The Smallmouth Part Three
Lures and techniques that work
This is where the real fun begins! Where we get to play with the magic of lures. Where we get to go in search of that one lure that will knock them dead every time. If you are like most of the fishermen I know, when you get to the place where you're going to start fishing, then you decide what lure you're going to use. I usually kind of reverse that whole process. I frequently have the lure I am going to start fishing tied on before I even have the boat trailer hooked on the truck! My circumstances are very different from what you normally face. In most cases, it will have only been a day or two since I last fished a particular place. I pretty much know ahead of time exactly where I will be fishing, how deep the water will be, and what the fish have been eating.
I have caught the first fish of each new season within four or five yards of exactly the same place for the last four or five years! I have caught the last fish of the season in the same place as the first, for three or four of the last five or six years! I will catch the first fish of next season, in the same place, and on the same lure I caught this seasons first fish on! I use the combination of my past experience and anticipated conditions on which to base my decision.
What do you base this decision on? Is it how deep or shallow the water is where you'll be fishing; or what the fish have been feeding on for the past couple of days; or what you think they will strike today? Just a hunch, or gut feeling?
A number of years ago I paired with a tournament partner who was fishing his very first tournament. I watched him fish all day with what I thought was the wrong lure. A lure he had picked because the previous year, on that same lake, on that lure, he had caught a four pound bass. Of course that was August, and this tournament was in April, less than a week after ice out. But he was convinced that that was the magic lure! I tried to "suggest" that he might want to re-think what he was doing. To the point where I caught 6 fish (the tournament limit was three) called him up by the live well, had him watch me release three, and told him they could have been his three. I offered him the lure I caught them on and he still wouldn't take it! I mean, with some people it's hard!
I have about a half dozen of what I call my high confidence lures. They will work almost any time, almost anywhere, from the time the season starts, until it ends. If the fish are where I'm fishing! In actual practice, most days will start out with the person in the bow using one of these, the person in the stern another, and me, in the middle, using a third. If two of them are topwater lures the third will be on the bottom. If no one is catching fish the reason is obvious. The dumb guide doesn't have you on fish! It's really that simple! Now I know everyone wants to know what those six lures are and I'm going to tell you, later.
First, how did I pick them? They are not the result from one day of fishing or one season's worth of fishing or even from fishing on a single river or lake. They work on the Penobscot, Piscataquis and Kennebec Rivers in Maine as well as all of the lakes I have fished up here. Some of them, those that I have tried, worked on Lake Powell in Arizona, and they all have worked on every other place wherever I have ever tried them!
They have worked on Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Striped Bass, Pickerel, Atlantic Salmon, Landlocked Salmon, several kinds of Trout, a variety of Sunfish, River Chubs and a White Sucker or two, Mackerel and Bluefish! All of these fish, from Maine to Arizona on the same six lures! Then someone asks on these boards, " What's your favorite lure?" All of them!
Now think about this for a minute. I'm not just talking about confidence. I'm talking about complete confidence. If the fish are there, these six lures will catch them. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Put these six lures in front of fish, and you will get bit! If you aren't getting bit, move, you haven't found the fish yet!
About now, a bunch of you are thinking that I'm full of beans and buttermilk (or something). Feel free to think that. It's your choice and I have no problem with it. This is what I do guiding. It's how I actually fish and there has been one day when I have had clients skunked in the last eleven years! And I know why, and it wasn't the lures! We had found the fish, could see the fish, lots of fish, but they had other things on their minds that day. The very next day, in the very same places, we caught and released over thirty that weighed three pounds or better!
By now some of you are reading ahead looking for me to name them, so here they are. The first is Pradco's Floating 4" Rebel. Some of you call this a jerkbait. I don't know from jerkbaits. I refuse to accept that there is such a thing as a jerkbait, and I certainly don't use them. To me, this is a surface "twitch" bait; a teaser type of lure to be activated with a minimum of motion either on or just under the surface. It is effective about ten to twenty percent of the time, but when it is working, it is very, very effective.
My second choice, and these are not in any order of preference because the time of year influences that, but in any case my second lure is a Mepps Aglia in-line spinner. I use these in sizes from #3 on up to the Musky Killers. The size of the Smallmouth you can occasionally catch on the little #3s will sometimes scare you. We use these from just under the surface to just above the bottom, and I have even caught Catfish on these! I usually have a selection of these in the boat in case I get into trouble, and over the years they have never failed me. If the smaller fish get too "pesky", I just move up to a larger size. I suspect the larger spinners intimidate the small fish a bit. I prefer the ones with the squirrel tail dressing but I don't believe it makes a lot of difference to the fish.
