By Nick Simonson
As ice breaks loose from area lakes and rivers and those stretches of two-to-three days of clear, warm conditions start spurring fish movement, smallmouth bass wake from a near-dormant winter state and start staging to head into the shallows and beget the next generation. While they won’t spawn until water temperatures typically reach around 55 degrees, bronzebacks will start making staging from deep water to the edge of shallow, rocky or gravelly flats and will also start feeding more aggressively as the water warms over 45 degrees. Being ready for this spring bite will give anglers a better shot at catching their biggest brown bass ever and having the right lures for these fish on hand will help with spring fishing.
Keeping things simple is the best way to seek out springtime smallmouth. Easy-casting and versatile jigs will help cover water, explore deeper staging areas, and probe the shallows in those warmer spring afternoons. Start with a ballhead jig dressed with a three-inch twistertail and work in from deep to shallow to make first contact with spring fish. In warmer waters, an active presentation will entice a reaction strike, while on those post-frontal days, a smaller jig worked slower or along the bottom of a breakline may be necessary to entice a sluggish fish.
Bucktail jigs also provide a good springtime option as the subtle shake of the hair gives lethargic bass something to target. In addition to traditional bucktail, many of the modern equivalents of this time-tested jig include craft hair, krystal flash and other synthetics to provide more realistic motion. Find a few options at the local tackleshop, or tie a few up in proven patterns for specific area waters.
When things are warm and spring weather stabilizes, a swim jig is a great lure for covering water and seeking out aggressive smallies. Cast out and worked back to the boat at various depths, these fairly new options help pinpoint bass locations and can result in some astounding strikes.
Whether early or late in the spring season, soft plastics are also a solid choice for smallmouth bass, as they can be worked slowly and methodically around staging and spawning areas for these fish. On those chilly, post-frontal days, a subtle stick like a four-inch Yamamoto Senko or Yum! Dinger on a Texas Rig or rigged wacky style and slowly offered up along a channel edge or drop off will get stubborn smallmouth to bite. They work wonders around deeper structure as well all-season long.
Tubes and creature baits serve dual purposes throughout the spring for smallmouth bass. Early on, they represent native food sources like crayfish, hellgrammites and chub-like baitfish that bronzebacks gorge on prior to the spawn when water temperatures get into and above the 45-degree range. Later on, when the spawn is setting up, these baits resemble those same creatures, but instead of prey, they are nest-raiding nasties that need to be eaten to protect nest and the smallmouth eggs within it. Worked slow in the shallows during late spring around the cleared-out smallmouth nests, these lures will get picked up quickly.
Finally, a number of crankbaits are available for various stages of springtime smallmouth fishing. Suspending jerkbaits like the Rapala X-Rap, Husky Jerk and the like are great early season offerings. These baits, when paused after a wild, jerky retrieve, will elicit monster hits from spring smallies when worked over breaklines or deeper pre-spawn staging areas. Stickbaits in both natural colors like shiner, chub or crayfish along with brighter patterns such as clown, orange or firetiger are worth having at the ready.
When smallmouth bass move up into the shallows, banging shallow-diving crankbaits like the Rapala DT-series, or square-billed offerings against rocks and off timber can set fish off. Burn them through likely holding areas to find fish and trigger massive takes. These are just a few of the options to consider as spring settles into the area and smallies wake from their winter slumber. Stock up now and ready those rods for another great season of brozeback fishing.