Select Page

Spring Smallmouth

Pound for pound nothing in freshwater pulls like a smallmouth bass. At home in cooler water, they thrive in lakes and rivers also. Smallmouth pull like a “late freight” and often explode through the water’s surface when hooked. A quick look at a smallie shows a broad body and a “paddle like” tail both built for power and speed. The most common error for anglers is to approach the smallmouth bass like its cousin the largemouth. Two highly prized fish but if you want to battle a smallmouth you have to change tactics BUT not necessarily baits. Many waters contain the three major species, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted (aka Kentucky) bass. They can coexist but each has some distinctly different habits.

Spring Smallmouth | Kayak Fishing Tips

Smallmouth prefer current and colder waters than the largemouth (largemouth will avoid current and seek warmer waters) and the spotted “spots” Kentucky falls somewhere in between. Spawning season finds the smallmouth first in line during the early spring warm up. They’re in the mood for love at around surface temperature 60 degrees. Next the spots, then the largemouth at around 62-68 degrees. The moons influence is the same on all these members of the black bass family. The biggest difference in the small and largemouth is their depth preference. Smallmouth relate to deeper water whereas largemouth relate to objects and shallower waters. Deep is a relative term but it wouldn’t be uncommon to find smallmouth in 25 feet of water or more! The largemouth will navigate water that barely covers their backs, smallmouths are the “hide and seek” mystery fish.

The willing kayaker smallmouth can target creeks, streams and rivers but shallow, swift water can be tough to navigate and require a safety-first attitude. The reward can be bass that haven’t seen many baits and the possibility of a trophy. With the current comes some predictable locations. While smallmouth will avoid the heavy current, they use the current to “set the table.” Positioning below riffles, rock piles, or off to the side of objects redirecting current where they can dart out (or up) to snatch a properly presented bait that appears to be struggling or injured. Another plus is smallmouth bass “warm up” to topwater lures before the other species. Pre-spawn feeding commences as water gets to above 50 degrees. Action early can be spotty, but the bigger bruisers are ready to eat after the winter metabolic slow down. I paddle exclusively but those who choose to pedal or go motorized can still adjust top the depths (or lack of same) in the moving waters. It’s wise to keep a paddle handy as a backup anyway.

The same baits can be cast to the bass family of fish, for the smallies it’s often just a different location. Deeper water, moving water and bluff banks are all likely smallmouth water. If there are mini features don’t ignore them. Shore line changes, gravel bars, points, minor drop offs, and downed trees all deserve a cast or two.


The forage of all bass species is similar. With the gapping mouth of the largemouth, if it fits, they’ll eat it. They even been known to choke on something that they hit and becomes lodged in their throat. Given the opportunity both bass will feast on crawfish. Amore common meal is the shad. Shad are abundant and available year-round, and bass will gorge themselves on the giant schools of shad found in most waterways. If it lives near or in the water all the bass family will dine on it. To best lure the smallmouth to hit these baits are in my box: **SEE PHOTO

Spring Smallmouth | Kayak Fishing Tips

  • Jigs – regular size (3/8ths to ½ ounce) with a soft plastic craw imitator (Ragetail craws) www.strikeking as a trailer are excellent everywhere the “brown bass” swim. In clear water, during a tough bite or for numbers of fish the finesse set up (1/8th to ¼ ounce) with a downsized craw trailer (baby Ragetail) works well.
  • Spinnerbaits – to match the look (not the size) of shad is a staple in your bass box and smallmouth are suckers for spinners. Different blade combinations work but I’m fond of an altered bait that I use in search of smallmouths. I change the back blade out on a 3/8ths ounce spinner to a chartreuse, spray painted blade. A dash of red on the bottom of the blade adds an appealing predatory color. (Before you laugh, just know I’ve caught several five pound plus smallmouth on this set up.)
  • Soft Plastic Tube – rigged with the leadhead inserted or Texas rigged the tube can be deadly for all kinds of bass, but the 2.75 Strike King smaller tube has a great visual appeal as it falls erratically. I would recommend fishing this on a medium action spinning rod with braided line spooled on the open face reel. My combo is a seven-foot Lew’s rod a #200 spinning reel.
  • Buzzbait – The all-time best eye candy is the surface strike of a smallmouth on a buzzer. It looks like someone threw a sewer lid out of an airplane. They are on a seek and destroy mission when the bait churns and gurgles on top. Hang on tight and caution this is not fishing for the faint of heart.
  • Crankbait – many models work but I’m partial to the square bill or medium diving (5-8 feet) cranks. In the summer or early fall it’s possible you might have to dredge deep to the bottom of your favorite lake to connect with your local smallmouth bass. The square bill is built for the deflection bite coming from running the lure directly into cover. (don’t be scared, they make more) the medium divers attract the suspended fish.

The World Record

record smallmouth

July 7th of 1955 David Hayes landed a 27-inch smallmouth with a girth of almost 22 inches. It weighed a whopping 11 pounds and 15 ounces. He was trolling a #600 pearl colored Bomber bait. This giant came from Dale Hollow bordered by both Tennessee and Kentucky. The top three biggest smallmouth bass all came from this legendary lake. (There must be something in the water). Dale Hollow is deep, clear and clean all prerequisites for raising big smallmouths. I personally don’t believe that record will ever be broken. I posed the same question to a pair of the best and most knowledgeable fishermen I know, Lou Williams who a legend on Pickwick Lake and David Clark a very successful guide on Dale Hollow. Williams who has over three decades of fishing Pickwick responded, “With all the pressure on public waters every inch gets covered, there is more mortality of five and six pounders in the tournaments. With thousands of smallmouths to his credit Williams biggest smallmouth was 8 ½ pounds. Clark agrees that the possibility of a new record is remote, “The main forage then was threadfin shad now it’s alewives, threadfins are higher in protein. Most lakes produce the largest fish when they’re newly impounded. Clark has 15 years of guiding experience and an eight-pound smallmouth to his credit.

Spring Smallmouth | Kayak Fishing Tips

I enjoy all species, but smallmouths are special to me. I spent over two dozen summers in the Canadian wilderness guiding clients who had a passion for smallmouth bass. I’ve been fortunate to catch a bunch over five pounds and landed a 23 ½ inch, eight pounder on a spinnerbait on one of my trips. It’s time to go tangle with a trophy, spring smallmouth on the prowl!