Winter Smallmouth Hotspots

Yellow pines, sycamores, Spanish moss, and open water beckon. If you happen to’re within the Ice Belt, think about a visit to extra southerly waters. That is the place the most well liked winter journey choices are for smallmouths proper now, in keeping with a number of the finest anglers on the planet. Smallmouth fishing is increasing in new locations. We started discussing this explosion over a decade in the past and it continues. A number of components are at work. As sight-feeders, smallmouths profit when waters get clearer, on account of anti-pollution efforts in addition to zebra and quagga mussels. In lots of waters, vegetation is growing, which additionally tends to reinforce readability. Rising seasons are longer, too. And ailments that set again some largemouth populations have given the higher hand to smallmouths.

Ozark Renaissance

Rugged oak groves and stands of hardwoods blanket the rolling Ozark Mountain area, break up by dendridic arms of water snaking by way of the hills. The mountains, sizzling springs, and vast rivers entice tens of millions of holiday makers yearly.

Smallmouths are one other attraction. “They’re the dominant species in some Ozark lakes, proper now,” says B.A.S.S. professional, Kevin VanDam. “The largemouth bass virus handed by way of these lakes 10 years in the past, and that is when the smallie inhabitants took off in Desk Rock and Bull Shoals reservoirs. These lakes are the clearest they’ve ever been, which advantages smallmouths as nicely. They’re best at feeding in clear water. Three years of excessive water did not damage these lakes, both. Populations at Desk Rock and Bull Shoals have boomed. Finally yr’s Bassmaster Elite event on Bull Shoals in April, smallmouths dominated the catch.”

VanDam considers swimming a grub a common tactic for winter smallmouths in open water. “A 1/4- to five/16-ounce ballhead jig with a curl-tail grub like Strike King’s Rage Tail catches smallmouths in every single place,” he says. “I exploit 10-pound braid or 6-pound fluorocarbon. Within the clearest circumstances, I tie fluoro leaders to braid. In most southern waters, smoke or bluegill colours dominate.

“Depend it right down to the place the shad are and begin a sluggish, regular retrieve. It is environment friendly for masking mid-depth zones. Typically I let it fall to the underside and slowly work it again. I graph factors and search for shad. In the event that they’re 15 toes down, depend your grub down into that zone.”

Why else may VanDam go to the Ozarks? “The trout fishery within the White River beneath Bull Shoals needs to be on everyone’s bucket record,” he says. “I attempted it final yr and it is unbelievable.”

The bass sage of the Ozarks is bass professional, information, and lure designer Guido Hibdon. “Smallmouth fishing is nice on Bull Shoals, however Desk Rock, from Freeway 13 downstream has the massive ones,” he says. “They’ve caught a number of 6-pounders just lately. It at all times had a number of large smallmouths, however you seldom caught one. You’d assume that growing stress would make fishing more durable, nevertheless it’s doing the other. Anglers are releasing extra bass than ever, and tournaments are taking higher care of fish. Anglers are getting smarter, too. Drop-shotting and finesse strategies have caught on, with nice success.”

In winter, Hibdon likes a ballhead jig with a tube. “A soccer jig with a twin-tail is one other sensible choice. Crawfish colours are finest,” he provides. “Most fish are within the creek arms, the place the channel cuts in near shore. It does not matter how chilly it will get, you possibly can at all times catch smallmouths in winter right here.” Contact Hibdon at 573/230-3065,

Oklahoma Arrives

Up to now, the nationwide dialogue on smallmouth bass typically bypassed Oklahoma. “Lake Tenkiller is dynamite for giant smallies proper now,” VanDam reviews. “It is in jap Oklahoma, a part of that Ozark area that is sizzling proper now.”

Talking of sizzling, bass professional Jason Christie of Oklahoma has been chalking up wins and excessive finishes on a number of top-level excursions. “I dwell on Tenkiller,” he says. “I might put it up in opposition to any fishery within the South. Lake Eufaula has large ones however not numbers. Tenkiller has each.

“It is not a trophy largemouth lake,” he provides, “nevertheless it provides wonderful fishing for each species. Previous to the ’90s, should you caught a smallmouth on Tenkiller it was an accident. Now I goal them lots in winter. Regardless of how dangerous the climate is, you are going to catch fish. The truth is, the colder and nastier the day, the higher the fishing. We see a variety of license plates from Missouri and Arkansas throughout winter now, and it is common to see a 22–pound five-fish restrict in a event. Final winter we had a 28-pound bag right here. Two years in the past, my daughter caught a 7-pound 4-ounce smallmouth on Tenkiller that may have damaged the state document, however we let her go.”

Mitch Looper, lure designer and promotional professional for PRADCO, additionally relishes Tenkiller’s smallies. “You typically see water above 50°F water in January, and you’ll catch bass on windy factors with crankbaits,” he says. “Tube baits on bluff factors take fish below any circumstances.”

