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Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass
Micropterus dolomieui

Nighttime smallies
During the months of July, August, and September--most night fishermen's favorite time of year, air and water temperatures begin reaching summertime highs.

The daytime boat and Jet Ski traffic is also at its peak and boaters are churning up the lake, creating an abundance of stained water, especially out on the main body. 

Besides that, those not on the water during the day are at home with the air conditioning turned up on high, forcing the TVA to crank up their power generators to keep up with the demand--creating a slight current in the river channel of the lake.

Smallmouth like current, even slight ones created by water being pulled through the dam, and they love to feed on crawfish in stained, churned-up water where the cover for their prey has been put in a state of disarray.

Night owls looking for the seasonally nocturnal smallmouth thrive during these three months thanks to the combination of these two bite-boosting factors.

This mid-season change signals a time to switch gears a little bit and start looking at the main lake with a 3/8 oz. hair jig in order to get down a little deeper.  Fishermen should turn their focus toward deep water points, flats, and drops--all adjacent to the river channel.

By this point in the night fishing season, smallmouth have had sufficient time to start putting on some weight after the spawn and are healthy enough to become really upset when you stick them in the 15 to 35 feet depth range

Moon phases
During the summer months, it seems better success comes during the new moon phase when only stars dominate the night sky, but don't overlook the full moon--which can also be very rewarding. 

With the moon full, fishermen may want to look for places that are in the shade of the moon, even though some bites definitely come on a place that is directly in the path of the moonlight.

 This was written in hopes of helping anglers out with their next adventure into the darkness of the night, and to encourage them to always remember to be safe. 

Dale Hollow is a different lake once the sun goes down and the nocturnal life begins to awaken.  Remember to take time to listen to all the different sounds Mother Nature has to offer and look up on occasion to view the heavens above in between bites, because you'll be glad you did!

Greg Brisendine


                                           Fizzing deep water fish

When a bass is hooked in deep water and brought zing deepwater fish quickly to the surface, it typically suffers a fish version of the "bends," a debilitating phenomenon that results from a rapid change in air pressure.

In the case of a bass, the air bladder swells, preventing the fish from returning to deep water. A bass with a swollen air bladder typically shows an evident bulge and often swims on its side, on or near the water's surface. Obviously, the affliction can be fatal.

"It's easy to diagnose," says Rankin, chief fisheries biologist for the Upstate region for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "The fish looks bloated and may be swimming strong, but belly up. You'll see them constantly fighting, bobbing back up to the surface."

Enter the "fizz."

The process known as "fizzing" a fish is a fairly simple procedure that involves releasing air from the air bladder, enabling the fish to return to its normal behavior -- and essentially saving its life.

Fisheries experts fizzed quite a few bass during the recent Bassmaster Classic tournament, which supported many an angler's contention on the weigh-in stage when they pronounced how deep that they'd hooked their bass.

When each angler's catch was passed beneath the stage to a recovery and holding tank, Rankin knew what to expect.

"It made me think, 'These guys are telling the truth about how they're fishing,' " Rankin said.

The majority of bass caught by Classic winner Alton Jones, who said he caught his fish 25 to 36 feet deep, had to be fizzed. None of the bass caught by Charlie Hartley, who caught his bass shallow around docks, required fizzing.

Fizzing has taken on an added importance in recent years, particularly since the last thing professional anglers want to do is harm the fisheries that provide the bass that support their livelihood. It's importance also is being recognized by weekend tournament anglers and recreational fishermen as well.

Scott Poore, then a fisheries technician with the DNR, first noticed a problem with deep-caught bass during a few tournaments held at Lake Keowee in the late 1990s. He saw evidence of released bass floating on the lake's surface after some events.

"That's when it started to become a concern," said Poore, who is now director of the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery.

In the "early days" of fizzing, a hypodermic needle was inserted into the side of a bloated bass to release the pressure on the air bladder. But it was a non-exact science -- unless the person doing the fizzing was well-schooled in the process, the potential for harming the fish existed.

"There's a lot of variability in going in through the side (of the fish)," Poore said. "Over time it proved not to be the best method."

The "new" method is simpler, with far less potential for harm. A hypodermic needle is inserted into a fish's gaping mouth and into an air bladder vent that is easy to locate. When contact is made, an audible "fizz" can be heard as air escapes the bladder.

As Chris Horton, the conservation director for BASS and ESPN Outdoors, says, "you can feel the bass just relax in your hands."

During the recent Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell and the Women's Bassmaster Tour Championship held concurrently at Lake Keowee, the 74 competing anglers brought a total of 704 bass to the weigh-ins. Only 15, or roughly two percent, perished.

Three of those were smallish redeye, or Coosa bass, which don't handle stress nearly as well as their largemouth or spotted bass brethren.

"We'd rather not have any dead fish, but if you told me that going in we'd only lose 15 fish I'd have thought that was pretty good," Rankin said. "I've seen more dead fish than that at some smaller tournaments with on-site weigh-ins.

