With early summer comes smallmouth bass spawning season. In Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba it can be the best time to chase bronzebacks. Early June sees the bass in familiar spawning areas of shallow rock and gravel. With a myriad of new, and classic baits to choose from it can seem like a never-ending proposition. Luckily, most anglers can get by on a minimum of lures. At this time of the year I usually can get by on three types of lures.
First, is the jerkbait style, made famous by the Rapala Husky Jerk. Second, is the small inline spinner; with the most common being the Mepps #5. And lastly is the top water, for us mainly the Arbogast Hula Popper or Heddon Torpedo. Many other companies make lures of similar styles to those listed above.
For the average fishermen, and especially the angler new to smallmouth, this three-lure approach can make your time on the water way more efficient. Granted, it may not be the best lure selection every day, but for the bulk of the spawning season it will be the go-to selection. The beauty of only needing a few styles in a few different colours is the simplicity.
Almost every angler, from novice to pros has thrown a jerkbait. With a twitch, pull and pause technique over shallow rocks or gravel bars it’s a deadly presentation. In our experience during the spawn, a jerk style bait is best used over rocky shoreline or structure. In situations where you can let the bait ‘hang’ over the rock for a second or two between twitches. Over deep break lines along shoreline the pause will allow the bass to find the bait from their hiding spots within the cover. The jerkbait is also dynamite when fished around docks and cribs. Bass love spawning around these areas, and with a few well-placed casts you can pull bass out from underneath almost anything. Some of our personal favourite jerkbaits are the Rapala X-Rap and RipStop. The LiveTarget Jerkbait 90 and 115 are great, as well as the Dace Jerkbait. We prefer natural colours in olive, pearls and silver/black.
One of the most famous lures of all time is the Mepps #5. This classic lure earned its reputation honestly, it plain and simple catches fish. It’s also easy to fish, a straight retrieve, fast or slow, it doesn’t really matter. The small inline spinner can be used anywhere, the pull through weeds surprisingly well and are most effective covering large areas of water. Over gravel flats they are great at calling in fish with their distinctive blade thump. Working through timber is easy, as they stay high up in the water column and can be cast with pinpoint accuracy. The small profile is excellent over super shallow rocky shoreline, where a cast can be placed almost on shore and instantaneously be burnt back to the boat. No other bait can do this as well. A trick we use, if you know the lake well enough, is get the boat tight to shore and cast parallel to shore. Pulling the lure along the shore line. This way the lure acts as a wounded baitfish swimming in the shallows, not out to deep water. If you could only pick one, the Mepps Black Fury in red or orange dots and grey/orange tail would be hard to beat. Other great colour choices are gold/black and white/red.
Top water lures and bass go hand-in-hand. Nobody can deny the thrill of catching bass on topwater. And for kids and novice anglers it’s the ultimate way to get someone “hooked” on fishing. While many great top water lures exist, we’ll keep it simple. Our two favourites, for us and our kids, as well as clients of our guide service, are the Hula Popper and Torpedo. When the bass are up shallow over rocks, or on a large mid lake gravel bar, pulling a topwater over them drives them crazy. The Hula Popper requires a sharp, short downward twitch with the rod to get the correct pop of water in front of the lure. But a few practice casts at the dock and it becomes second nature to most. The loud pop of the water shooting out from the lure will pull all but the most finicky bass in. Rarely does a strike not take you by surprise, they hit the lure from the side, or underneath and be ready with a solid hook set.
PROP BAITS DRIVE THEM WILD!
The Torpedo, with a prop style blade can be slow rolled back to the boat and the prop will cause a commotion. We like to use it with a twitch and pause retrieve. The prop blade causes more disturbance and it really seems to attract fish. A young client used a Torpedo to outfish the rest of the boat last summer by using the twitch–pause technique. By being able to stay above the snaggy rocks and let the bait hang over key spots; he put together a great day of smallmouth success.
Both baits can be used in a variety of instances and are effective throughout the season. As the noise they make will aggravate fish from long distances, they can be used over various depths of structure. Fishermen have debated top water color for years; our choices tend to be baby loon or duck patterns on poppers, and natural olive or silver/white on torpedo.
SEE YOU ON THE WATER
The next time you plan a day of smallmouth fishing, keep it simple. Don’t get caught up in the hype of ‘must-have’ new lures. Many pros have made a living off these three styles of lures. They are easy to fish, even for beginners and children. While they may not be the best choice year–round, during the spawning period they can be super productive.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT ROD AND REEL
Rarely in the bass world does one rod fit all techniques. But with these lures you can pick a rod to cover it all well. A classic jerkbait baitcasting rod will typically be in the 6’8” to 7’1” range with a moderate to heavy power and fast action. This type of rod will suffice for all the lure types we’ve talked about. A baitcasting reel with a higher ratio, for faster retrieve will help you cover more water with the inline spinner bait. As well, it will help catch up on the jerk bait and popper style top water baits, somewhere in the 6.1:1 ratio and above is a good starting point. We generally use braided line, in the 20 pound range, tied to a barrel swivel and a short fluorocarbon lead tied directly to the lure.
If you don’t have this gear, don’t worry, use what you have. The important thing is getting out on the water. Stop at your local tackle shop, like Bobby’s Sport Shop in our hometown of Vermilion Bay, ON and ask for advice on rods, reels and lures. Just remember, sometimes simple is better.