By Jeff Samsel

Topwater lures and soft plastics. At one time that largely summed up my river smallmouth game. I was on West Virginia’s New River several years ago when a local angler introduced me to the virtues of cranking a Cotton Cordell Big O for river smallmouths.

When the fish are near the bottom (especially if it’s a rocky bottom) and the smallmouths are in an aggressive reactionary mode, you often can catch far more fish with a Big O than with a slower offering. You can make a lot of casts with a Big O and fish it quickly so it covers a bunch of water and is actively fishing most of the time. It draws reaction strikes as it kicks off rocks and wiggles from one piece of cover to the next. It’s heavy for its size so you can make long casts over gravel bars or shoals.

The key to catching fish with a Big O is pretty simple: Hit as much rock as you can. The Big O’s squared-off bill and buoyancy cause it to kick off the rocks nicely. Depending on the river and the spot, that might mean casting past specific rocks and swimming it right at them or working the lure over gravel or the tops of shoals that are shallow enough to keep the lure grinding. Where there is no rock, try to hit dock supports, brush or other cover as well. It will snag wood some, but it stays sufficiently shallow that it’s normally not hard to retrieve.

Beyond having a natural wobble that attracts strikes and a tendency to kick out nicely when it hits cover, a Big O makes a lot of sound with noisy high-pitched rattles. That can be important for helping fish find the lure, especially when they are holding in ambush position just out of swift currents, or when the river is carrying significant stain.

A Big O comes in three sizes, and all have stream smallmouth applications. However, the C77, which is the middle size at 2 ¼ inches, is the best fit for the most situations. It also comes in nine colors that together offer great representations of crawfish, minnows and perch, plus a couple of bright attractor patterns that work especially well in stained water.