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“Of the Outdoors” You Best Hold on When fighting a Smallmouth Bass By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

March 12, 2019

I felt a slight pressure on my line, so I reared back hard, setting the hook on what I’d thought was a walleye.
It definitely wasn’t a walleye, as I couldn’t bring the fish off the bottom and didn’t feel the head shaking that walleyes are known for, I was battling one of the hardest fighting fish in the upper Midwest, a smallmouth bass.
When I set the hook, my rod almost torn from my hand, as I held on tight, and my drag screamed with the fish spooling off a great deal of my line,
As the fish dove towards the bottom, I tried desperately to turn him and force him to the surface.
Just about the time that I thought I had everything under control, the fish turned the tables on me, charging to the surface, tail walking along the side of the boat, only to plunge back into the thirty foot depths from which he’d came.
After several more jumps and numerous bulldog runs, the feisty smallmouth bass, right at 4-pounds finally slid into the net.
This was my first battle with a smallmouth and one of over twenty of these hard fighting beauties, averaging three and a half to four pounds; we landed on this trip to Spicer, Minnesota with Team Member Duane Ryks on Green Lake.
After filming the fish, taking a couple of pictures, we returned the fish back into the water to fight another day.
As I checked my line and its knot to see what damage the battle did to my line, I re-adjusted my reels drag and checked the hooks on my lure, somehow, wondering why anglers would not love to catch smallmouth bass.
Unfortunately, some anglers in that area were “one species fisherman”, thinking that the only fish worth catching were walleyes, feeling that smallmouth simply got in the way of their walleye fishing.
It’s true that smallmouths are very aggressive, much more than walleyes and found in many of the same areas as walleyes, but I feel that these beautiful fish don’t directly compete with the walleyes.
Smallmouth, much like walleyes are schooling fish and where you find one, you’re bound to find several fish.
Like most species of fish, they’ll relate to structure; points, rock piles, drop offs and where current is reduced in the slack water behind sandbars and downed timber.
They’re aggressive feeders and caught in numerous ways including; crankbaits, spinnerbaits, tube jigs, live bait rigs, plastic baits and on surface lures.
Some of the same baits you’d use for largemouth will take smallmouth, but generally, you will have to down size your bait, as their name implies, they have a much smaller mouth than their cousins, the largemouth.
Like the walleye, smallmouth are predators and locate in close proximity to their food source which can be crayfish, shad, minnows and other small species of fish.
Once you locate their food source, you can bet that the smallmouth won’t be too far away.
As water temperatures reach high fifties and sixties, the spawn begins in areas with smallmouth preferring areas with smaller gravel to spawn.
The smallmouth males are the first to move up to prepare the spawning bed or nest, located in one to ten foot water, with the large fish spawning in the deeper water.
They, like the largemouth, use their tail, clearing out a two to three foot diameter bed, generally close to wood, boulders or weeds.
Once the female moves up to the bed and the eggs fertilized the female moves deep to rest up from the rigors of the spawn, while the males guards the nests and fry for two or three weeks.
They then move deep for a short period of time and once rested move shallow again to feed.
In the upper Midwest, some excellent smallmouth fishing happens in many of the Glacial Lakes of South Dakota, with Horseshoe Lake in the northeastern part of the state where the South Dakota state record came from.
In the Missouri River system from Oahe, down to Lewis & Clark Lake the smallmouth population has exploded, with several of the guides who guided only for walleyes, now offering fishing for smallmouth.
Last year on June 29 to July 2 in Pierre, South Dakota, the Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society (BASS) held one of their major tournaments, their Elite Series, an invitation-only series of tournaments allowing more than one-hundred and seven of the best bass anglers in the country to compete against each other on Lake Oahe.
Mark Daniels, an Alabama angler fought the Lake Oahe four-foot waves, fishing pre-spawn fish in sixty foot of water to take home the first place trophy. He weighed in 69 pounds 9 ounces during this four day-event, boating more than three pounds more than the second place.
Clifford Pirch, came into the scales with the largest one-day stringer that tipped the scales at 20 pounds 11 ounces of fish, with the largest fish of the tournament, a 5 pound 6 ounce smallmouth caught by angler Fred Roumbanis.
Unlike other species of fish that succumb quite readily once hooked, the smallmouth will fight hard and long, your drag had best be adjusted properly, your knots well tied and you’d better be prepared for an extended battle.
Because smallmouth are so aggressive, it’s pretty easy to over fish them and by continually taking home limits of these fish, the population can be hurt, so selective harvest and catch and release is important.
It’s a fact that fishing for smallmouth bass in the upper Midwest is as good as it gets with three-pound to five plus fish caught regularly.
The state record for smallmouth in South Dakota, a 7 pounder taken from Horseshoe Lake and after the official weighing released back into the lake.
The Nebraska state record fish, a 7 lbs. 4 oz smallmouth taken in 2000 came from
the Missouri River in Knox county.
If you’re looking for some excellent fishing, give smallmouth bass fishing a try because pound per pound, there are no harder fighting and more exciting fish to go after.

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