Now for the Gary Yamamoto lures. They are my other four choices. And the Gary Yamamoto grubs, probably the lure they are best known for, don't even make my list! Even without the grubs I have a problem getting the Yamamoto lures down to my "magical" manageable number! In point of fact, I used the Yamamoto lures for 90% or more of all my fishing last season, and never needed anything else! Anyhow, Yamamoto lures, the "All American" lure with the Japanese name, last year became my work horse lure! The first two I will name are pretty much interchangeable, the big difference in my mind being that I think of one, The 6" Senko, as being a "surface" lure or one to be used close to the surface and the Big Ika, (Pronounced Eeka. I said it wrong for almost a year, before I learned better) which I view as a bottom lure, or one to be used close to the bottom. Now having said this I have to tell you I have caught fish on both near the bottom, on the top and in between! Don't waste time trying to understand my mind, I still don't, and I have lived with it for 64 years! Gary Yamamoto makes 4 sizes of Senkos and 2 sizes of Ika, but the ones I have named are the ones I use the most. I further suspect that I could get away with using only these two lure for the entire season and not have it cost me any fish! Anyhow these are numbers three and four.
Number five is also a Gary Yamamoto lure, the 99 series (larger) skirted, double tail grub. Not a true grub, but rather a great big spider jig -- a truly strange and versatile lure. When un-weighted, it has an extremely slow rate of fall, which has helped us catch a bunch of fish. They can be rigged on a jig head, fished with a worm hook, or almost "floated" on Yamamoto's Split Shot Hook, which just happens to be "lure" number six, and which we frequently use with the Ika, and Senko Lures as well.
Of course, as the name implies, the Split Shot Hooks can be used either by themselves or with, "Surprise", a split shot! Actually, all these Yamamoto lures can be rigged lip-hooked with the Split Shot Hook or with an offset worm hook, with or without a slip sinker or with a jig head. There are probably several other ways to rig them that I haven't even thought about, but the fish have kept us busy enough with the mentioned rigs that I have neither the time or desire to experiment further. We have fished these hooked frontwards, backwards, backwards with the "legs" bit off, with weight, without weight, on jig heads, plain hooks and circle hooks and have caught fish every way we try them. We have even caught fish, lots of fish on the Senko, rigged with a circle hook right in the middle A-La wacky worm! If I keep on with this I'm going to have to start selling snake oil!
When you put this whole package together, you come up with a very simple, basic strategy. If you are not catching fish, move! For me, on the rivers where I fish, this is exactly the way we approach the problem of catching fish. Frequently my newer clients want to use "other" lures. No problem! They get to use what they want. I'll tie on something, Yamamoto, and fish out of the center of the boat, saving the prime cover for the clients. More often than not, within the first hour, they are asking me for a Yamamoto lure that they can use. I just "happen" to know a guy who has some.
I started using Yamamoto products at the beginning of last season. Prior to that I had had one party in the boat that used them. They had caught fish on them (on grubs mostly) with great regularity. Several years ago I quit using grubs because I was catching too many small fish. When I made the switch to tubes my average size increased nearly a quarter-pound. I had no desire to change back to grubs for that reason. With the switch to Yamamoto's larger lures the numbers got better and the size has remained about the same. With the switch to the Split Shot Hook instead of the jig heads, the numbers and size has remained about the same but the incident of deep-hooking has decreased dramatically, and the fishing has gotten a lot easier. I guess I am just lazy, but that works for me. Somewhere down the road, if the interest is here, we'll get into the specifics of rigging and fishing these lures.
OK. So what's the point of all of this series to you, the folks that have done me the courtesy of taking the time to read this. The point to me is this: All of the excuses are gone! The blame in my case is right where it belongs, on me, whether we are catching fish or not catching fish. If we are catching, it's because I did my job and found them. If not, I did not. It is that easy for me and it can be that easy for you. I am very, very lucky to be able to spend so much time where there are a bunch of Smallmouth! Most of you do not have that opportunity. Doesn't it make sense to simplify your system and make it work as well for you, as mine works for me?
Rules! Smallmouth fishermen hate rules.
Rule #1 Fish where the fish are!
Rule #2 Fish these baits!
Rule #3 If you aren't catching fish, see rule #1!
It works for me and it will work for you as well!