By Brandon Card
Late fall and early winter are some of the best times to be on the water chasing bronzebacks. I have learned over the years that smallmouth are suckers for a Hula Grub, Shad Shape Worm and 4” Single Tail Grub as winter approaches. Each bait has its time and place and I can always find and catch smallmouth with these three baits throughout the cold months.
What to Look For
Most of my smallmouth fishing experience comes from the deep, clear, and rocky highland reservoirs around my house in eastern Tennessee. The things I look for will apply to many other areas of the country. One of the first things to determine is if the fish are keying on crawfish or baitfish, as this will decide where I start.
For bass keyed on crawfish, I tend to stay much closer to the bank, focusing on rocks, rock transitions and other places crawfish will congregate. If they are feeding on baitfish, it is usually much deeper and offshore.
The 5” Yamamoto Hula Grub on a football head is one of my go-to baits and I fish it differently than some. I prefer a smaller size football head in either a ¼ or 3/8 oz. size and I like to fish it on spinning tackle. I have found this to be a better way to go and feel like I get more bites with the lighter line.
I’ll look for those rocky areas with crawfish and also places along bluff walls that have washed out areas and other different looking locations. These are magnets for crawfish and the smallmouth bass that feed on them. I fish shallow areas and will work the bait down to about 20-feet. You may be surprised how shallow I fish, even in clear water, water less than five feet will often be a prime place for the Hula Grub. Another key is windy and overcast days as these seem to get the crawfish moving.
I usually stick with natural colors like Green Pumpkin with Large Black Flake (#297), but if the water is a little dingy the Dark Pumpkin with Black Flake (#286) is my go-to. Another thing I do is to dye the tips of the tails with chartreuse or orange JJ’s Magic. This helps to attract the fish and also adds a little scent.
I’ll fish it on a 7’ Medium Abu Garcia Villain 2.0 with a Revo MGX Size 30 spinning reel. My line of choice is 10-pound Berkley Fireline with a leader of 8-pound Trilene 100% fluorocarbon.
When the smallmouth are offshore and chasing small baitfish, I look for long tapering points, flats with deep water nearby and patches of rock. I use my Lowrance DownScan to search for schools of baitfish. I have found that smallmouth tend to stay much closer to the bottom than largemouth do, so if you see a few smallmouth off of the bottom there are usually many more in the area.
Once I find schools of baitfish and smallmouth in the area I will fish the grub on a jighead and Shad Shape worm on a drop shot. It can be anywhere from 20-feet all the way down to 50 or 55-feet of water. The lakes in my area have recently seen a boom in Alewives and the smallmouth go very deep following the bait. How deep you should focus on is dependent on what forage the fish are eating in your local waters. Find the baitfish and you will find the smallmouth.
I start with the 4” Single Tail Grub first and make several casts to try to catch the most aggressive fish. I’ll vary my retrieves and either slowly reel through the school or use a slow roll retrieve. Another good retrieve is to “yo-yo” the bait and then let it pendulum down to the bottom. I rig the grub on a ¼ oz. jighead when fishing 20-feet of water and will go heavier as I get deeper or if it is windy and will use up to ½ oz. if needed. When it comes to colors, my favorites are Baby Bass (#305) or Natural Shad (#306).
The drop shot is my next choice for deep late winter smallmouth. I rig the Shad Shape worm in the same colors I like for the grub. It is much more of a vertical approach and I watch my Lowrance HDS 12 as I drop it down.
Both of these techniques can be done with the same rod and reel. I like the 6’10” medium light Abu Garcia Villain 2.0. I use the same reel and line that I use with a Hula Grub but downsize to a 6-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Fishing for late season smallmouth is something that I look forward to every year. As they get ready for the winter and start to feed the action can be fast and furious. Use these tips to take advantage of some of the best smallmouth fishing of the year.