By Dr. Hal Schramm

Ohio River, McAlpine Pool, Indiana and Kentucky

Once free-flowing, the Ohio River has been modified into a series of impoundments to create sufficient depth for year-round commercial navigation. Although dams often have negative biological consequence, they usually benefit bass fisheries; and McAlpine Pool near Louisvile, Ky., offers anglers good fishing for largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. All three species are post spawn, according to regional tournament angler Michael Thompson. These different species of bass mingle in McAlpine Pool, so Thompson’s advice will put you on all three. What differs, though, is whether there is current or not. Water flow occurs when the locks are operated. Anticipated current conditions can be obtained by calling the lockmaster. Alternatively, run to the middle of the river and put the engine in neutral to see if you boat drifts or you see other floating objects drifting.

Plan A: If there is current. When the water is flowing, Thompson looks for current breaks — rock jetties (wing dikes), rocky points, or anything that provides slack water or a break in the current. Thompson relies on three baits: a black Booyah Buzz, a Z Shad Booyah Boss Pop, and a Bandit 100 in a Shad pattern. “The fish are predictable where they are positioned relative to the current,” Thompson said. “Try to dial in on the subpattern. Stay mobile. These sheltered areas reload quickly. When a spot burns out, go elsewhere and return later.”

Plan B: No current. This is tough fishing; fish suspend in river and are hard to catch. “Go to largest, deepest creek. Start at mouth and fish to the back,” advised Thompson. “Don’t expect a fast-and-furious bite, but the bass have less area to hide in the creek s, so you up your chances, and you will catch fish.” Thompson relies on a 3/16-ounce YUM Pumpkin Head jig dressed with a Green Pumpkin worm. Thompson fishes parallel to the bank, starting shallow and moving deeper to determine the depth where the bass are positioned. Pitch the shaky head tight to any cover you see.

Pro pointer: “If you get rain, look for first runoff into the creek arm. Clear or muddy, the water will attract bait and concentrate the bass. Stick with the shaky head, maybe try the Bandit 100,” advised the Ohio River veteran.

Juaniata and Susquehanna Rivers, Pennsylvania

The Juanita River is a tributary to the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna River smallmouth population dwindled beginning a couple years ago. Reasons were never determined, but the population appears to be rebounding, and both the Juanita and Susquehanna rivers now have ample quality smallmouth to excite even hard-core bronzeback hunters, according to regional tournament angler Ty Spade. This is where Spade goes to have fun. His jet boat makes it easy, but his advice will put a bow in your rod no matter what kind of fishing platform you are fishing from. Some smallies will still be spawning, but most will be post spawn. Follow Spade’s intel to catch both.

Plan A: Spawners. Smallmouth will spawn on sandbars out of the current. “Beds will be visible, but don’t charge into the shallows looking for beds,” advised Spade. “Stay back and fan cast the area.” Spade starts by fishing the periphery of spawning areas with a YUM Pulse; white and silver-gray colors are effective. He then slides into the bedding area and casts a YUM Wooly Hawgtail or YUM Wooly Hawg Craw to visible beds. Spade uses bright colors he can see, and a fairly heavy weight — usually 3/8 ounce, may go to a ½ ounce — to control the bait. If the guarding smallmouth doesn’t smack the bait immediately, it’s a matter of “reading” the fish and irritating it into biting. “Change the angle and change the motion of the bait to find out what gets a response,” Spade shared. Spade also uses heavy line (17-pound test). “When you stick a fish, get it away from the bed to avoid disturbing the others. This is especially important when you hook the male so you can pitch back to the bed to catch the female.

Plan B: Post-spawners. Spade maintains that the post spawners seek current and fishes fast water closest to the spawning flats. Cast right into the current, and retrieve with the flow. Spade opts for baits that will “grab some current,” like a Yum Pulse, a Bomber Fat A, or a Bandit 100. Crawfish patterns and natural colors are most effective. Also, twitch and drift a suspending Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue through these fast-flow areas.

Pro pointer: Focus on the current. Yes, the smallies spawn out of the current, but post-spawners love it. Savvy river smallmouth anglers are conditioned to look for deep spots, pushes, and slack-water ambush points. OK in the summer and fall, but shallow, fast water is always better than deep, slow water in the post-spawn .

Lake Erie, Ohio

Ohio pro Jameson Lecon fishes throughout the Midwest, and I intercepted him on his way to Kentucky Lake. He claims Lake Erie as his home water, and when the smallmouth spawn starts Lecon will be fishing the lake in the vicinity of Ashtabula, Ohio. “Expect the spawn to start around Memorial Day,” confided the experienced Lake Erie angler.

Plan A: The smallmouth will be spawning along the breakwaters in 3 to 5 feet of water. Beds will be hard to see in the low light of morning. Lecon works the shallow water with a Booyah Double Willow Blade spinnerbait with gold blades, chartreuse skirt, and YUM Boogee Tail trailer. If the spinnerbait bite is slow, he’ll mix in a Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue. Success comes to those who cover water and keep winding.

When the sun gets up, seek protected areas and put the shallow water anchors down. The beds will be visible in the clear water. For sight fishing, Lecon tempts bites with a YUM Mighty Craw under a ¼ ounce weight. “Color is not important, but green pumpkin works,” Lecon suggested. He backs up the Mighty Craw with a drop shot YUM Sharpshooter in green pumpkin or morning dawn. He fishes the drop shot with the hook 10 to 15 inches above the weight to maintain good control for bed fishing.

