Chasing May Smallies On The Big River

By Ted Peck - May 1, 2008
"What's the big deal…you catch lots of bass?" my wife snorted as she witnessed a victory dance accompanied by multiple howls and war whoops.

No point in explaining to someone torn from the deep metaphysical truths in the latest issue of Oprah that a 23 1/2 inch, pre-spawn smallmouth bass is a really nice fish… or angst upon discovering the camera was at home and not in the boat. What do you do with a fish like that? Release her of course… after confirming the length and 16 1/4 inch girth twice.

Water temperature was only in the low 60's along those sun-drenched rocks on that May afternoon three years ago. The bruiser bronzeback was probably the 15th or 16th smallie released along this little run of shoreline, five inches larger than any of the other fish which gernipped that green punkinseed Chomper skirted hula grub.

The Chomper was washed in promising spots for over three hours before finally hooking up with the first bass. That's spring bassing-run and gun 'til you find them, then beat the shoreline to a froth until both you and the bass have had enough. Besides being the largest smallie ever to stumble into my hook, this one was special in the way she called me out for a fight. My wife noticed minnows exploding from the water near the root system of a deadfall at water's edge.

I cast to the spot twice. Twice this bass carried the lure away and dropped it before I could set the hook. On a close encounter of the third kind ol' redeye came rocketing clear of the water about 15 feet from the boat. We both had our mouths open in a moment forever frozen in the scrapbook of my mind. FireLine screamed off the reel, the GLX Loomis bent deep and thrummed with every frantic flip of the smallie's airborne tail---sending shock waves clear down to my quivering knees. In a few minutes it was all over. My life was changed forever. But my passion for chasing these spectacular fish on the upper Mississippi River hasn't. If anything the smallie fever is much, much worse.

Running and gunning is just one aspect of consistent success on these fish. Another major key is finding the warmest water available. This means fishing shallow, calm water-often with a dark bottom. A fallen tree or cluster of several stumps which may be high and dry when the river is at normal summer pool levels has a "bums around an oil drum fire" attraction for smallies this time of year, with many fish drawn by warmth, shelter…and the possibility that a clueless meal will come cruising by.

With all of their needs met these fish don't have the inclination to chase down food. A cast right in the middle of their tangled, woody hideaway holds the shortest odds of hooking up. The difference between a perfect cast and a lure-losing snafu is less than a half-inch. Rigging a Chomper, tube or similar plastic totally weedless is a good idea. The old Charlie Brewer slider head is an answer to prayer in this regard.

You might want to play with the gap on the light wire hook of this particular tool until finding the optimum angle that maximizes hook ups with fish while minimizing encounters with structure.A 3/8 oz. white or orange/brown spinnerbait is another spring smallie killer on the Miss. Adding a three-inch crawdad colored K-grub to a white spinnerbait and rigging the plastic weedless covers all the bases.

A slow-rolled spinnerbait is a great "locator" lure for backwater smallmouth in the spring. Perhaps an even better bait is an orange/crawdad pattern Rat-L-Trap. Of course you need to stay clear of the heaviest cover when tossing a lipless vibrating crank-but if fish are stacked on a small structural anomaly a little "buck" bass will often charge out and investigate.

Before month's end the big river will be back down at normal pool levels with smallies sliding back out to where there is a little more current flow. But until this happens and water temperatures start to flirt with 70 degrees don't overlook very un-smallmouth like habitat for eager big river bronzebacks.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.