Art Ferguson & Smallmouth Subtleties to Smallmouth
- by Art Ferguson

Smallmouth bass fishing, in my eyes, is the best fishing in the world today. I have fished for most species of freshwater and many saltwater, both bottom as well as flats fishing and still nothing compares day in and day out to smallmouth bass! They are aggressive, competitive, strong, fighters, jumpers, diggers, mean, schoolers, quick yet smooth and are not fearful!

Iíve found in recent years that smallmouth bass are more predictable than the largemouth bass and that goes against popular beliefs. The difference is, smallmouth tend to move a bit more throughout a years time, but, once you figure out where they spawn, feed and winter, you will have a much better understanding of these great fish.

Being a full time guide on the Great Lakes, I can honestly say Iíve caught thousands and thousands of smallmouth in the past 14 years as a guide. Customers have caught nearly as many. This is due to the aggressive nature of this fish. Iíve learned where to look for them at different times of the year and it pays off in extreme fishing situations. Some days, weíll catch well over 60 a day and this is due to their nature.

Iím a man of Faith and do not believe in luck, but rather God being in control of everything including weather patterns which in turn, make wildlife and fish react differently at different times. If you get lined up with Godís perfect timing, when fish are most active in areas of the lakes or rivers you are fishing, this is when it happens. Smallmouth are no different, though they do seem to go into frenzies better than many species of fish. This is due to their schooling nature. Whenever you find a smallmouth, chances are, there are more nearby.

Lowrance X-25C
Lets get into some seasonal patterns as well as the subtleties that can make you or break you out on the water. Most of us know through experience that Spring and Fall fishing is typically better than any other time of the year for most fisherman. This is the time when the fish are shallowest and seems that once you find them, itís endless. Then the heat of the Summer comes, the fish are post spawn and suddenly the heroes of the lake are the zeroes of the lake. This is due to fish spreading out into the vast areas of each particular lake. I find most of my summer smallmouth on our Great Lakes will relate to the first major breaks off of spawning flats or move into major rivers and channels that produce cooler waters, oxygen levels are increased and an abundance of baitfish. Finally, winter fishing. Well, I live in Florida during this time of year, so I wonít comment on ice fishing.

The more I learn about smallmouth bass, the more I am realizing the importance of very minor differences in structure that can make major differences in your success during the day. For instance, during a Bassmaster Open event on Lake Erie in the Buffalo area. I found that if I had the boat 10í off of the structure I was fishing, I wasnít catching the big bass, but if I got right on the rock ledge that was a little different the surrounding area, I caught some big smallmouth and finished 2nd in that tournament because on day 2, I couldnít find that subtlety that made the difference.

Types of structure that can make a difference in your fishing trip, can be something as minor as a one foot drop in depth or a small sand spot in the middle of a weed flat. It could be a rock bed on a sand flat or a patch of weeds in the midst of a gravel bar. Iíve seen where one large boulder could hold a winning stringer of smallies or a rough spot at the end of a point hold all the fish on that point. These are the type of areas that make the difference during those summer days when fishing seems to be tough. These are the areas that can hold the pre or post spawn bass that you canít seem to find before or after the spawn. It is such a reward to key in on these areas.

Lowrance X-25C One of the important things to do when you find these subtleties is to throw a marker bouy and I punch in an icon or a GPS coordinate on my Lowrance X-25C graph. This is the very unit that I use to find the find the deeper structure that I fish and the baitfish or actual bass on the graph. Paying close attention to your graph is the best way to find the key areas on the lake as you move across it.

Iíve found that a quality graph is worth the price to find key structure. When Iím running across the lake in my Triton TR21X at 70mph and my graph can read the bottom, this helps me greatly. Once I see something different, I can turn around, slow down and check it out in depth. The more I learn to use my graph, the more fish Iím finding day in and day out in open water structure areas.

When throwing out a bouy, I really try to pay attention to where Iím throwing it in accordance to where I caught the fish. Again, the areas can be so small where the schools or big bass are sitting and many times there can be current, either natural or wind that can put you just off the key area and you wonít catch them as well as you could otherwise.

