Smallmouth are an aggressive species compared to a largemouth and even more so when they are protecting a spawning bed. Fishing for spawning smallmouth is one of my favorite ways to fish and I have found that finding them is harder than actually catching them. I have also found that where they spawn varies greatly depending on where you live.
Tennessee And Kentucky Smallmouth
I grew up fishing highland reservoirs in my home region and since largemouth are the dominant species, many anglers do not fish for spawning smallmouth or even know where to look. One of the first things I learned in bass fishing was going shallow for spawning largemouth in the backs of pockets and creeks. When I tried a little deeper, I often found smallmouth. This is how they like to spawn and 5 to 10 feet is a good range for finding spawning smallmouth, where largemouth tend to spawn in 4 feet or less in my experience.
One of the best places to find smallmouth beds are rounded secondary points. These always seem to hold fish in the spring on highland reservoirs. They also spawn on pea gravel and the best mixture I have found is the small pea gravel and boulders or chunk rock near by. They also seem to gravitate to clay banks that turn into this gravel, but approximately 70 percent of the smallmouth I catch on beds are on the pea gravel exclusively.
Spotting Spawning Smallmouth
Smallmouth tend to be very chameleon-like and disappear into the bottom. They are much more difficult to spot compared to a spawning largemouth. Usually it is the bed that is more visible. Once I see a bed, I will cast to it and if a smallmouth is there they will usually bite right away.
If I see a bed, I will visually make a note of something on the shore to line up my cast and then back away and make multiple casts to the area. Sometimes, I will wait five to 10 minutes and come back if there is a chance I ran over the bed and spooked the fish.
I keep it pretty simple when fishing for spawning smallmouth and almost always use a finesse approach. Since smallmouth tend to spawn more in the open, there are times when the area will be too windy to fish effectively with some baits. They are often on exposed banks and my bait selection will also change based on the location.
My first choice would be a shaky head. I like the standup style to keep the tail of the bait up and in the face of the fish. Usually it will be a 1/8-ounce size with a 4-inch finesse worm like a Gary Yamamoto Kut Tail in a natural color. I’ll fish it on 6-pound or 8-pound Trilene 100 percent fluorocarbon on a 7-foot medium Abu Garcia Villain 2.0 with the new Abu Garcia Rocket spinning reel. This reel will be available soon and has the highest retrieve I have ever seen on a spinning reel and that makes a big difference on spawning smallmouth since they usually come straight up and jump once you hook them. It allows you to catch up to them quickly and keep them hooked.
Another of my top techniques is a shakey head with a Yamamoto Fat Baby Craw. I’ll use the same setup and really like this little bait for smallmouth on beds. I’ll try to use any color that looks like a little crawfish.
The drop-shot is another excellent way to catch spawning smallmouth. One of the biggest keys is the size of the weight you use. Too heavy and you will make a loud noise and stir up the bottom and too light and it will be hard to cast from a distance. 3/16-ounce is about the perfect size for me and lets me make long casts or pitches to fish once I back away from the bed.
I like several different baits for my drop-shot but a 4-inch Gary Yamamoto Senko rigged wacky-rig is awesome for spawning smallmouth. I will also use a 4-inch Swim Senko at times and nose-hook the bait. I like a size 1 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook and am usually using 6-pound test Trilene 100 percent fluorocarbon. Since they spawn in open water, 6-pound is all you really need and I do think the lighter line helps with getting more bites for spooky fish. My setup is that same Revo Rocket spinning reel and a 7-foot medium light Abu Garcia Villain 2.0 rod.
Another good way to quickly find bedding fish while also covering water is to use a reaction bait like a Duel Hardcore Minnow Flat SP in both the 95 and 110 size or a Gary Yamamoto spinnerbait. I like the ones with the painted chartreuse and white blades for smallmouth. These two techniques allow you to go quickly down a bank and if there is a spawning smallmouth they will often come up quick to chase it away and show themselves. You might also catch them on the baits, but them showing their location is just as good and you can follow up with a finesse bait.
Most of my experience with spawning smallmouth is in the southern states, but I have also had some experience in northern fisheries too. From what I have seen in the Great Lakes region, they spawn on flats much more and also much deeper since the water can be so clear. Sand flats that are close to grass are excellent for the great sight fisheries like Lake St. Clair.
I have also heard of other places like on the West Coast and how they are sort of a mix of both and will spawn on pea gravel like I am used to, but also much deeper because the water can be so clear.
Spawning smallmouth are so much fun to catch just because of how aggressive they are. I know some people have a hard time with catching spawning fish, but when properly handled and immediately released they go right back to the bed. Like all bass fishing, we should all make sure we are doing the best we can to keep the fish in the best health as they are the future of the sport we love.