season. In fact, it’s more of an identity crisis. I think legendary bassman Jimmy Lindner best explained what goes on inside a smallie’s mind when he said, “sometimes it thinks it’s a bass, and sometimes it thinks it’s a walleye.”
Right now, they’re in walleye mode.
Here’s what’s happening. On many lakes in my Upper Midwest fishing grounds, smallies are on the reefs in 10 to 20 feet of water. They’re grouped up and feeding heavily, roaming the rocks on the hunt for crayfish and other food sources.
A number of tactics take fish. You can attack them with topwaters, catch them on cranks, and stick ’em with a variety of soft-plastic baits.
While topwaters and jerkbaits can be killers early in the day, as the sun rises, it often pays to have patience and fish them like walleyes, with slower presentations. Dragging craw-colored Trigger X tubes is a deadly technique, as is drop-shotting anything that looks like a leech. From an artificial-only purist’s perspective, small leech-imitating plastics are hard to beat. If you enjoy live-bait fishing, a live leech is dynamite.
I like the plastic program, using a small worm, leech or goby-style bait 12 to 18 inches off bottom on a size 2 hook, using a 7-pound Invisiline fluorocarbon leader and 10-pound Sufix 832 braided mainline. The fluoro is low-vis, of course, while the braid boosts sensitivity, so you can feel the rig bouncing bottom and lift it over snags. Speaking of sinkers, I recommend tube-style drop-shot weights this time of year, because they come through the rocks better than round designs. Weights of 3/8- to 1/4-ounce are typically enough to do the trick unless you’re in heavy seas.
This is a great pattern when smallmouths act like walleyes, just keep in mind it won’t be long until they start behaving like bass and start moving shallower onto reef tops to really put on the feedbag. But that’s a story for another day!