"I had a little uneasiness going into it knowing that the fish were going to be transported that far in boats. But I was really impressed with the condition that the fish came in. Those anglers are pros in more ways than just catching fish."

Rankin said that "half, or better" of the bass caught at Lake Keowee required fizzing, which should come as no surprise since most bass caught at the lake in February are deep. Between one-fourth and one-third of the bass caught at Lake Hartwell were fizzed, Rankin said.

He's confident that fizzing is here to stay, and is convinced that an increasing number of local and regional tournaments will designate a trained person to fizz bass that are caught in deep-water conditions.

"It's becoming common in deep-water fisheries, and we have some deep lakes," Rankin said. "We don't want everyone to go sticking needles in fish, particularly if they don't know what they're doing. But a lot of anglers are discovering how to do this and more and more are learning how to do it properly.



By Vernon Summerlin

Summertime anglers find relief from the hot days by fishing at night. On a night trip for Center Hill's smallmouth a few years ago, I learned some nights are better than others.

Darin Coe and I fished out of Edgar Evins Marina a few nights after the full moon. "Night fishing is my favorite," says Darin. "I like to fish when the moon is between a quarter and three-quarters in size. After three-quarters, the moon is too bright. If I do fish nights when there is a lot of moon, I fish the dark side of a bank, in the moon shadows."

Darin says smallmouth bass strike a bait when it's between them and the moon. "They don't see color at night but they see shades of color. A full moon lets them see the lure too clearly - they see shades of gray and its shape or outline. They are a smart fish, they know when not to hit."

There we were casting the Little Demon and hair jigs with an Uncle Josh rind under a three-quarter moon. It was bright enough to read by.

"From a quarter to nearly three-quarter moon, I fish a black and chartreuse or black and red. From one-half to three-quarter I fish crawfish and orange, something lighter colored because there is more light in the sky. From new moon to first-quarter I use black on black, such as a black jig and trailer or a black worm. The solid black gives a little more outline when there is almost no light in the sky."

We began fishing before it was dark and Darin said we should be casting six-inch worms. "Just before dark I think they like to hit worms better," says Darin. "During the day they will hit the worm and crankbaits better. And during the day you have to fish the cover or structure from 15 to 25 feet of water. I fish old road beds, house foundations, fallen trees and deep river channel points until it gets dark."

"Early in the spring I fish a chartreuse tail with black dots and crawfish with orange around big chunk rock and mud," he says. "Cast in on the rocks and pull it off and let it fall, smallmouth are under the rocks. But in hot weather, I pull up on a channel point with both deep and shallow water close by. I cast across the point into 20-25 feet of water let it drop then bounce it up the ledge across the point then down the other side."

Since the surface water temperature is in the upper 80's in summer, the fish will be deeper. The top of the thermocline is about 20 feet. You are going to find the fish about 4 feet into the thermocline.

Shallow chunk rock points in Indian Creek are some of Darin's favorite places. He says on Center Hill you will find the bottom drops about a foot to one and a half feet for every foot you go out from the bank. For example, 10 feet from the bank the depth will be between 10 and 15 feet. Shallow points drop about one half to three-quarters of a foot per foot away from the bank. At 20 feet from the bank you would be in about 12 feet of water.

"At night I expect smallmouth to move into 12 to 15 feet of water. I pull into the bank and cast out, put the boat in 12 to 15 feet and cast across the point working the Little Demon or hair fly from deep to shallow or I put the boat in deep water and cast shallow. I try it from all directions - that way I know I cover everything."

He says, "Some people say that bass like the bait coming from the bank because that's the way they usually see baitfish traveling. I'm not 100 percent sure that's always true. You just have to figure out where they are in relation to depth and fish every point that way."

In hot weather he suggests you fish the channel points. Darin fishes the lower end of the lake from Hurricane Creek towards the dam. Indian Creek is a tributary large enough to warrant fishing its primary points (points on the creek channel). Other places with good smallmouth action are the points at the mouth of Merritt Hollow, Hales Hollow and Holmes Creek.

"For smallmouth bass I use the Little Demon and a hair jig. I use Hoppy's hair fly or Stan Sloan's fly, 1/8-ounce size. Smallmouth suck in their food by flaring their gills and opening their mouth wide. This causes a vacuum. It's easier for an 1/8-ounce jig to be sucked in than an 1/4-ounce. You catch better fish with 1/8-ounce. I'll use a 1/4-ounce jig if there is wind but I get less hits with it.

Darin cuts three-fourths of the fat off the back of a piece of Uncle Josh 101 rind. He also splits the tail all the way up to give it more action.