Once you have found the areas, now lets talk about what lures to use to effectively catch the smallmouth in these areas. If Iím in shallower areas, Iím going to throw a reaction lure, such as a spinner bait, crank bait, jerk bait or top water bait. But as I do this, if Iím not hitting the key areas, Iím not going to cover the water efficiently. My favorite way to fish for shallower smallmouth in subtle areas has been with Yamamoto Senkoís if Iím going to look for fish that are suspended on structure or are aggressive, Iím going to use this bait. It will trigger fish at times which no other bait can. Colors for smallmouth can also be very subtle, but I am a basic fisherman and find that the common watermelons, green pumpkins and pearls are my favorite. To work this bait, there are many techniques, but I have found that the less I move the bait, the more fish I catch. This is because of the unique action this bait has in natural form. You can also jerk it and it causes the bait to do a sporadic reaction and can trigger fish. Also, using it ďwhackyĒ style can be very effective with hooking the bait in the middle and letting it fall naturally.

Anyone who knows my style of fishing will agree that I am a tube fisherman specialist. I use a Mizmo tube with Owner jigheads more than any other bait when fishing for smallmouth bass on the Great Lakes and natural lake in the north. I use different weights and find the Mizmo big boy 4Ē tube for almost all of my fishing. Itís a perfect size which duplicates average sizes of baitfish as well as crawfish. I will use pearl with silver flake tubes when fish are on a good shad/baitfish bite which occurs a lot in Spring and Fall times. At times, I will swim these baits with an 1/8 or ľ oz. jigheads over the cover as a reaction bait.

How to Tie a Double Clinch Knot
My favorite way to fish tubes is with a Provider jighead w/an Owner hook in 1/4 to 3/8oz. weight, casting to the structure and letting the bait fall as vertical as I can. I find this is a key to my success with tubes, also, watching my line and using a good fishing rod with great sensitivity, I can feel hits as the baits are falling. This can be achieved in deeper water by actually fishing vertical, but on lakes like Lake St. Clair, the waters are shallower and I am usually casting to the targeted area.

The first seconds after a bait hitís the bottom while smallmouth fishing is very important. They are an aggressive feeder and so many strikes come within the bait hitting bottom and the first 2 or 3 times you move the bait. I use a slow crawl while retrieving the Mizmo tube. This gets me more strikes than hopping the bait day in day out. Pay close attention to the first seconds that your bait is in the water.

Once you have moved the bait out of what you believe to be the strike zone, Iíve also learned to swim the tube back at a steady retrieve and again, this can sometimes react a smallmouth to bite. Iíve gotten onto patterns such as this through catching a couple fish swimming a tube jig back to the boat and started to purposely swimming the bait and won tournaments doing this. Again, the key is to use the proper baits in the proper structure to key in on the greatest fishing in the world.

Color can be important to the degree of water conditions and weather conditions. My favorite is a color that I helped design. This is an excellent clear water color and has certain sparkles that attract smallmouth to the bait. We call it ďwork of ArtĒ or ďWOAĒ. Iím very proud of this bait and can testify that it has caught me more bass than any other color in the past few years. Iím also fond of other colors that match the abundance of gobies, such as green pumpkin or green pumpkin copper and colors like watermelon/orange imitating crawfish. Another key color for my boat is pearl sparkle which is a great color when the fish are feeding strong on shad and alewives.

Work of Art Mizmo Tube

Using a low stretch line is important for better hook sets. Many times I'm making long casts in clear water and need to have the hook penetrated from a long distance. Because of this, I use Sunline FC Sniper Flourocarbon line in 8 or 10lb. test. This particular line is the most sensitive line I've used but just as importantly, it's the strongest/toughest line I've used. I'll use a Kistler LTA Helium rod in 7' length for maximum hook setting and like a quick tip and medium action.

This gives me an advantage over my competition many times having the right combination from bait to rod and lines to get the bite, set the hook, fight the bass and get it in the boat! Though this sounds like an advertisement, I very strongly want to let everyone know this is truly the tackle that I use to find myself fishing in the BASS and FLW Tours.

The great thing about our sport, is we never know exactly what these great fish are going to do from day to day, but as we learn more about their habitat, learn more about the subtleties of the lakes and rivers, we have great modern day technologies to get us to and from the boat ramp to the fish, great boats and motors and great fishing tackle to move our chances on catching not only trophy smallmouth but great fishing memories that last a lifetime! Hope this helps you on your next fishing trip.

Pay attention to the details of your fishing trip and you will surely gain understanding for that type of lake and the season you are fishing. This will make you a better fisherman in the future when finding those similar circumstances.

God bless!
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Article © Art Ferguson. Printed with kind permission.
Illustrations © Quest Outdoors, Ltd.