Pound for pound, smallmouth bass here in the BWCA are our toughest fighters. (While we also have largemouth, also, they are in very few of our 2,500 lakes.)
Worms, frogs, minnows, and crayfish are the primary menu items for “bronze backs”. Bass usually strike from below, so run a little shallow with your lures. Topwaters are (by far) the best for morning and evening if the water is flat. During mid-day, bass are not very active, but trolling a minnow-like lure in 8 to 12 feet of water will sometimes induce a strike.
In spring, during spawn, bass are violently aggressive around their nests. Anyone can catch a female bass over her nest, so be a sportsman, and stay away! Instead, fish rapids and waterfalls, it is much more challenging. If you do hook a female that hasn’t spawned yet (looks bloated, or is unusually large), put her back, gently. She is about to provide sportsmen with fishing pleasure for years to come! Don’t forget your fly-rod!
Peak times for smallmouth bass are spring and fall … but that’s Ely’s spring (late May & June), and Ely’s fall (late August and early September). We are looking for water temperatures from 50 – 65 degrees. In the early spring (pre-spawn) bass are typically chasing crankbaits, streamers, rattlebaits, and spinners. Our lake chain varies in color as the season progresses due to tannin concentrations from up-stream wildrice beds and tamarack pine marshes. As the water color changes, lure color must change also. Our shop carries a variety of these lures, and we stock the proper colors as our water darkens and lightens.
July and August can still be productive, but it requires fishing in lower light conditions: early morning and after dinner. Topwater lures are great, and fly-fishermen can really cash-in on deer hair or cork poppers. At this same time, in shaded stretches along the shoreline, try using a crayfish imitation lure. Get it right down in the rocks, and let it click from one boulder to another … it drives bass crazy!
In September, it’s back to crankbaits as the lakes cool down. The fly-rod guys should switch over to a Clouser Minnow on a sinking tip line. Smallmouth tend to school-up at this time of year in preparation for winter. They are so easy to catch at this time that the Natural Resources people put on a catch and release only restriction starting with the second Monday of the month. In just the two short seasons that this has been in effect, we are already seeing a size increase due to this conservation measure.