Smallmouth Bass

Few experiences are more thrilling than watching a smallmouth bass leap through the air at the end for your fishing line. Wading or floating in the Maumee River is a great way to experience nature and an opportunity to catch this exciting fish. Naturally reproducing smallmouth bass populations are found in reservoirs and streams in Ohio. Catch rates are often higher in streams and rivers because smallmouth bass are more common in streams than reservoirs, and the stream fish are often concentrated in specific areas. Smallmouth bass use pools to rest and feed and will move to runs and riffles below pools when most actively feeding. Light to medium spincasting outfit with 4- to 10-pound test fishing line or a 5 or 6 weight fly rod is the recommended tackle. When a bass strikes raise the tip of the pole to prevent the fish getting to cover. In summer bass avoid direct sunlight when they can. Fish deep pools, cover and shaded areas of the stream. Cast past your target and retrieve bait to intended area.

Spring (March-April) Use baits that imitate baitfish. White and silvery tubes, twister tail jigs and spinners. Deep pools with cover of wood, large boulders or undercut banks.
Pre-Summer (May) Use baits that imitate baitfish. White and silvery tubes, twister tail jigs and spinners. Look for areas with rocky bottoms and slow moving water. Males may be guarding nests if water temperature is low to mid 60s.
Summer (June-mid-September) Use crankbaits and plastics that imitate crayfish. Retrieve with a motion that will allow the bait to hit the bottom to simulate a swimming crayfish. Chartreuse jigs with spinners are also good. Active fish are in runs and where riffles and pools meet. Work jigs in runs and riffles around rocks and eddies. Shady areas can be good.
Fall (mid-September-November) Crayfish imitating baits still work but fish are switching back to fish. Use inline spinners, tubes and jigs in lighter colors. Cast baits across pools and runs retrieve at medium rate with twitching action. Fish pools and runs around cover. As water temperatures drop fish will spend more time in pools. Use jigs and other baitfish like tackle in pools to catch these fish.
Winter (December-February) Fish imitating baits will work best. Retrieve baits slowly. Fish in deeper pools around any cover available.


Dead Drifting

When river temperature climbs above 70°F,  start dead-drifting. This presentation is particularly effective when the water is low and clear.
Dead-drifting is simply letting the lure be carried downstream, presented to bass in the most natural way. The drift is the retrieve. While some slack line is necessary to allow for a natural drift, too much slack spells trouble in terms tracking the bait and determining when strikes occur. Yet keeping too tight a rein on a bait creates an unnatural drift that finicky smallmouths are likely to reject.

Tension on the line should be just enough so you feel what the lure is doing in the event you cannot see it. Is it drifting freely, ticking bottom, or maybe getting snagged? Or did a bass just grab it? Determining the exact amount of feel for the drifting bait cannot be mastered immediately; it takes practice. It also requires self-control not to impart excessive gyrations. Give the bait a little twitch or shake now and then, but don’t impart exaggerated movements.   

Essential Lures

When you’re chasing river Smallmouth bass, you’ve got to have the right lures at your disposal. This list is a  handful of baits that would work for river Smallmouth spring through fall. The result, a collection of lures that inspire confidence in no matter what the river condition or the fishes mood.

Top of Water Column

Poppers – A great top water bait for “calling in” smallies from a distance. A few pops and let it sit for as long as you can stand it and the smallies will hit it with reckless abandonment.

Jitter Bugs – Jitter Bug  baits like Abrogast Jitterbug the  are excellent for smallmouth. The distinctive gurgling noise produced by the side to side wiggle and resulting surface disturbance has enticed more than one trophy smallmouth to slam this strange combination . A few sharp short retrieves of the rod followed by a long pause will drive the smallies crazy.

Buzzbaits – When the top water bite is heating up, you’ll want to fish fast, cover water, and find the biters. A buzzbait is a great cast and retrieve bait. Make sure you start the retrieve as soon as your bait touches down. If you can deflect the bait off wood, rock, or  piers columnsthen on the retrieve you’ll trigger far more strikes.


Middle of Water Column

Soft Stickworms – Most often smallmouth will hit soft stickworms on the drop or on the drift so I consider it primarily a middle of the water column presentation. Nose hooked,  or wacky rigged this bait can be fished in a variety of situations. It’s truly a “do nothing” kind of bait. Cast it out and let it fall through the water column in a likely looking smallie haunt. I like to fish this bait on a bit of a slack line to maintain a more natural drift and parallel slow fall to the bottom. Yum has a great selection of all sizes and colorsof these baits.

Colors: Shades of browns, greens, black, and laminated with a  dark color and contrasting light typically work well. I’m also a big fan of chartreuse tipped soft stickworm.


Soft Jerkbaits – Soft jerkbaits are one of the most effective baitfish imitating middle of the water column baits for smallmouth bass. Cast it out, let it sink to the desired depth, then add a few short jerks followed by a pause. When smallmouth are in a neutral or negative mood, you can cast it out and dead drift or dead stick the bait adding no action at all. This presentation is absolutely deadly for trophy sized smallmouth bass.

Colors: Colors matching baitfish in your local flow are a good place to start.


Spinnerbaits – One word comes to mind when  look at a spinnerbait…. “versatility”. A steady cast and crank retrieve,  a stop and go retrieve, or burning it back to the anlger,  very few lures can cover water as quickly and effectively as the spinnerbait. Don’t forget to bang it off those sub surface obstacles to trigger strikes Armed with a hand full of 3/16 oz. to 1/2 oz spinnerbaits you’ll be ready to do battle.

Colors: Spinnerbaits in the range from 3/16 oz to 1/2 oz. White skirts are typically fished in clear water, chartreuse skirts in slightly stained or green water, and black skirts for heavily stained water. Experiment with gold or silver blade color until you find what fish want.


Bottom of Water Column

Tubes – Yes, the classic tried and true tube makes the list!  Does it represent a minnow or a crawfish? We may never know but the lure has probably caught more river smallmouth than any other baits in the river . Rigged on a 1/8 oz or 1/4 oz ( with or with out rattles)  internal tube head jig,and worked with a series of short drags and long pauses in between will draw the attention of Smallmouth bass.

Colors: Match local crawfish and baifish color for best results. Shades of greens browns, and black will imitate crawfish nicely. Use dark colors in stained water. Laminated tubes with dark on top and light colors on bottom bottom will make good baitfish imitations. Tubes with various metallic fleck colors can also be good baitfish imitators.

Soft Plastic Crawfish Imitations -It’s no surprise that crawfish are a smallmouth’s preferred food source in most river systems so this bait is a must for the serious smallie angler. Crawfish are one of my favorite baits for river smallmouth no matter what the season.  Crawl it slowly and meticulously on the bottom for 8-12 inches at a time with long pauses in between drags and you’ve got a great presentation.

Colors: Do some exploring in your local flows. Lift rocks and pay close attention to the colors of crawfish. You will likely find several different color variations. Use that research to select some colors and go from there. Adjust the size of your offering based on the fishes mood and the size of active crawfish you may observing while fishing.

Crankbaits – When fish are in the mood for a fast presentation low in the water column, it’s time to break out the crankbaits. Making bottom contact with your crankbait is important. Most often strikes will come as the bait deflects off rock on the river bottom so selecting a diving crankbait that will hit bottom is important. Experiment with fast, slow or stop and go retrieves to find what the fish want.

Color: Again match the coloration of baitfish and crawfish in your river system for most water conditions. When the water gets muddy, switch to crankbaits with red or very dark contrasting colors.