Time for Smallmouths

News & Tips: Time for Smallmouths

It's mid-March. There's snow on the ground as well as the mention of more in the weather forecast in the northeast. Winter seems reluctant to give way to spring here in western Pennsylvania. But it always does, and when it happens it often provides some of the year's best fishing for big smallmouth bass, especially on free flowing rivers like the middle portion of the Allegheny.

TimeForSmallmouths JKblog
Dave Lehman shows off a couple of March smallmouth bass.

Looking back over my logs the past three years, I'm reminded of this. It was on March 11 of 2010 when things got started. The previous couple of days had been unseasonably warm, quickly raising the water temperatures into the 40-degree mark — the level at which the river's brown bass typically awaken. Dave Lehman, one of my frequent fishing partners, and I boated 40 smallmouths on the 11th, nearly all of them in the 2- to 4-pound range.

It took a bit longer for things to turn on in 2011, a year with an exceptionally hard winter. It was April 2, and Lehman was again my partner; the day started off cold but managed to reach 50 degrees by mid afternoon. With water temperatures in the 40-41 degree range we boated 10 bass up to 19 inches.

Last year's winter was as mild as the previous one's was tough. During early March we began picking up the odd smallmouth while walleye fishing. On March 16 one of my regular guide clients, Steve Gierl, and I boated 35 big smallmouth plus a few walleyes and northern pike.

Besides providing a great bite for quality-sized bass, what do these trips have in common? For one, the fish were all taken from the same handful of spots. Once you learn where the bass winter over, you can expect them to be there during early spring year in and year out.

The other shared element is that a two-pronged approach is needed to catch these fish. Bottom baits like tube jigs (Bass Pro Shops Tender Tubes) hair jigs (such as the Luck "E" Strike Smallmouth Hair Jig) and twister-tail grubs (Mister Twister Tail Grubs) will likely take the most fish. But the bass will also hit a suspending jerkbait like XCalibur EEratic Shad Edwin Evers Signature Model Hardbaits when fished ultra slow. Typically, in this situation the jerkbait doesn't catch the most fish, but often it does account for the biggest. 

So, if tradition holds true, one my upcoming blogs in the next few weeks will tell the tale of a great, early spring trip for numbers of big smallmouth bass.