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The Smallmouth Part One

The Smallmouth Part One

Introduction to the Smallmouth Bass

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Smallmouth bass

Smallmouth bass

Who is THAT fish? Sometimes it's hard to tell. They can act sometimes, very much like a Brown Trout. Then it seems sometimes as if they think they are a Largemouth Bass. Not quite a warm water fish, still not a cold water fish, but rather right in between. What we here in Maine call a cool water fish but I'm not sure I have heard that description, anywhere else.
   To me at least, one of the most fascinating things about our beloved Bronze is their marvelous adaptability. They may turn up most anywhere in this great country of ours, as well as that of our neighbors to the North, several of the Canadian Provinces. From Nova Scotia, to California, from Washington State to Georgia, the only two states to my knowledge where they are absent are Florida and Alaska, and if someone were to write in and tell me they were there as well, I wouldn't be surprised!
   Arguments have raged long and hard on both RiverSmallies.com and Bronzeback.com boards as to how best they can be caught. That's arguing about the wrong thing! They can be caught in just about any manner a person can think of to catch any kind of freshwater game fish! I suspect it's harder to find a proven fishing technique that won't catch them. Yet here in Maine, I'm not sure everyone considers them a game fish. I have read in the popular sporting press that to be consistently successful at Smallmouth fishing you must down size your lures. I guess that in some places that MAY be true. But have found it much more likely that downsizing is much more likely to just down size the fish you do manage to catch. I have read that they are more easily caught on the bottom and then, in other articles, on the top! Either MAY be true! You just can't prove it by ME! We catch them here in Maine on the top, on the bottom, in between, on large lures, on small lures, or middle size lures, and just about any other way you may imagine. If you can find them, they usually can be caught!
   My outlook is just a bit different from that of most folks. I'm a working guide, kind of a commercial fisherman but not one who kills his catch. Most of my clients would as soon throw me out of the boat as to kill a good Smallmouth! The other side of that is that day after day, year after year, they EXPECT me to put them on fish! Lots of fish! Some BIG fish! I work with the smartest Smallmouth in the world. They're so smart they even make an old guide like me look like he knows what he is doing more often than not!
   Now having said that I have to tell you that there ARE no smart Smallmouth. Now I know that when you are butt deep in almost freezing water with not a fish caught for your efforts, it's a tad tough to believe that these fish are NOT smarter than you are. Look at it logically: you are going to get out of the water and warm up. They aren't, therefore you MUST be smarter! This points out many of the differences between you and the Smallmouth. You have the ability to look ahead, they don't. You have the ability to reason, why you didn't use it to stay out of that ice water in the first place I don't know, but you had that choice and they didn't! Choice, reason, logic, the ability to use tools, including boats to keep your butt out of ice water, are all HUMAN traits and abilities. The only things that they have working for them are their INSTINCTS! But, and never lose sight of this fact, the fish we are most interested in, the larger fish, have the most finely tuned instincts of their species. If they had turned them off, even for an instant, ever, they probably would have never gotten large enough to interest you and me!
   Now we come to a "new" factor, the adaptability of these wonderful fish. I always kind of just understood they were adaptable, but before the Internet came into being and I finally got smart enough to use it, I never realized just HOW adaptable they really are. Somewhere on this continent there must be a basic model of Smallmouth bass! I don't know where that would be, but it must be out there someplace. The people fishing for that one are to be envied. The rest of us have to learn all the tricks of that basic fish, PLUS all the adaptations that basic model has made to thrive in the environment we have put them in! Now I suspect this base model was designed to live and thrive in a habitat like the Great Lakes, before there were any dams with large bodies of water that had some flow in them.
   Fishing for Smallmouth today is kind of like buying a new truck. By the time all the options are taken care of, the price has doubled and the finished model only slightly resembles the base model! In honesty, anyone fishing for Smallmouth in one part of the country can fish with the same methods most anywhere with a good chance of success. The biggest difference I see is between a lake environment and that of a river. I guide regularly on two rivers and during the spawn, on South Branch Lake, all above Bangor, Maine. I find it easier to locate fish on the rivers than on a lake once the spawn is over.
   To me at least, currents, flows and current breaks are the keys to River Smallies! The fishing press frequently talks about rocks. Most of these folks, who are writing, don't even know what rocks ARE! Come on up here and I'll show you some Penobscot pebbles! I mean we HAVE rocks, and many of them only rarely hold fish! Now this could be simply because there are just not enough fish to go around, but a lot of us would find that hard to believe. I don't think the rocks are the key, but rather the current breaks around the rocks are.
   So, what do we have so far? One fish. Constantly changing habitat. Constantly changing climate. Constantly changing weather, within the climate. Differing food bases. I would guess several distinctive strains of bass to be dealing with. Other than the same basic fish, I view all of these other things as "behavior modifiers". These are the things that alter basic Smallmouth behavior and we seem to have better success when we fine-tune our fishing to make some allowances for this.
   A couple of weeks ago we caught several Smallmouth out of Lake Powel, on the Arizona-Utah border. When you held them up and looked closely at them you could see no apparent difference in appearance from the fish we had been catching all summer in Maine's Penobscot River. They looked the same, fought the same, felt the same to my touch, but they had to be different. I am used to catching fish that see water only 20 to 25 feet deep throughout their entire lives. These fish came out of water that had depths up to several HUNDRED feet deep! Now I'm not saying they were caught out of water that deep, but it was available to them, and I'm sure they utilize water there that is far deeper than anything my river fish have ever been exposed to. The forage base is as different as the water depths are, and the fish have adapted to that environment!
   I suspect that down the line we will be discussing this adaptability at greater length. After all it is one of the things that make our Smallmouth, the beautiful fish they are.

Continue to Part Two

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