Flexibility is the key to success.
By Trent Jonas
Early summer is prime time for chasing smallmouth bass across most of their range. Anglers—especially those who fish lakes—may encounter as many as three distinct periods of activity among smallmouths as the water continues to warm toward summer temperatures. So, the key to landing bronzebacks in the early summer is flexibility and a willingness to try different tactics while figuring out what works on any given day. Here are half a dozen tips for landing a lunker in the early summer months.
When the water starts to warm up, smallmouth make their way into shallows and flats as they prepare to spawn. They are searching for areas with a gravel or sandy bottom in three to fifteen feet of water in which to build nests. Bigger smallmouth tend to nest at the deeper end of this range and near or under structure like branches, trees, or fallen logs. Where water is flat and smallmouth, topwater baits work really well to draw them off their nests. If you’re fishing water that’s deeper than six feet though, switch to a prop or rattle bait and twitch over the bottom, reeling in just a few inches at a time.
Water temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (May and June in the northern half of the country) trigger the spawn for most smallmouth, and this spawning period is the best time to catch real lunkers. The bass aggressively defend their nests for a period of about two weeks during the spawn, and it doesn’t take much more than pulling a crankbait over a nest to provoke a strike. At the same time, however, the aggressive behavior of smallmouth during the spawn also makes it very easy to overfish an area. While you may net a trophy smallmouth or two during the spawn, practicing strict catch and release angling during this part of the summer will help to ensure a healthy smallmouth population for the rest of the season and into the future.
After the spawn, smallmouth enter a phase of torpor, in which their hormone levels subside and they become far less aggressive as they recover from the spawn. During this period, you’ll find one or two bronzebacks at a time, holding tight under cover and turning their noses up at much of what you have to offer. In order to entice them to strike during the post-spawn phase, you’ll need to put your bait right in front of the smallmouth’s face. Try Texas-rigged finesse worms or a minnow presentation with sharp jerks and twitches. Be patient—it will take several tasks to provoke a bite—and change tactics if what you’re doing doesn’t seem to be working.
As the water continues to warm, and smallmouths recover from the spawn, they become hungry and enter a two-to-three week phase of aggressive feeding to fuel their summer growth stage. This period of aggression is often marked by several days of warm air temperatures and calm weather, as well as water temperatures rising to the 70-degree Fahrenheit mark.
One of the reasons that the bite is so good as early summer turns to late summer is a lack of natural forage for the aggressively hungry bronzebacks. This means they will go after just about anything that resembles their natural prey at this time of year: minnows and crawdads. Use lures or softbaits that look like the natural forage and presentations that mimic their movements, and you’re likely to have success on the water.
Although they tend to feed more aggressively as the water warms to summer temperatures in the post-spawn weeks, smallmouth also tend to move deeper to banks and structure that is farther offshore. Inshore anglers who hope to get in on the early summer feeding frenzy should adjust their fishing schedules to early morning and early evening, when the bass move into the warmer waters of shallows near the depths where they suspend during the day. At these times, shallow crankbaits and topwater lures can be particularly effective.