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Two-Prong Strategy for Big Early-Season Smallmouth Bass

The stage is set for amazing smallmouth fishing in the Great Lakes Region. This expert approach provides the perfect one-two punch for catching huge smallmouth bass.

trophy Great Lakes smallmouth basstrophy Great Lakes smallmouth bass

It’s prime time for catching BIG smallmouth bass on the Great Lakes and associated big water destinations throughout the region, with the fish moving to predictable locations and feeding heavily. That said, the fisheries are expansive and demanding, and the combination of ultra-clear water and heavy pressure from anglers equipped with ever-improving technology and knowledge can make the largest bass tough customers. With that in mind, we talked with Dan Miguel, brand manager and co-founder of Great Lakes Finesse, about his early-season smallmouth fishing approach.

Miguel knows. He and his tournament partner Matt Dobson broke the record for tournament catches on the St. Lawrence River early last summer with a 32-pound, 4-ounce five-fish smallmouth limit. Miguel is well established as one of the top authorities on the behavior of big Great Lakes smallmouth bass and the finesse approaches that are the most effective for drawing strikes from the largest and most discerning fish.

“The fish are just pulling up shallow, setting up to spawn,” Miguel said. “They are putting on the heavy feed bag, eating everything available – young perch, minnows of all kinds, and emerging craws, which are in a sluggish state and susceptible.”

Miguel has devised a two-pronged approach that allows him to find and catch fish in different moods and that are feeding on different kinds of forage in order to make the absolute most of the season’s opportunities.

Identify Key Areas

Great Lakes Smallmouth BassGreat Lakes Smallmouth Bass

The smallmouth are moving out of the main lake basins, where the water remains cold, and into bays and to areas near warmer inflows or runoffs. Miguel keys on transition structures like points and drop-offs and any kind of cover that the fish will utilize as they move toward spawning areas, including boulders, logs and areas of uneven areas of hard bottom.

Miguel also pointed toward lines of stain. Whether from dirtier water flowing in or a shallow area that’s stirred up from being pounded by waves, he has found that bass will hold in the dirtier water, right along the edge, using the stain for concealment to ambush prey in the clear water.

Water temperature is crucial, Miguel noted. Where main lake areas might remain in the 40-degree range, he’s looking for 45 to 52 degrees, and the warmer the better, making shallow sunbaked areas and warmer inflows extra important.

Many of the areas Miguel fishes this time of year are vast, with much of the right type of structure in transition zones. Upon arriving in an area, he’ll often do a “hot lap,” not to search for fish but to check water temperatures. Often one part of the area will be a degree or two warmer than the rest, and that warmer water will almost always hold the most fish and the most active fish.

Search & Catch

Great Lakes Finesse Drop Minnow on Sneaky UnderspinGreat Lakes Finesse Drop Minnow on Sneaky Underspin

Miguel’s go-to starter lure this time of year is a Great Lake Finesse Drop Minnow rigged on a GLF Sneaky Underspin. It allows him to work close to the bottom but not on it and to cover a lot of water with long casts and steady reeling to find active fish. The willow blade turns with even the slowest retrieves, creating flash to draw in fish and prompt strikes. The 2.75-inch drop minnow has a natural, slender profile and subtle swimming motion that has proven itself irresistible to smallmouth bass.

The Sneaky Underspin rig is a search bait. Miguel keeps moving through his key areas, making long casts across every bit of available cover. He stays on the move until he gets bit, at which point he’ll work that spot with more casts to see how many fish are around. He’ll pay attention to the size of fish he catches in specific spots as he continues forming the pattern.

The presentation is straightforward. Miguel casts, lets the bait sink to just above the bottom and reels steadily. No pauses. No twitches. Just steady reeling. The only variation is that if he’s feeling the bottom structure much, he’ll speed up the presentation slightly to work the bait a bit higher.

Miguel almost always uses the 3/16-ounce Sneaky Underspin this time of year because he’s fishing fairly shallow water and wants to keep his presentations slow. Significant wind will prompt him to upsize to the 5/16-ounce version to ensure that he is able to feel everything happening at the business end.

Drag the Bottom

Juvy Craw and smallmouth bassJuvy Craw and smallmouth bass

When the bite slows in an area and Miguel feels like he’s caught the most aggressive fish, he’ll work the same areas with a slow, bottom presentation, using the new GLF Juvy Craw or a Snack Craw or Flat Cat and dragging it across every contour of the bottom, focusing on the areas that yielded the most action with the Sneaky Underspin but also hitting the best structure that didn’t produce in case all fish were extra tight to the bottom and really focused on craws or gobies.

For the Juvy Craw, which is innovative mini-tube style bait with claws and shaping details that accurately match a juvenile crawfish, Miguel rigs with a GLF Mini Pro Tube Head. He rigs the Snack Craw or the Flat Cat on a Stealth Ball Jig Head. Either way, it’s a bottom dragging presentation, using the rod tip to crawl the bait along the bottom and taking up line with the reel.

“As I work a Juvy Craw or Snack Craw, I’m always visualizing real crawfish moving along, doing its thing – possibly with smallmouth following it. A craw will crawl over rocks and drop between them, scoot along, hop a little and occasionally pause and raise its claws defensively,” Miguel said.

By feeling for every rock and bottom contour change and visualizing a crawfish’s natural movements, he’s able to mimic that behavior very realistically to fool the bass.

Some days, either the Sneaky Underspin/Drop Minnow combo or the bottom dragging baits will produce the bulk of the fish. Most days, though, each will prompt strikes from different fish, leading to more smallmouth bass caught any given day!