Plan B: If the spawn is yet to start or sight fishing isn’t an option, go to ship channel. The ship channel is about 30-feet deep, but there is a lip about 6-feet deep at the edge of the channel. Work the lip with a Smithwick Elite 8 Rogue and the same drop shot as for spawners.

Pro pointer: The water is clear, and the fish are wary. “Use the lightest line you can get away with,” Lecon advised. “There are some large rocks along ship channel and the rocks are coated with zebra mussels, so check your line often.”

Oneida Lake, New York

Oneida is home to plentiful largemouth and smallmouth. Depending on where you fish on this 51,000-acre lake, you may encounter bass from prespawn to postspawn. The water will warm faster in the Oneida River and the western end of the lake. Info on how to catch both green and brown bass is provided by Pennsylvania bass ace Russ Scalf. 

Spawning flat — lake pretty featureless, small bays, move in and out of bays, rocky bottom, hard bottom signals (keep these spots in mind for summer when weeds are thick and can’t read the bottom) drag a Pulse (blue pearl or Houdini) on a finesse jig head.

Plan A: Spawn. “Oneida is pretty featureless,” Scalf said. “The bass will spawn on hard, rocky bottom flats in the small bay.” The smallmouth spawn deeper, and beds are not visible. Blind casting a Yum Pulse in blue pearl or Houdini will get bites, but for max bites per hour Scalf prefers to sight fish for largemouth. Scalf pitches a YUM Bad Mamma to visible beds. “I like the compact design, and the bait can be a sunfish or a craw,” said Scalf. Scalf Texas rigs the Bad Mamma on a 4/0 straight-shank hook under a ¼ ounce or lighter tungsten weight. This is clear water. Scalf believes in stealth and makes long pitches with a quiet entry. Go-to colors are black/blue shadow on cloudy days, watermelon candy on sunny days. If Scalf doesn’t get a quick response from the fish, he marks the bed with a waypoint and returns later to pitch the bed from a distance.

Plan B: Post-spawn. Scalf follows the banks of bays to main lake, generally fishing the 8-foot contour with a Booyah spinnerbait. Scalf recommended gold Indiana blades on cloudy days, silver blades on sunny days. “Move fast, cover water, keep it simple,” was Scalf’s advice. “If bites don’t happen, fish a deeper contour. If the spinnerbait isn’t producing, bump a 4 inch Yum Tube along the bottom, focusing on sharper drops at the edge of large flats.”

Pro pointer: “Learn as much as you can on every trip,” said Scalf. While that may seem self-evident, those hard-bottom areas where bass spawn will also concentrate bass in the summer when the area is covered with aquatic vegetation and you can’t read the bottom.

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho

Yes, there are bass in Idaho. And quality largemouth and smallmouth are both available in scenic Lake Pend Oreille. This 65-mile long, 95,000 acre Idaho Panhandle lake offers anglers plenty of room to spread out. Intel for finding and duping largemouth and smallmouth is provided by regional tournament pro and seminar speaker Steve Long, I spoke with Long when he returned from a “pretty good day” on Pend Oreille — 50 smallmouth ranging for 1.5 to 4.5 pounds. A warm, mild spring prompted an early spawn this year. Largemouth will be mid spawn, smallies are post spawn. 

Plan A: Spawning largemouth bass. “Largemouth spawn on wood — logs, stumps, or brush — in the backs of bays,” relayed Long. “Fish will spawn in water around 3-feet deep. Some beds will be visible if the water is clear. Expect to catch females up to 7 pounds with many fish in the 4- to 5-pound range.” Long casts to visible beds and blind casts to stumps and brush with a YUM Tube with a 1/16 ounce interior weight and a 5-inch YUM Dinger. Watermelon/red and green pumpkin are good colors in clear water (visibility 3 feet or greater); Bama bug and melon candy are good options in less clear water. If bites are tough, Long sticks with the Dinger and Tube but tries different colors. “Try colors that resemble an egg predator or go with what you think might work.” Sage advice from Long: “Never throw on a bed; cast well beyond and drag the bait in. Similarly, don’t throw at cruising bass. Anticipate where the bass will be, make a long cast, and drag the bait to the bass.”

Plan B: Post-spawn smallmouth bass. “Smallmouth will be back on the feed,” exclaimed Long. The bronzebacks will still be close to spawning areas. Look for areas of gravel and rock in 4 to 10 feet and close to deep-water channels. Vertical structure—docks and numerous pilings placed in the lake—is the key.  Many of the pilings will not be visible; use your side-scan imaging. Long pitches a YUM Wooly Bug on a 3/0 wide-gap hook under a 1/16 ounce weight and a Yum Tube with a 1/16 ounce interior weight. Any color is good as long as it is green pumpkin.

Pro pointer: Long is insistent that his tube has a horizontal fall or glides horizontally. To accomplish this, he makes his own tube weights. He clips a short piece of 3/16 inch lead wire or solder, flattens one end in a vise, and then punches a hole big enough to accommodate his 3/0 hook. He drops the weight into the tube, inserts the point of the hook through the nose of the tube, then through the hole in his lead-wire interior weight, and then skin hooks the hook into the wall of the tube. The lead weight slides on the hook acting as a rattle and making the tube center weighted. Sound like a lot of trouble? Not when the payoff is 50 smallies in a day!