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How to Catch Smallmouth Bass

At times Smallmouth Bass seem like the easiest fish in the world to catch and other times they just follow your lure or disappear into the deep and you don't see them at all. Smallmouth Bass act differently on different lakes. The depth of the lake, the water temperature, the time of year, the structure of the lake, the weather and the most available food sources all effect where the Smallmouth Bass will be and how they are feeding.

If you are a beginner to Smallmouth Bass fishing then you should know that Smallmouth Bass like to hang around rocky areas such as shoals, small islands and rocky points but they will also hide in thick weeds or hand out at the mouth of narrows where minnows are migrating through. Their favorite food is crayfish (crawdads) and minnows. Crayfish are illegal to use as bait in Ontario as a means of preventing the invasion of the Rusty Crayfish, which has already destroyed many lakes farther south and in the mid-western USA. Live minnows are allowed if the minnows come from the same water system. Salt-cured minnows are allowed and the Smallmouth Bass go bonkers over them.


In the spring the mature mating pairs will try to find sandy areas near the shore where there is dead-fall in the water or rotting logs on the bottom. They can be mixed in with the sand or just near by. Rotting wood helps neutralize the alkalinity of the water thus maximizing the survival rate of the eggs. Spring is when you can catch some of the biggest Smallmouth Bass in the lake but this time of year they spook very easily, which is why many people never find them. You need to approach the area stealthily and cast very small shallow-running Rapalas, Thundersticks or other minnow mimicking lures. They need to be natural colors such as Perch, silver-&-black or silver-&-gold to look like natural fish in the lake. The Smallmouth Bass will hit these lures but not because they are hungry; they hit the lures to protect their eggs.

Early Spring:

In northern Ontario we have the big Mayfly hatch every spring so many small to medium size Smallmouth Bass stay super deep and gorge themselves on the Mayfly larva as they come out of the mud on the bottom of the lake. They are next to impossible to catch at this time. The bigger bass are in the shallows spawning. In most areas, not all, the Smallmouth Bass season is closed anyway. There is no closed season for Smallmouth Bass on Anishinabi Lake but there is a size limit in the spring where you can't keep any bass over 13.8 inches as that's the size when they start mating.

Late Spring Early Summer:

By late spring or early summer, depending on how far north you are, the Smallmouth Bass will be back in their normal feeding patterns. On a cool or mild sunny day they will be right up on the shoals or off the rocky points in shallow water and easy to find and catch. When they are in the shallows you can cast shallow running baits. Smallmouth Bass will hit any color but they tend to favor Perch, Fire tiger, Chartreuse and blue.

If it's a really hot sunny day or a windy day the Smallmouth Bass will back off the shoals and sit in deeper water on the calm side of the shoal. Smallmouth Bass usually back away from areas where wave action is oscillating the water. I must create some discomfort for them. The water on top of a shoal can get too warm and have low oxygen levels. If you are fishing in this type of weather try dropping tube jigs or just a straight worm-&-hook with no weight off into the darker deeper water adjacent to the shoals or points. If you are not on a shoal, rather a rocky point, the Bass will go farther off shore but stay in the general area.

Stormy Low Pressure Days with Soft Wind:

On a rainy overcast afternoon with low pressure, soft wind but still warm temperatures, the Smallmouth Bass will move to the deeper water behind the points of islands and sit in 8 or 10 feet of water right where the calm water meets the choppy water that's whipping around the point. You can drop a worm or tube jig or cast the water-line with deep running crankbaits. A small blue-&-Silver Cotton Cordell crankbait or rattle bait is super hot in Northern Ontario. You should also try other colors and lures because you never know what mood they are in. Small Perch or blue colored flatfish also work well. Flatfish are actually hard to find because people stopped using them in the 80s.

Stormy Low Pressure Days with High Winds:

Low pressure combined with the water oscillation from big waves sometimes drives the Smallmouth Bass deep. On windy days we have drifted by small islands and shoals dropping heavier tub jigs down 40 feet deep and just slaughtered the bass. It's almost like bad weather means a community get-together for all the bass in the area. You should try green or brown tub jigs and shove a small piece of worm into the jig for extra flavor. You should use salted tub jig rubbers, not artificial scent rubbers. Most fish in the north do not like artificial scents. You might have to drift past all sides of the shoal or try different points before you hit a big school of them.

In the Fall:

In northern Ontario fall weather is usually warm and very stable. The bass will be in the shallows and around the rocks but by this time of year there is less food by the shore and it does not support big schools of bass so you just need to troll along the shore and stop and cast at points because the Smallmouth Bass are spread out all long the shore trying to hunt down food.

Fall time in a Lake Trout lake can be the exact opposite. A lake with Lake Trout has trout because there are open water bait-fish supporting them. Lake Trout lakes will have suspended schools of Lake Herring, Chad, Cisco, Whitefish, Chub and Shinners. In the fall when much of the spring minnows have been eaten along the shore the monster size Smallmouth Bass will head out into open water and stay anywhere from 25 to 45 feet deep and gorge themselves on Herring. The best thing to do is drift with tube jigs and drop them down to where you see fish on your depth finder. You can also troll very slowly and deep with a worm harness and a big fat worm using the 3-way swivel technique described on our Lake Trout tips page.