The bite begins deep, then advances to shelves and rock piles. Finally it breaks out in clear view as a bass explodes on a topwater plug. In deep lakes and reservoirs, summer smallmouth invite you to fish the full spectrum. You might begin fishing jigs, switch to crankbaits as evening approaches, and finish with a splash- or do it in reverse starting before sunrise. So long as the water isn’t oxygen-stratified, it’s possible to fish a triple play in a single outing.
When it comes to smallies, a variety of jigs- football, round-head, mushroom for
example- all work. I typically use cone-shaped leads, because I like how they probe the bottom. Unless wind makes feel and control impossible, I’ll fish an eighth-ounce as deep as 25 feet and retain just a little feel. Most of the tournament specialists I know will throw up to a half-ounce to fish that depth and deeper. They don’t cast with a spinning rod as I do, but a quarter-ounce jig suits me for 35-foot depths when calm weather allows control.
I find a spinning rod of six to seven feet casts further than shorter rods. Medium power is all the strength needed with a fast action tip efficient for feel. Six-pound test braid won’t stretch and adds to a better feel, buy monofilament also works plenty well at the same line test to get a light jig to the bottom. I use mono because the thread-like feel of
braid annoys me. The same length and weight rod works for mid-depths and even at the surface, so this is my preference. For those who prefer them, casting outfits work fine as well.
The difference between an eighth-ounce jig tipped with a three-inch Berkeley Gulp!, leech or Keitech plastic (use a wide-gap hook), and a half-ounce lead with a big skirt and chunk plastic trailer may involve that personal preference we’re discussing, but no doubt lighter presentations possess the subtlety- finesse- often required. Sometimes smallmouth, unlike their bigmouth cousin, don’t want a lot of “stuff” dancing in their faces. Better to nose the jig among rocks. During summer, even in depths having relatively cool temperatures, Bass possess an alertness greatly increased in comparison to cold water months. Therefore, I adopt a minimal approach noting that not much needs doing to attract them.
As the sun angles low, especially if some clouds move in, or, even better, a front that
doesn’t threaten lightening, rocks become productive anywhere from 12 to 20 feet deep. Growing up in the 1970’s, I got interested in Mann’s Little George and I never forgot these curious lead-bodied tail spinners weighing an ounce and shaped like an inch-long barred sunfish. They work great clicked against rocks using a fairly quick retrieve. If you mark on the graph any sort of drop, let the lure fall, allowing it to parachute with spinner flashing. This often results in jolting strikes. I have read little about this lure since its heyday, but this old-timer deserves mention. Despite its heavy weight, medium power spinning rods handle the compact lure well, and casting gear is preferable. The ability to strike rocks on retrieve is more important than speed.
The fireworks can begin when the sun is about to set. Shallow weed beds are not your only venue, and don’t shoot those Torpedoes over submerged rocks alone. Topwaters like the Heddon pass the test even over clear 12-foot depths and up against shore.
Round Valley Reservoir in New Jersey, for example, is so clear that a common notion restricts searching for bass any shallower than 10 feet, but I’ve observed bass along the shoreline after shiners swimming inches from the edge in water barely covering their backs. Dozens of them. Once I witnessed a bass rush up to where I stood, grab a shiner and propel back into the depths, meal crosswise in its maw. Target edges of reeds, but don’t forget that a rocky or gravelly bank line will often do. I let the plug sit a long time- usually- and give it a good pull. As I retrieve, I do my best to anticipate how a bass might get interested. They often do.
Topwater fishing is a variable affair. What works one night, might not the next. Even the time a bass become active varies, but most every evening will offer some heart pumping excitement.
Bedminster, NJ's Bruce Edward Litton was first published at 16 in The New Jersey Fisherman. After a long hiatus to broaden his experiences and start a family, Litton's fishing passion again led him to pick up the pen, this time writing from a deeper knowledge base. He has covered subjects as varied as Trout on New Jersey streams to Outer Banks Bluefish. Litton caught the eye of leading New Jersey outdoor writer Jim Stabile and Jim Hutchinson, The Fisherman's managing editor. As a result, there have been many requests for Litton’s photography and quality articles. Litton has developed a solid reputation as an outdoor journalist and his articles on bass fishing caught the attention of iBass360’s Rob Zorn, a fellow Lawrence High graduate, who asked Bruce to join the team. The iBass360 family values Bruce's fishing knowledge and journalistic contributions, but even more his friendship.