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.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.