In keeping with Christie, it is commonplace to catch 60 to 70 fish in a day from late fall by way of April. “And 20 of these might high 4 kilos,” he says. “There is no fallacious solution to go about it. Jerkbaits like Smithwick’s Suspending Rogues or swimming grubs take fish every single day, however the greatest ones are caught cranking bluff banks at 8 to 10 toes. A Bomber 6A or a 10A are two of the very best.”

Looper finds large ones deeper. “The deepest I’ve caught one over 4 kilos was 35 toes,” he says. “They feed the place the creek channel turns away from a bluff and heads again into the center of a creek arm. Key spots are the bottom of the drop, at transitions from rock to gravel, the place the creek channel hits a bluff financial institution. And search for areas the place your sonar cannot learn backside due to all of the shad. Additionally examine essential lake spots, alongside sharp drops on bends in the primary river channel.”

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Tennessee Instances

“Pickwick is actual good,” says fishing icon and TV star Invoice Dance. “We’re blessed in Tennessee. We have got the southernmost smallmouths and the northernmost threadfin shad, which enhance their development. We have now a protracted rising season and wonderful water high quality. Pickwick provides superb variety—quick water, shallow patterns, and deep water, all in a lake that does not stratify. One other secret’s water high quality. Many spring-fed creeks feed it.”

Dance recommends mid-January to mid-March. “However for the giants, think about mid-March to mid-April. They get on what I name ‘housekeeping banks.’ You discover these banks by way of trial-and error, however all of them have clay, pea gravel, and rock.

“Search for these spots in coves, about one-third to one-half-way out of the creek, near channel bends the place shale, clay, and gravel come collectively,” he provides. “That is the place I caught my greatest, an 8-pound 3-ounce fish. I used to be utilizing spinning gear with 8-pound mono and a 1/8-ounce jig. Over the past 6 years or so, we have had milder winters, typically discovering 48°F water on the floor. And I at all times examine it 4 toes deep. If I can discover 48°F to 50°F water 4 toes down, I do know I can whack ’em on a Smithwick Rogue off channel factors.”

Pickwick is seeing an enlargement of vegetation. “Company budgets had been reduce throughout latest years and aquatic weed management was one of many initiatives that was decreased,” he says. “From an angler’s standpoint, that is nice. Vegetation is among the best types of habitat. When weed management was accomplished repeatedly, I bear in mind tournaments being received with 5-fish limits of 9 to 12 kilos. After vegetation reclaimed the lakes, it might take 25 to 32 kilos to win.

“Along with Pickwick, we have now Norris, Dale Hole, Heart Hill, Woods Reservoir (the place I caught my second greatest smallmouth), and Kentucky Lake.” Bobby Wilson, Chief of Fisheries for the Tennessee Wildlife Sources Company, thinks Dale Hole, web site of the all-tackle world-record catch, is the very best smallmouth lake in Tennessee proper now. “Fishing was more durable there this summer season, however our samples present the inhabitants is doing positive,” he says. “Typically populations are sturdy however individuals aren’t catching them. That is not essentially a nasty signal, because it typically means preyfish are considerable.

“Winter fishing was nice final yr, however anglers had an off spring,” he provides. “Fishing right here is usually higher in winter than another time of yr. On Dale Hole, we have now a slot restrict defending fish between 16 to 21 inches. Anglers can solely maintain one over and one below, so launch charges are excessive.”

For Tennessee’s second-best winter smallmouth venue, Wilson selected Norris Lake. “Anglers can maintain 5 on Norris, however they need to be over 18 inches. South Holston Lake could be my third selection.”

Kentucky Horses

“Kentucky Lake has a great smallmouth inhabitants and you’ll catch all of them winter,” says Captain Kirk Weber (Captain Kirk’s Information Service, 270/354-6017). “Proper now I feel the largemouth inhabitants is a bit of higher, however November by way of January are superb months for smallmouths. I’ve caught my greatest bass in December.”

Winter is time for jerkbaits, home made hair jigs, and Alabama rigs, Weber says. “Typically we use livebait. Some purchasers are against utilizing dwell minnows, however that is okay. We catch loads on artificials, however as you already know, some days you catch extra fish with livebait.”

Location is primarily the identical for all southern reservoirs: Smallmouths winter close to bluff banks half solution to two thirds of the way in which into creek channels, or wherever you discover a bend within the channel the place most depths are 20 to 35 toes. “Throughout winter, smallmouths need to be the place shallow and deep water come shut collectively,” Weber says. “They nestle into bends the place the creek channel swings up in opposition to bluffs. Most fish are caught in 8 to 22 toes.”

He says a typical day is 15 to 25 fish, however you possibly can catch 50 on an important day. “Anticipate one over 5 kilos and we catch 6-pounders that point of yr. The lifeless of winter could be the very best time for lunkers, and smallmouths aren’t a lot bothered by chilly fronts then, both.”

Captain Kirk is beaming them as much as the mom ship all winter. Come down and expertise a brand new type of southern hospitality, smallie-style.

*In-Fisherman Area Editor Matt Straw, Brainerd, Minnesota, has written on smallmouth subjects for greater than twenty years.

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