Pound for pound smallmouth bass are tough fighting fish


I’ve heard people say that four pound smallmouths fight harder than eight pound largemouth bass. I agree. They’ll usually leap and shake first. If that doesn’t work they dive to the bottom and try to get under something.

They don’t leap or run like a salmon, but they never quit. If you don’t have a net you’re in trouble. Get them to the boat and they still have enough in the tank to get away.

I remember once catching three on one cast. A little one hit the bait first. Before I could crank the reel three turns another one attacked him. A few feet from the boat a huge smallmouth nailed that one. I had a boat full of witnesses too.

I wish we had smallies around here. Growing up in Maine they were the most common

gamefish. Nearly every lake had some. In eastern North Carolina we don’t have the proper conditions for them to spawn.

Smallmouths (Micropterus dolomieu) need to have a gravelly bottom to lay their eggs. Preferably this is adjacent to a rocky drop-off. Rivers in the coastal plain don’t have these conditions. We might have accumulation of sand, but gravel is not part of the geologic makeup.

Smallmouth bass sweep nesting areas free of debris before the females lay their eggs. Usually these spots are a couple feet across. Often times they lay next to a sunken log. I remember paddling a canoe in the spring searching for nesting sites when I was a kid. Once eggs were laid the males would defend the area aggressively. They might even ram a boat.

Surprisingly, it is the male that builds the nest. Males guard them too. Usually these areas are a few feet deep, but sometimes they can be more than ten or less than a foot deep. A male will lure a larger female to his carefully prepared nest and hopefully she will lay eggs for him to fertilize. Then she leaves. Protecting the nest is his job.

Once the fry hatch and begin to grow his job is over. It is now that the male smallmouth bass has developed an insatiable appetite and will attack food voraciously. Fishermen love this post spawn period.

Smallmouth bass are generally active in cooler water than their largemouth cousins. During the summer they tend to hang near the bottom during the day. In the last hour or so of daylight they often hit the surface and this is when they are fun to catch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had plenty of deep water success with bronzebacks. Sinking a large live baitfish on the bottom along a drop-off can often lure huge specimens. I’ve caught smallmouths in excess of six pounds with this technique. My son caught a thirty-one inch chain pickerel the same way.

I know largemouth bass are bigger and plentiful around here, but you fishermen will never regret heading out to smallmouth territory. Mountain rivers as well as northern lakes offer tremendous smallmouth fishing. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.

Some pretty nice fish spread across the two by eights. There were close to 20 pounds of bass and a 28 inch pickerel

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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