                          Fall Smallmouth

Smallmouth bass are extremely vulnerable during the fall season.  They are so vulnerable in fact, that special regulations have been employed in some parts of Canada and the northern United States.  Closed seasons or catch and release laws protect these fish from over-harvest at a time when smallies are chomping.  The vulnerability of autumn bronzebacks is due to their tendency to school up as well as their smashmouth attitude.  They forage in schools and feed heavily as winter approaches.  Steve Mattson of Brainerd, Minnesota spends numerous days each season targeting smallmouth on Ontario's Rainy Lake.  His favorite time period is mid to late fall. "The bonanza starts about mid-September and continues until freeze-up", says Mattson.  "Most anglers have moved on to hunting and miss out on the best bite of the year." 

Slurpies Swim'n Grub

Go Deep

When lakes "turn over" in the fall, stratification between the surface layer of water and the deeper water is eliminated.  That point at which these layers meet, the thermocline, has confined bass and forage all summer.  Venturing below this line during this period of stratification would mean entering cold oxygen-deprived water.  Now however, without a thermocline to serve as a floorboard, baitfish are free to roam the depths.  Smallmouth, particularly big fish, are sure to follow.  As bass move toward deeper wintering areas, the amount of "fishy" water on a particular lake is compressed.  Bays without 30-40 feet of water can be eliminated.  Come fall, Mattson fishes near deeper basins and targets ambush points to inlcude sunken humps, deeper points, ledges and breaklines.  "Access to deep water is key," says Mattson.  Using electronics to locate fish is very important as well.  "Typically, I will keep moving, idling over each likely spot until I see bass on my graph.  Only then do drop the Minnkota and wet a line."  Often, bass appear to be present but won't bite.  Mattson may return to these areas several times in a day.  "Fall frenzies happen when a school of baitfish drift through an area and turn the smallies on," says the smallmouth expert.

Steve Mattson detected this big fall smallmouth on his electronics.  He quickly dropped a Northland Fishing Tackle Thumper Jig dressed with a Slurpies Swim'n Grub on the fish and she ate it.
(Photo by Norm Mattson)


Thumper Jig and Slurpies Swim'n Grub

Stay Vertical

Once fish are located, the fun begins.  Jigs dressed with plastics are ideal for fall smallmouth that have been spotted on sonar.  Mattson likens it to ice fishing.  "When a fish is located, I'll drop a bait on them immediately.  I'll try to hover right above the fish and can often detect my lure and see fish strike.  I try to work the bait just above the fish.  A high percentage of fish will bite."  Minnow imitating lures dominate in fall.  Jigs adorned with grubs, tubes, flukes, and shad-type plastics are favorites for smallmouth all year, but really shine in autumn.  Mattson's favorite jig for going vertical on fall bronzebacks is a 1/4 ounce Thumper Jig, produced by Northland Fishing Tackle.  The jig sports enough weight ahead of the tie-eye to hang in a horizontal position.  Mattson claims that this attribute alone makes the Thumper Jig better for this application than standard ball-head jigs.  Additionally, the Thumper Jig features the profile of a minnow's head, complete with large eyes.  It also features a small spinner blade attached to its belly, an attractor that gets the attention of deep smallmouth.  Finally, Mattson likes the longer shank hook on the Thumper Jig for rigging plastics.


The Thumper Jig and Slurpies Swim'n Grub are a dynamite combination for vertically jigging autumn smallmouth.  (Photo by Steve Mattson)  

Speaking of plastics, Mattson sticks with two types, grubs and fluke-type lures.  Grubs like Northland's new 4 inch Slurpies Swim'n Grub are simple.  However, holographic fish-flakes and Sow Sauce scent put them above the standard twister tails by several notches.  "The 4 inch grub in a minnow pattern is a smallmouth magnet," says Mattson.  As far as fluke-type baits, Mattson likes the Slurpies Jerk Shad, a 5 inch morsel that he typically trims down to about 4 inches when rigging on a jig.  He is also a fan of Berkley's Power Minnows and Gulp! Minnows. 

Rig Right

Rod and reel combinations for fall jig fishing are pretty simple.  Mattson relies on a few seven foot medium action spinning rods.  He prefers to spool his reels with 10 pound Berkley Fireline for its sensitivity and lack of stretch.  "Often, I'll hook fish in 25-30 feet of water," he reports.  "If a smallmouth breathes on the bait, I know it!  Fireline also allows me to hook these fish quite easily." 

Other vital tools to fall smallmouth fishing include a quality graph and GPS.  The graph serves as an angler's eyes below the surface.  Structure, baitfish, and bass are easily identified.  Reefs, points, and other structural elements as well as schools of fish can be marked as waypoints or icons on a GPS.  In addition, trails can be viewed in an effort to fish an area thoroughly.  Great lakes smallmouth anglers commonly drift open water areas in grid patterns to connect with schools of roaming fish.







tips and suggestions

Did you know: running  your boat  at half speed saves you aprox. 50 % on fuel per mile  
Did you know: proper tire inflation on your car and trailer can save 2 to 4 miles per gallon  

Did you know: Lackawanna's club membership
grew 50% this year


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