They may be smaller in size than their largemouth cousins, but smallmouth bass are pound-for-pound among the feistiest freshwater fish. Known for their strength and fighting ability, smallmouth bass — also known as bronzebacks — have earned a place near the top of any bass angler’s list of targets.
What lures you tie on, though, when you’re targeting these tenacious fish depends on a variety of factors. There are a wide range of lures that will do the job, but there are a handful that are nearly guaranteed to entice a smallmouth strike.
I’ve heard it said that tubes are the workhorse of smallmouth fishing. Anyone who’s inserted a lead jighead into a tube and dragged it across rocky shoals or the bottom of a river to imitate a crawfish will attest to this. You can also use tubes’s spiraling action to target fish on the beds in shallow water, creep them along rocky points, or rig it weedless and pitch it into weeds for solid results, too.
Go-to colors: Green pumpkin, watermelon with varied flakes, or white for spawning fish.
Some of you may remember that, in 2007, professional angler Edwin Evers averaged over 21 pounds of smallmouth bass a day to win the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Lake Erie that year. He did this using a variety of soft plastic baits on a dropshot rig. Every bass angler needs to be familiar with the drop shot rig; it’s become a “never-leave-home-without-it” rig for fishing year-round, from depths of six inches to 100 feet.
Go-to colors: Green pumpkin and shad-based patterns work well. Go with plastics that imitate gobies, crawfish, or baitfish.
Smallmouth tend to be visually enticed, and in clear water they’ll come from a long way to strike at the erratic action of a jerkbait. With jerkbaits, you’ll find that some days fish want it moved fast, while on other days they’ll crush it on the pause. Whether smallmouth are actively chasing schools of baitfish or seeking lone stragglers, the action of a jerkbait is something you don’t want to target smallmouths without.
Go-to colors: I’ve had great luck with Clown, as well as blue/back with clear sides.
Of course, no angler worth his salt hits the water without a few spinnerbaits on hand. Smallmouth like bright colors and fast retrieves, and heavier spinnerbaits—3/4 ounce and up—can be retrieved at warp speed without breaking the surface. One tip, though: make sure to use a trailer hook, as smallmouth bass are notorious for slapping and striking at a bait, but not getting hooked.
Go-to colors: With smallies, I’ve found the more colorful the better. I usually start with a chartreuse skirt with twin willowleaf blades, but sometimes I’ll move to orange or even pink.