SMALLMOUTH ARE EVERYWHERE!
For many anglers in this part of the world, smallmouth bass is a forgotten springtime choice once the ice is gone on our lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Since few places in the world have a better population of smallmouth than the section of lakes from southwestern Manitoba to northwestern Ontario, you’re missing out on a great sportfish.
In Northwestern Ontario, bass have made their way into virtually every lake, river and stream in the region. Originally stocked out of milk canisters by workers of the railway, the Canadian Shield country is ideal habitat for the smallmouth. Many lakes in this region are deep and clear with populations of both lake trout and smallmouth. While these oligotrophic lakes don’t hold huge populations of fish, they do grow large. My biggest, from a small little lake west of Kenora, was a solid five and half pound fish. Lake of the Woods, Shoal Lake and the Winnipeg River all have excellent populations of smallmouth, but the real sleepers are the small lakes off the side roads that dot the countryside.
In Manitoba they include: Falcon Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Star Lake, Caddy Lake, Crowduck Lake, the Winnipeg River from Pointe du Bois east, Shoe Lake, Tooth Lake, Echo Lake, Black Lake, Rocky Lake and Big Clearwater just to mention a few of the more prominent smallmouth waters in Manitoba. Now added to the list are some southwestern Manitoba waters. These include Deloraine Reservoir, that has been producing some big smallies in the last couple of years. Also on the list in the Manitoba Interlake is Lake Saint Andrew. The Manitoba Master Angler list show bass that reach 20 inches in length, a good bass in anyone’s book.
One of the best times to catch smallmouth is early open water, when those fish are still relatively deep, waiting for the shallow water to warm up. I remember an early May trip to Northwestern Ontario, on a combination lake trout/smallmouth lake, in which we found the smallmouth schooled up in their wintering spot. We were vertical jigging in about 20 feet of water and catching some real jumbos. The bass were just starting to move from the winter mud to hard bottom, then up to shallower water. A warmer spring day with some pretty good chop had got the fish up and active. Most of the smallmouth we caught that day were at least two feet up off the bottom, confined in a tight school on one corner of the reef. That’s were good electronics comes into play. Now with my new MinnKota Terrova, I can spotlock on key areas, which makes vertical jigging these fish that much easier.
SECOND STAGE SPRING TRANSITION TO EARLY SUMMER
On bigger lakes, with scattered deep fish, don’t be afraid to troll to contact smallmouth. We are talking extended flats out from the shallow water spawning areas. In this case water temperature is still below 50 Fahrenheit or about eight Celsius. One of the best ways to cover water is to use a deep diving jerkbait like the Rapala X Rap in the # 8 size. Bright colours also seem to work best, either a bright pink or chartreuse. In fact, pink has really grown in popularity with anglers for all species of fish including muskie and pike. At this time of year, you will be fishing water depths of eight to 12 feet and by using this size of jerkbait you can keep the lure in the fish zone for extended periods by slow trolling. By this I mean you want to constantly shift the boat in and out of gear so your trolling speed doesn’t exceed more than one mile an hour on your GPS. You also want to move the bait forward, then let it pause in place for 10 seconds so the bait slows down and gradually rises a bit(deadly). This gives the fish time to react to the lure in its strike zone and usually results in a bite. Use 10 pound test Fireline to get the lure down near the bottom. The lure must be within a couple of feet of the bottom to trigger strikes. At this time of the year the fish will not move a long way to feed.
THIRD STAGE SPRING TRANSITION
Once the water temperature rises close to 60 Fahrenheit, or 15 Celsius, these fish will congregate in shallow water. Key locations include flush areas which have both current and developing weed growth. These attract a huge amount of forage and the smallmouth along with pike and walleye go on a feeding binge. This is some of the absolute best fishing of the year! At this time over the last couple of years I have had tremendous luck using hair jigs or small jigs tipped with small plastic. It really is only a matter of fan casting to cover area and fifty fish days are usually the norm, not the exception.