“Here one day, gone the next.”
For years, we’ve heard these gripes about smallmouth. Nomadic fish. Undependable in a tournament. Roamers.
For a while, that never jived with me. From what I saw, the bass around my home waters of Lake Erie seemed to be as dependable as a bigmouth under a dock.
Fast-forward a couple decades and, after chasing smallmouth all across the country, I realized how different they were from one place to the next. In fact, my original home waters were simply the exception to the rule; for the most part, brown bass like to roam.
How many of us have wondered if that’s truly what’s going on. After loading the boat on a Friday afternoon, where did those bass go by Saturday morning?
Some new studies, and the reports on their findings, can help us understand. In his piece titled Smallmouth Telemetry, In-Fisherman staff writer Matt Straw takes us deep into the world of modern bass tracking and confirms a long-held belief.
Smallmouth bass do, in fact, move. A lot.
Straw quotes Gord Pyzer, Ontario’s "Dr. Bass", in his reference to smallmouth as “trapliners." Findings indicate that smallmouth often forage by going from place to place, much like a trapper harvesting fur. They rarely stay in one place for long and often have a series of stops along their route that are repeated daily or hourly.
This lines up remarkably with my own findings on the water. In 2004, I moved to the shores of Lake St. Clair, where I spent the next decade fishing the best smallmouth lake in the world 100-plus days a year. Some areas were always dependable, others turned on and off with the seasons. But one thing held true: The best catches usually coincided with running into a school of roamers.
St. Clair being what it was during that period, some of those schools were the things of dreams. I remember one that was a mile long, literally. But, just like on other lakes, that school would often totally disappear overnight.
I often wondered what happened. Surely I could find those fish again, I assumed. Straw’s report concludes that, while running across the motherlode a second time isn’t totally out of the question, it’s unlikely. The “traplines” extended nine miles in one study. In another, tagged smallmouth bass were found to roam three miles a day, on average.
Now, consider that those same fish can go in any direction, and inhabit any part of the water column, and you can see the difficulty in finding them again.
So where does that leave us? With a new approach, for one.
When fishing for smallmouth, it’s becoming more apparent that the best way is to start over, every day. Sure, exact GPS coordinates of a big boulder or sharp drop will often result in a catch. But, perhaps, that’s just a stop on the trapline.
For best results, it’s imperative to dial in a number of stops, not get hung up on any one location and be willing to be mobile.
That’s tough for us, as bass fishermen, especially when a few dollars are on the line, or the fishing day is just too short. We often attempt to repeat our successes. Go to “the juice” and hammer it for all it’s worth.
But, as experienced smallmouth anglers and researchers agree, timing is everything.
I’ve often expressed how different smallmouth are form largemouth – especially the smallies that roam the vast open waters of the North. In reality, they’re more like walleyes or salmon or even tuna than largemouth. “Pelagic” is the current popular term.
“Relating to the open sea” is the true definition of that word. That may be a stretch. Smallmouth, like any freshwater predator, will use key features of their home base to turn the tides in their favor. And, when things are good, huge numbers of them will often move in and make for a memorable day of fishing.
The key, from what we’re learning, is to be there when they do.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)