Early Season Smallies

Sonar shares his favorite techniques from his past for catching early spring Smallmouth.

Sonar shares his favorite techniques from his past for catching early spring Smallmouth.

Question:  I live in New England and I have been bass fishing for 30 years where I live in Massachusetts.  On Cape Cod there are a lot of small ponds and lakes and every year the fish start bedding in the third week in march but the weather is not stable what's your thoughts on catching lots of big smallies in the water I fish.  -Ron


Ron, you are bringing me back to my youth with that question!

Of the many places that I have lived across the country, the New England still holds a special place in my soul.  

Early in my younger years I was introduced to bass fishing through our lake house in north-western Connecticut, where we had a wonderful native population of big Smallmouth.  Over the years I narrowed down a handful of proven tactics for these small New England lakes and ponds.

Tried & True Tube

As hard as I tried to find a better technique for catching early season Smallmouth, none were as effective as a tube.  

A tube is a special bait because, it has a tantalizing glide as it falls and also imitates a crawfish very well while being worked on a rocky bottom, which is exactly where these Smallmouth like to hang around in the early spring.  

With rocks providing warmth on sunny days, habitat for crawfish, as well as suitable bottom composition for the Smallmouth to fan a nest when the time comes, rocky flats are the places that I prefer to focus on.  On my lake in Connecticut, the best rocky flats were the ones that had deeper water close by, which offered the Smallies access to different depth zones without having to move far during adverse weather- and the tube was the best bait for this presentation.  

There are a lot of tubes out there, but I prefer finesse tubes, like the Zman EZ TubeZ, which have a narrower profile and appeal to the fish that live in the clear water that seems to be the norm in these small lakes and ponds.  I generally like a natural color that matches the color of the bottom, like a green pumpkin or brown.  One of my favorite colors is the Canada Craw color from Zman.   

Rigged correctly, a finesse tube, like the Zman EZ TubeZ, is an excellent Smallmouth bait.

Rigged correctly, a finesse tube, like the Zman EZ TubeZ, is an excellent Smallmouth bait.

The key to the tube is rigging it with an internally weighted jig head that has its weight distributed more evenly along the shank of the hook, in order to achieve the desired glide that makes the tube so effective.  Click HERE to see a video I did on how to rig this bait.

There are many tube jig heads on the market, but one that works very well- but actually was designed for swimbaits- is the HeadlockZ HD jig head (usually in 1/8 oz or 1/6 oz with a 3/0 hook) which has its weight spread on the shank.  All you have to do is simply insert the jig head through the hollow backside of the tube, push it all the way to the front and then pop the eye of the hook through the plastic.  If the tube is bent in any way due to the hook being shorter than the tube, just cut a slit where the hook exits the tube to straighten the tube out- which is essential when rigging a tube correctly.  

Zman HeadlockZ jighead

Zman HeadlockZ jighead

I pair this finesse rig with a 6'6" Medium spinning rod outfit, and 8-pound Vicious Pro-Elite Fluorocarbon.

The Amazing Ned

The Ned Rig

The Ned Rig

The next bait that I want to share with you is quickly becoming one of my favorite finesse rigs- the Ned.  

The Ned Rig is essentially a very similar technique to the finesse tube, however, it is a profile that fish haven't seen before in a artificial presentation, which makes it very effective for catching picky eaters.  The best thing about this bait is that has a great glide, and it stands straight on end every time and really gets those Smallies all riled up!

I must admit, I haven't had an opportunity to try it in New England since being introduced to it last year, but it is absolutely perfect for the style of fishing up there and I guarantee it will catch you a bunch of fish.

I once again focus on the rockiest flats on a pond with an emphasis on the deeper water drops as well as the biggest rocks in the area.  I will make long casts to rocks I can see and slowly hop this bait on the bottom if it doesn't get crushed on the initial fall.  

The rig consists of a Zman Finesse TRD (my favorite is either Canada Craw or Green Pumpkin) and their Finesse ShroomZ jighead (1/6oz is a good size).  I use the same rod and reel as the tube, but will often downsize to 6-pound Pro-Elite Fluorocarbon.  

Follow Up

The best thing about Smallmouth is their aggressive nature, and it is wise to take advantage of this characteristic.  

Being a power fisherman, I love to cover water quickly, which was often a conflict in the clear waters of the Northeast where finesse presentations rule.  However, I found that a soft plastic jerk bait appealed to the Smallmouth's curious and bold nature.  

Jerk ShadZ

Jerk ShadZ

On sunny, warm, early spring days, you will often see Smallmouth hunting the shallow rock flats in search of crawfish and warmth.  On these days I like to fan-cast a weightless jerk bait-such as a Jerk ShadZ (Shiner color is good)- on the entire flat, moving it with quick erratic jerks.  The key is having good polarized sunglasses (Costa Green Mirror 580 lenses are excellent) to look for Smallmouth that are following but not hitting your bait.  Some days they will inhale your bait, but on many occasions you are simply using the jerk bait to draw the fish to give up their location.  

Costa Sunglasses polarization technology is essential to spotting bit Smallmouth.

Costa Sunglasses polarization technology is essential to spotting bit Smallmouth.

Once you get a Smallie to give up its location, quickly reel in your jerk bait and follow up with a precise cast with the Ned or the Tube to the location of the fish.  The fish will still be on high alert, and though it may not be willing to hit your jerk bait, it will not hesitate to crush the morsel you follow up with.

For the Jerk ShadZ I like a slightly stouter 6'6" Medium Heavy, fast action, spinning combo with 10-pound Pro-Elite Fluorocarbon.  I rig it using a weightless Texas Rig with a 5/0 Trokar TK110 hook.  

Fishing small lakes and ponds for Smallmouth is where I got my start in bass fishing, and I believe that if you take the techniques I have trusted for years to your local hot spots, you too will have memories of massive Smallmouth catches in New England ponds.  

Seek the bite!